Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What Titles Evoke

Titles are important, there’s no doubt about it. When a book is published the editor, publisher, and author can often spend weeks debating over title ideas and coming up with list after list of potential titles. And titles can certainly help sell your work to an agent. I think I’ve told the story before of Angie Fox’s The Accidental Demon Slayer. Typically when I receive equeries I drop them immediately, without looking, into my query folder. In Angie’s case, however, she put the title in her subject line and I couldn’t resist. I read the query the minute it came and requested material immediately, partially based on that great title. Sally MacKenzie’s The Naked Duke (the first in her Naked series) is another example of a great title. Everyone I talk to, editors, agents, and booksellers, continually comment on what a brilliant title that is, and I swear that Kensington was equally swayed when they bought that book.

But one thing I think writers often forget is that the image a title evokes is just as important as the words in the title. Let’s take the two examples I used already. The Accidental Demon Slayer is a fabulous and fun title and immediately you get the feeling that this is going to be a fun fantasy. You might not pick up that it’s paranormal romance, but that has actually worked to Angie’s advantage since the audience for the book has bled over to fantasy readers. The Naked Duke gives you an image of a fun, sexy romance. Which it is. But what about a title like The Case of the Missing Sword. When I hear a title like that I think of Nancy Drew or something similar. I think of a light mystery very possibly geared to a young adult audience. So why is it that I see titles similar to that on romantic suspense or thrillers? A thriller should never be The Case of . . . Or Death of . . . A thriller needs to have a title that evokes scary. Thrillers or romantic suspense need to have titles like Whispers, or Dead Fall. Titles that seem ominous. By the way, these would also be great titles for horror.

Another mistake I often see are titles on adult books that sound like they should be on children’s book. Something like The Cricket Who Croaked. While that might work for a mystery, it really sounds more like a picture book to me.

Titles are important, and when thinking of a title for your book don’t just think of a clever saying or phrase, think of what will pop into the heads of potential readers when they first hear that title.



Jake Nantz said...

In thinking about titles, does the existence of a book with a similar title cause a problem? My recently finished mystery/thriller is called THE MESSENGER, but I know there are several books with exactly the same title. But the title really fits, and nothing else I've tried sits as well in my mind. Would that be a real problem?

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

At this stage, I assume you're submitting, I wouldn't worry about other books with similar titles, unless they are books that everyone knows. The DaVinci Code for example. I wouldn't use that. I think The Messenger sounds strong. I'd use it.


DeadlyAccurate said...

I was just finishing up The Accidental Demon-Slayer last night, and it is a fantastic, fun title. Fast read, completely sucked me in.

Anonymous said...

Jessica, sometimes I think you're blogging just for me and what I need to hear on a given day. An agent had suggested I use a certain title, which sounded like a children's book; but now I'm using the original title again, which is much more poetic and evocative. Thanks for the reminder!

Keri Ford said...

Oh! A new fun game to play. Make guesses at the book based on the title! This could be something interesting at conferences to win some sort of goodie basket.

But anyway, titles, I like to try and find good titles. sometimes I get lucky, other times, not so much and I just have to settle for something that I KNOW isn't even that great.

Robena Grant said...

Titles are funny things. I can't write my story without one, yet I know many writers who will name the WIP, Story B, or Untitled, or something similar.
My title has to speak to me about what the story is all about. I'd change it once the story was told if I was advised to do so, but while it's unfolding the title is a place setter and takes me right into the reason for the story.

Anonymous said...

I also like titles that are a phrase from the book... a key phrase. One that carries a lot of meaning when someone said or thought it, as well as summing up the whole book well.

Great post!

Amy Sue Nathan said...

In addition to titles being critical to the buying public (and those purchasing editors) a title is important to me. When I wasn't quite sold on my own working title, I had more problems with the direction of the book. I know titles change but for me, a title for my WIP that works for me -- helps me write. I'm on working title number 3. It has changed as the book has evolved...and that will probably continue.

I just can't write something unless I have title even if I know it might not stick.

Anonymous said...

Titles are huge, and when tied in with a great cover, they can add loads of sales. Especially when it comes to a debut author...I'll see a cover that grabs me, and if the title is interesting, well then I'll read the back blurb...and decide whether to buy it....Jeaniene Frost's ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE, to me was an amazing title and her cover does the title justice.

Anonymous said...

I hate titling!

I sold another book to an epress recently, my fourth. My editor came back and said that the title didn't work for her; it evoked nothing in particular. Well, I hated it too, but I couldn't think of anything better! Together we came up with one that sounded romancy, but it's a futuristic, and the new title doesn't evoke that. But she liked it, thought it would work.

Coming up with titles is an art, I tell you!

Barb Davis said...

Thanks so much for the great info.

Anonymous said...

Hi - My WIP is currently untitled. I can't seem to find something that fits. I hope to be ready to query by the end of the month. Is it okay to query a work with no title? Or should I come up with something, even if it doesn't really work?

Sandra Cormier said...

My friend is halfway through a WIP entitled 'Cheesy Christmas Story'. She knows that won't be the title, but it'll suffice for now.

Some writers don't want their work to be titled in case the name controls the outcome of the book.

Sometimes a title inspires a book, and makes a great launch pad for a story.

Some people (yes, you, Evil Editor) didn't like the original title of my second book, Bad Ice. So I changed it to The Lost Season. The second title made the book sound like an angsty romance, but when the plot drifted into Suspense territory, I returned to the original title. I think it's selling well because Bad Ice evokes a feeling of unease, just as I intended.

Rodney Battles said...

As an avid reader of women's fiction, I'm a sucker for titles.

Julie Weathers said...

*Bangs head against desk*

Please don't remind me.

1. Perfect one line pitch of book.

done--kind of

2. Two line pitch.

done--kind of

3. One paragraph pitch.


4. Query letter.


5. Synopsis.


6. Title

Crap, that again.

I changed the name of my suspense from THE DREAM CATCHER to DANCING HORSES after some guy named King came out with a book with that name.

It's a story about champion cutting horses and an evil plot foiled by some rodeo cowboys. Since cutting horses have a little hopping move they call dancing, it seemed appropriate.

One of my children's books was THE DINOSAUR STORE. I liked that one, but my agent didn't get it sold. Nor did she sell THERE'S A MOOSE ON THE LOOSE.

My fantasy is currently called PALADIN'S PRIDE, but I need to change it. I was going with THOUGH I SHOULD DIE, which is a line from the warrior's prayer in the book, but everyone hates it.

I'm thinking about FANTASY TO BE NAMED LATER. It has kind of a catchy ring to it and I'm positive no one else has the title.

I really don't like naming books. Really. I don't.

Angie Fox said...

I bought a book based on a title recently - A TISKET A TASKET A FANCY STOLEN CASKET. Picked it up immediately. I didn't even read the back cover blurb. I figured if the author could make me snarf based on her title, she had me. It was a cute book, too - a cozy mystery, just like the title suggested.

Anonymous said...

jhf said, "At this stage, I assume you're submitting..."

Actually, I'm revising some details that recent research has turned up as problematic, but I will be submitting soon.

"I think The Messenger sounds strong. I'd use it."

Wow, thank you so much. That's a huge confidence booster for a newbie.

Anonymous said...

Oh, titles. What fun. For months I was convinced my young-adult novel, PRADA AND PREJUDICE, had a title so fabulous that when it was bought, i was sure the title would be the one thing that WOULDNT change. And then my agent tells me over the phone right off that they are talking title change!! Luckily they came around to my way of thinking and decided to keep it. I mean, its about a teen who buys prada heels and trips, conks her head, and wakes up in Austen-Era england. Could they possibly come up with something more apropriate? (FYI, if they had wanted to name it TWO PAIRS OF DIRTY SOCKS, I would have let them.)


Anonymous said...

Great post! I’ve always thought the title was as important, if not more, than the hook. Before the hook, the title gets one inside the cover.

EB said...

Interesting post. I've got a suspense novel with a medical angle (think medical malpractice vigilante). I've waffled among many titles. Right now I'm using "Scissors" mostly because it's short and to the point. As it were. Your post has waved me off "The Saverini Case." Don't want it to sound like a Hardy Boys caper.


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