Tricky titles



Many moons ago when I started writing for publications I’d submit copy according to my brief but omit a title.

Editors would always come back to me, ‘Great, but what’s it called?’ and I’d spend hours longer than it took to write the article drumming my fingertips against my desk, sweat prickling in my armpits while I tried to think of an amusing or thought provoking title.

Whatever I offered, I’d usually get a ‘Thanks, but I think we’ll call it ……. instead.’

I’d (mistakenly) hoped that the more writing experience I gained, the easier it would be for titles to trip off my tongue, but sadly, this hasn’t been the case.

When I decided to write a novel I worried about the title. Everyone assured me that something would come to me, a line from the book perhaps, something in a dream, a song lyric. It didn’t for a long time, until one day it did. I had a title, a really good one, and I did a little happy dance to celebrate.

A few weeks ago a new book was released with the title I’d thought of and it has done phenomenally well. Back to the drawing board for me. Luckily I had a plan b. The title I’d been reserving for my second book. Last month a book was released …. argggh.

Novel one is now finished. Novel two is underway. They both have titles, but neither of them are quite right. How crazy is it that 85,000 words was a complete joy to write but those few words needed for the cover have me stumped?

Any advice? How do you think of your titles?


15 thoughts on “Tricky titles

  1. I had the same problem with my first novel. I’m still not happy with the title. I asked all my beta readers for help and none of them could come up with anything better. I don’t know what I’ll do if I have to rename it when I get round to publication… *shudders*
    I don’t like the working title for my second novel either. Hey ho. I’ll just have to keep everything crossed that inspiration strikes.
    For me, writing the synopsis and coming up with titles are up there as the two things almost harder than writing the novel itself!

  2. This is a really common problem. Commercial publishers end up changing something like 80% of the titles submitted. Which doesn’t mean they have the right title either, just that we all struggle with that. I suggest to my writers agonizing over this that they try LESS hard. Don’t try to be tricky so much as clear. Figure a word for the genre (like mystery); a few words for the tone (like fear, danger, revenge); a word for the locale (maybe Italy, Rome, Turin, Rafaello Street); and a few elements out of the book (like theft, art, painting, gilded frame, death). Then mix them up until you find one that you like. Is it cryptic and tricky? No. It will end up a title that makes it is easy for readers to grasp what your book is about—and, hey, that isn’t a bad thing at all!

  3. Rest easy. Nobody really knows which titles will work. Just give it your best shot and don’t overthink it. Who would have thought that “The 7 habits of highly effective people” would be a winner? It’s clunky and unwieldy but struck a chord with readers.

  4. My editor is a wonderful mentor, and she told me to stop trying to find a title that everyone else will like and instead, find the old wise woman within you, who is older than the mountains, and let her guide you to the right one for your book. She was right, in the stillness, I found her and the perfect title for my book. 🙂

Constructive criticism appreciated

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