Thursday, May 7, 2015

Tips and Tricks: Choosing a Title

It's one of the hardest tasks in the writing process: summing up your entire manuscript in just a few syllables. . It's likely the first impression your book will make, so you better make it memorable. But no pressure, right?

Maybe you've had a title in mind from the minute the idea started brewing, only to find out it's already been snatched up. Or maybe you've played around with a string of words but nothing seems to fit. Just take a deep breath, you can do it! Here are a few quick tips I've learned from other authors, bloggers, and observations from watching the market.

(These tips are meant for YA and Adult genres. Children's, Middle Age, and Non-Fiction are each a different ballgame. These "rules" are generalized. There are exceptions. This article is merely advice and a record of observation.)

List significant symbols, events, and settings.

Step one: What are the key highlights of your book? Every good story has objects that represent themes. A tattered old couch. A pair of shiny high heels. A bow and arrow. Write them down and picture them in your mind as you ponder your story. What's going on in your story? Does it take place over a holiday? A carnival? A funeral? "Walk" through these settings and events as you search for the right phrase to represent your story. Does any particular trinket, face, or sound stick out to you? 


Avoid using character names.

 You may be tempted to take your star character and state exactly what they are going through. Amelia's Dilemma, Staci's Wedding, Jack's Aquatic Adventure, or The Reformation of Stuart Cruise are all boring and vauge. Your reader doesn't know who Amelia and Jack are. There is no feeling connected with these names unless this book is in an established series.These titles don't suggest anything except there is a character with a problem, an adventure, or a change. Ya think? It's a book. It's going to have one of those things and a good book will have all three. 

If you are married to the idea of using your character's name, rest assured there is a time and place for this: subtitles. Subtitles work best for books that are part of a series. They can be title of the overarching story, or the title for the particular installment in the series. For instance, Lilliana's Trial: The Mage Tournaments, Book One. This title not only tells us that Lilliana is being tested, but that it's all part of a magical competition. The Morph-ling Studies Book 4: Jaxon, lets us know this sci-fi series will feature one character for each book and tell their story. 

Personally, I try to avoid using subtitles. They tend to be wordy and can be confusing when a reader is searching for a book. Some of the best selling series' have no subtitle. The Hunger Games, Twilight, Legend, The Maze Runner. Keep this in mind if your book is in a series and you can avoid a subtitle.  


Image is everything.  

A friend of mine was really excited because he'd come up with the perfect title for his book: The Drugarr Riders of Raisnguard. Unfortunately, I could not be excited with him. As a general reader, I was confused. What is a Druggar? Something you can ride, I guess. But where the heck is Raisnguard? Obviously a fantasy place, but was it a city, a kingdom, a wasteland? The name tells me nothing and leaves the canvas in my mind blank. It's best if your tittle strikes up some kind of image in the reader's mind; something they can immediately associate and picture in their head. Something the brain will latch on to. While made up creatures and settings are imaginative and can hook a reader once they're invested in the story, they don't make good titles.  


Five syllables or less. 

This is my golden rule for coming up with tittles. While there are always exceptions, it's best to assume you are not one of them. When a reader is recommended a title, it has to be something they can remember. The fewer the syllables, the better. If someone says, "I just read the most amazing book: The Fires That Light The Way To Home" Are you likely to remember that? Probably not all of it. By the time you search the local bookstore or google it, you're likely to only be able to type or say a few words. What was that book again? Fires of Home? Light the Way Home? If you're like me, you probably won't waste much time thinking about it and move on with your day. 

Just take a quick look at the bestseller list on Amazon. Most of those titles are 5 syllables or less. The Husband's Secret, Big Little Lies, Red Queen, Leaving Time, Girl On A Train. You get the idea. Again, there are definitely exceptions. Take A Discovery of Witches for example. If you believe you are one of those exceptions, don't let me stop you. Just an observation.



Be careful with one word titles. 

  There are plenty of successful books with one word titles. It's just a bit risky. Let's say you've settled on the title "Siren". It definitely puts an image in the mind; a seductive mermaid or a screeching alarm. But go ahead and type that into Amazon Books. 11,613 results. It's unlikely your new book will be the first result to pop up. To give you an idea, there are seven books titled "Siren" on the first page. Adding just one more word will drastically change your book's status. For example, "Siren's Dance" only yields about 3,600 results and there are only two "Siren's Dance" on the first page. The bestselling one of the two earned the top result.  

Check Amazon.

  This one may seem obvious, but let me tell you why it's important. Having another book with the same title isn't a deal breaker, but remember that the top selling book will get the top result on the search page. Random people who hear about your book will probably only remember the title, not nessecarily the author name. When they search for it, they could end up with the wrong book!

When I had come up with the title for Onyx Moon, there were no other books with that title on the market. Three years later when it was finally published, that had been taken as a subtitle and was also included in a three word title. Since they were not of the same genre, this didn't bother me too much so I stuck with my decision. 



Type it out. Say it out loud. 

Write it down. Type it out. Say it out loud. Over and over again, since that is what you will have to do for promotion, emails, and telling people on the street. Make sure it's something that you are comfortable saying six times a day and that easily rolls off the tongue. Just like naming a pet or a child, don't give your book a name that doesn't sync or sounds strange when you say it.

Take a nap.

That's pretty much my advice for anything. :) But if nothing brilliant is coming, you probably need to sleep on it. Most writers love naps. If not, do whatever it is you do to clear your head and draw inspiration. Letting a manuscript simmer for a few days/weeks can help you see things in a new perspective. Keep writing, but give yourself time to think for goodness sake! 

Again, I am not an expert, just a player in the game. I hope this helps you through the struggle. Let me know if you like my ideas or if you have some of your own methods for choosing a title. Happy writing!   








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