Today I wanted to look at something I don’t usually think about until the end of writing and often with a high pitched whine of despair. It’s something every story needs, no matter the length or final destination: a title.
Some titles come easy, some not so much. Some work, some don’t. The thing is, a good title is important. It can help to sell your story, pull your reader in and make them read the first paragraph. A good title is just as important as a good cover on a finished book, or as the actual writing when submitting to editors and agents.
But if you don’t have a title after a year or so of pouring your soul into a novel, then the act of creating something to encapsulate your baby (especially when the dreaded synopsis and cover letter are close on the horizon) can make you want to sit in the corner giggling hysterically to yourself.
Fret not! Here are 8 ways to come up with a title that will help you to sell your masterpiece.
- Themes – If you’ve gotten to the end of your story, it’s written, edited and ready to face the world but it’s still nameless, the recommended way to come up with the perfect title is to dissect it. What do you think are the main themes? Play around with the words until you come up with one, or a few, that you think sum up your book and its energy. For example, Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie or Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch.
- Ask around – Once you have your list, or if you like you can go without it, ask your beta readers, friends or family who have read your work if they have any ideas, or which ideas from your list they prefer.
- Other works – This is the one that I often unwittingly use. This can be titles from other books, films or song lyrics. Something in your everyday life that reminds you of your story (and isn’t copyright). I’ll be driving along, listening to a good song full blast, singing along at the top of my voice when my brain will land on one or two lines of lyrics. Funny, I will think, that sorta sums up the book I’m writing right now. And boom! There’s my title. Each book in my current fantasy trilogy are named from lyrics from three songs I love, although they’re shortened enough that no one could tell.
- Reference to something in the story – Is there a specific scene or line of dialogue, or even the name of your protagonist, which is the pinnacle of the book? Or maybe it’s the game changer. If you can reference that scene, dialogue or character in the title, you can help to gear your reader up for the big plot twist and afterwards help them remember you. An example of this is the book I’ve just finished reading (and loved), The Ace of Skulls by Chris Wooding. It isn’t until right near the end when you realise why the book has that title and, it being the last in the series, it makes the title extremely poignant. Other examples are the Harry Potter series, or Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
- It’s in the structure – This won’t work for every book, but when I was planning my novella (which failed and I’m now about to rewrite), I came up with an idea for naming the chapters in a specific pattern (which won’t change in the rewrite). Each chapter title summed up the chapter in two short words. The last chapter obviously had the climax and so it made sense to name the book after it.
- Google! – Before you decide on your title, give it a quick Google search. I wrote my paranormal fantasy novel, Silver, and had it all ready to submit before someone on a forum mentioned that a novel, also about werewolves, had recently been published under the same name. I looked it up and found out the plots are wildly different and I haven’t actually seen the book around. I have, however, seen sitting in Waterstones, a novel based on Treasure Island called Silver. Pah! I’m going to be rewriting this novel in the next couple of years and, after trying it with a new title, I’ve decided to stick with Silver. The way I see it, lots of books have the same title and none that I know of have similar plots to mine. I will of course do another search closer to the time though. Just in case. However, if someone big (Stephen King, Terry Pratchett, Anne Rice…) were to have a book with the same name, I would stay clear to avoid confusion and my book getting lost. Obviously it is preferable to have something unique, but there are so many words and orders of words in the world, and there are a LOT of writers out there.
- Make it reflect your voice – Sometimes it works to just call a story after what it is about. Sometimes this can be boring, cliché and expected and, unless someone is obsessed with that topic, it won’t help to sell it. A way around this is to make it reflect the way your protagonist talks, or the genre. If it’s a wacky fantasy, give it an outrageous title that fits with the plot, or an intriguing title for a mystery, or something dark and chilling for a thriller.
- The hook – Not all stories will have this, but many will/should have something enticing about them. That’s your hook, that thing that people who read your genre are always attracted to. Use it and make sure it’s included in your title.
Coming up with a title for your story can be enjoyable and it’s the perfect way to fall madly in love with your work once it’s finished. Just remember not to fall too much in love – your agent/editor/publisher may end up changing it.
One thing I’ve found helpful in learning about naming stories is Daily Science Fiction. Sign up for their emails and a short story will land in your inbox every weekday. It makes for a good lunch break, but even if you don’t read the stories just check out the email subjects. Which titles make you want to open those emails? It’s a real eye opener.
Also, they pay for the stories they buy, so doubly worth checking out!
How do you come up with your story titles?