I have titles on the mind lately as I figure out what in the world I’m going to call my guide to writing a novel.
How did you choose the title of your most recent project?
Is it an allusion? An inside joke? A line from the work?
And more importantly, how did you know it was the right one?
When I went to name Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow I combined my favorite coffee drink with a bit of absurdity that I hoped might evoke Calvin & Hobbes.
What about you?
Art: Trompe l’oeil by Adolph von Haake
I think this is so different for everyone, Nathan, you're the only one who can really know what is the best title for your book.
You title blog posts all the time, so go back and check out which of your blog post titles were the most effective and that might help. I've actually always been a little jealous of how you can choose blog post titles and get so many seemingly intelligent people interested in absolutely nothing significant at all (What Literary Character Would You Most Like to Be?)…and this is a compliment 🙂
Brainstorming helps, checking out titles on Amazon helps, and just sitting down and writing what comes to the top of you head helps sometimes.
I always like titles that refer to something in a book that's significant to the book. Many times the title is right in the book somewhere and you didn't even notice it.
I love titles that are mentioned once in the book that seems to tie everything together in an obscure way; ex: THE COLOR PURPLE or WATER FOR ELEPHANTS. However, I didn't do that for either the book I'm currently submitting or for my WIP. My completed novel has the nickname of the city it's set in because it encompasses the theme very well. My WIP has an ironic title, which is a phrase repeated constantly through the novel.
Tom Bradley Jr. says
In its initial iteration (how alliterate of me!) many years ago, my novel was titled HULA BULA BABY. After much editing and total gutting of plot and characters, I found the old title no longer worked. With some help from fellow writers, I changed it to THE KONA SHUFFLE (set in Kona, plot involves "shuffling" of backpacks, one of which contains a small fortune in stolen jewelry). Now I am working on a follow-up novel, THE HILO HUSTLE, and have a WIP in the can titled THE BLACK SAND BOOGIE. Note a trend?
DL Johnstone says
CHALK VALLEY, my first, came as a gift out of the blue very near the start if writing it, and it never changed. I still love it – Chalk, because it's skeletal, brittle and transitory, and Valley, because it's such a remote, otherwise beautiful place. Doesn't that just scream "Serial Killer thriller"?
FURIES, on the other hand, was like birthing conjoined twin elephants. I didn't have a clue what title to use, so I called it "that Alexandria book". Several times I called it much worse. My agent offered two titles, both of which I hated but went with anyway. The first "The God Who Murders" from a theme and phrase in the book. Then "All the Serpents Bite" from an ancient Egyptian epitaph. Great inspiration, but what was the point? I loathed them!
So I researched and brainstormed and hit my head against the wall. I finally thought of FURIES, from an epic poem by Aescylus. The FURIES were avengers of murder in Greek mythology. Perfect reference, sharp title. Once I decided on it, I couldn't believe it had taken me so long.
I have 3 in the works, and I refuse to identify them with a title until I am ready to openly talk about them with friends/family. I find it easier to tell people "I'm working on a few untitled books".
When they are ready to see the light of day I will pick a title, until then they have project names based on the date/time I write the first word on the page.
I'm the pits at titles. I usually accost friends, family, and random strangers with a piteous expression and ask them to name my magnum opuses.
I like to use a methodology, and I like the title to be short. "Wool" is one of those ideal titles. Short, memorable, and meaningful to the story.
1. Assemble a list of key words relevant to the content
2. From those, build a list of prospective titles (various combinations)
3. Look for clever, memorable combinations. E.g. "Write Right" or "Writing Right" or "Wright Now"
4. Send the list out to your "trusted circle" 6 -10 key people who give it to you straight up and tell you what they like and don't like.
5. Winnow it down to 3 or 4 (at most) final candidates
6. Send those out to the inner circle for a vote and comments
7. Check with your wife or girlfriend (if you have such), and tell her how profoundly grateful you are for her input, even if you don't use it.
8. Then, with all that input, make a decision.
9. Wait a week.
10. If you don't like your decision, make a different one. You need to find one that feels good after a week.
11. If none of that works, write each final candidate on a slip of paper.
12. Wait for a breezy day, climb a step-ladder, and release the slips in the wind.
13. Find the slip that blows the furthest before getting hung up.
14. Use that one.
D.M. SOLIS says
I keep a hook book, it's a songwriter's thing. Combining hooks can make for some curiously quirky titles. Word twists are often fun and intriguing, as in, "Forever Only Lasts So Long."
You already have web presence and following most authors don't have. Make sure you use your name in the title. Think search engines.
Cindy Dwyer says
My title was the hardest part to write out of the whole book! I write humor and my book is about family – the "apple never falls far from the tree" concept, which would be cliche as a title.
I brainstormed words having to do with family, craziness, mayhem, love, etc. I even searched for quotes about family. By the time I finished I had filled the front and back of a piece of paper with words and phrases.
When I thought of My Roots Are Showing I knew instantly that it was the perfect play on words to give an immediate sense of what my book was all about.
My YA book title, 'FAIRYTALES FOR WILDE GIRLS' is also the name of a book the main character is reading within my book. I thought it was a pretty clever conceit!
My best titles come before the story. If I write a story and THEN try to come up with a title, it's much much harder. It's almost like my title is the theme that gets the story going and keeps it focused.
Saul Bottcher says
For fiction authors, here's a formula that might help:
(essence of your book) + (a twist)
Start by figuring out what your book is really about. This might be a specific character, an event, a moral theme, or whatever.
Then, find a creative way of expressing that idea by adding some perspective to it.
For example, the title "The Catcher in the Rye" comes from the protagonist's description of himself. It's a better title than "Holden Caulfield" because it sounds more poetic, but also because it suggests that the book is about how the protagonist perceives his own identity (which is what coming-of-age stories are all about!).
I've written almost 30 different "twists" you can use to create a title here:
It's also important to keep some practical considerations in mind. For example:
-Will my title work as a web address (domain name)?
-If I search on Amazon or Google for this title, are the results already crowded with duplicates or similar titles?
I've written some more details about the practical side of titles here:
Hope it helps!
Cynthia Washburn says
I like to check that my proposed title hasn't been used before.
Greg Field says
I take what first comes into my head and then run some analysis on it.
Does it actually convey the right meaning or does it just sound good?
What would a librarian type into a database that would set my title apart from others?