Picking Book Titles

I’m not particularly good at picking book titles. I’ve had a few that started as working titles and actually ended up on the book. I later discovered that wasn’t always good. After having had more than a few editors tell me I needed to come up with a new title, I now think of most of my titles as “working titles” until given the seal of approval by an editor.

Some writers get very upset if their title is changed. Their attachment to a title may stem from the way they connected it to something in the story or it may simply be that they don’t want anything about their story and how they envisioned it changed. I usually try to pick a title that does have some connection to the story, but I’ve discovered an added sentence or two can often create that necessary connection. And sometimes an editor will see a title possibility in the story that I overlooked, or the editor feels the new title will have better sales value.

Sometimes a working title may not fit genre expectations. For me, Sounds Like Love will always be The Guitar Man (because the hero plays the guitar) and Storybook Hero will always be The Doll Lady (because she makes dolls). My editors (even though I was writing for the same line, I had a different editor for each of those books, but that’s another story) simply didn’t think Guitar Man or Doll Lady had a romantic appeal. Nevertheless, the titles they picked did have the essence of the stories. Music/sounds are an important part of Sounds Like Love, and my doll lady also told children stories and needed a Storybook Hero.

Sometimes a working title may fit the story and the genre, but be over used. That’s what happened with my third book in my P.J. Benson Mystery series. Even though I’m using the word Crow in all of the titles, and A Murder of Crows refers to a group of crows, when my editor pointed out how many books have that title, I realized I needed to come up with something new. (I counted up to 40 books with the title Murder of Crows. After that I stopped counting.) Thank goodness many readers of this blog came up with some great titles for me to consider, and Eat Crow and Die will be that book’s title.

Sometimes a working title might not fit the nature or tone of the story. A cute title or humorous one might sound great, but if the story is serious, you won’t be meeting reader expectations. And just the opposite, if the story is humorous, and your writing style is lighthearted, why give it a serious title?

Sometimes a working title might be too long. Most physical books are shelved with the spine out. A long title plus the author’s name will require small print to fit on the spine. In a business where standing out may attract a potential buyer, you don’t want the title or your name to disappear. And if the book is being published electronically, those book cover icons aren’t that big. A title with a lot of words in it may not be visible.

Sometimes a working title may be too short. One word titles can be very effective, but again there’s the chance that others may have used the same word or that that one word won’t give the potential book buyer any idea what the book is about. (In other words, the title doesn’t fit genre expectations. Bondage would probably be a better title for an erotic novel rather than an inspirational. And no, I’ve never used that title.)

So does it matter what your working title is?

Yes and no. Most agents and editors know titles can be changed, but a catchy title can pique an agent’s or editor’s interest. And once you have that agent’s or editor’s interest, the ms has a chance of being read. And even if the ms has flaws, if the title implies promise, the agent or editor may be willing to take time to work with you until that promise is met.

Therefore try to come up with a title that…

(1) Embodies the essence of your story

(2) Fits the genre

(3) Isn’t too common

(4) Is catchy

(5) Will be easy to read on the book’s spine or on a small cover image

Next week I’ll write more about ways to come up with titles. Meanwhile, here’s the new ebook cover for Sounds Like Love, which was published as a paperback by Harlequin Temptation back in the ’80s.


Tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Picking Book Titles

  1. Coming up with a title has to be the most difficult part of writing the story! I’ve had to resort to asking for help on facebook. Love your guidelines. BTW, I loved Sounds Like Love, and the new cover is great!

  2. Hi, Maris,

    I do agonize over titles and change them often before I submit a book. Your points are well-taken. One way to see if a title is too common is to check World Cataloging, another search Amazon.

  3. With some books, I know the title before I even start. Others, not so much. My second book, Rescuing Lacey, had the working title Lost Soul, but my editor said it sounded too much like paranormal (which it wasn’t). She was right.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Rebecca I really like the title Rescuing Lacey, so I think your editor was right. Not sure, however, if I would have equated Lost Soul with a paranormal.

  4. Diane Burton says:

    I have a hard time coming up with a title. My crit partner usually has better suggestions. But the book will always have the working title in my mind. I do like Eat Crow and Die. 🙂

  5. Melissa Keir says:

    Titles should be flexible. I have changed mine a few times on books because of some of the reasons you mentioned. I love the cover of your book! I want to put my hands in his hair! 🙂

    Best of luck!