Ten Things You Need to Know About: Choosing a Title

Ten Things You Need to Know About: Choosing a Title

1. It needs to reflect your writing

If the book you are writing is serious, then the title shouldn’t be funny – that’s lying to the reader about what they can expect to find inside. It should instead give a flavour of the book or ask a question which the book will answer. Perhaps it even reveals the main theme of the book, like ‘Of Mice and Men’ or makes a promise to the reader like ‘The Body’.


2. Short is better

A short title is easier to remember, easier to fit on a book spine and easier to tweet about when running those all important marketing campaigns.


3. If you’re going long, it needs to be provocative, or in two parts, and rhythm is essential

A good example of a provocative title is ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’. This works because the phrase is catchy and has a strong rhythm. Other long titles which work are ones that are part of a series and build on each other, like ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’; ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’. Or titles which come in two parts like ‘The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure’ which is more commonly referred to as ‘The Princess Bride’.


4. Contradictions work well

‘War and Peace’ is an obvious example of this but a title can also contrast with its content, such as Patterson’s ‘Hide and Seek’ which puts a sinister spin on the children’s game. Of course, some pre knowledge of the crime writer and the sinister looking cover are in place to safe-guard anyone’s expectations that the book might be cheerful or innocent.


5. Be visual

There’s a lot of advice out there on making your title intriguing, but nobody seems to tackle the question of how to be intriguing or what’s likely to intrigue people. Instead, I advise you to be visual. ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and ‘The Ocean at the end of the lane’ are both intriguing but one encloses something which does not exist, while the other reveals a known item in an unusual location. They both share a touch of mystery or strangeness, but they are also both visual and leave an image in the reader’s mind.


6. Keep alliteration subtle

If you’re going to use alliteration, aim to do it right like ‘I Capture the Castle’ or ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. Don’t go over the top – nobody over the age of ten wants to buy a book called Jade’s Journey through Jaded Jungles, but they might be drawn in by A Journey in Jade.


7. Check it isn’t already out there

It only takes five minutes to google your title and make sure it’s not already in use. If it is, then you need to ask yourself three questions. Is the existing book/ film well established? Is it famously bad and surrounded by negative feedback? Does it match the genre/ target audience of your book? If the answer to any of these is yes, it’s time to change your title.


8. Sometimes it’s okay to break a promise

An example of this (and spoiler alert, mind) is ‘John Dies at the End’ where, despite expectations or perhaps because of them, it is not in fact John who dies.


9. Don’t get too attached

The title is part of your book’s marketing and your editor will want to help you make it sell so they may suggest a change and you should be open to their guidance. Some of the most well known novels were given their titles by the publishers, such as ‘Strangers from Within’ which was changed to ‘Lord of the Flies’.


10. It shouldn’t stop you from writing

Don’t put off finishing your book while in search of a title because you might find it comes to you in the closing pages. Some authors use quotes from their books or will take their title from a pivotal moment in the plot. While it’s healthy to brainstorm ideas, finding the right title can take time and as your novel develops, so too may your title.


Heather, who goes by Rydia on YWS, has long been an aspiring author. In the early days of her life she attached herself to poetry and would curl up on the playground bench to scrawl down lines of forgotten virtue. Or, more likely, little virtue at all. At the very old age of 11, she joined The Young Writers Club and progressed into the realms of roleplay. Here she constructed characters to fight off dragons or rally to their allies' aid with healing spells; a joint love of gaming heavily influenced this fondness of adventure storybooks. A few more years went by before Heather became a serious novelist and she still considers poetry to be her favourite media for getting those thoughts down on paper. Outside of writing her loves include puzzle books, strategy/ fantasy games, movies, swimming, skiing (when she actually has money), crafty things, baking, food in general, fun pranks and anything involving snow.

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