Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The titular head of my defenestration committee

Hang on a second while I leap out the window to a fiery end on 7th Avenue please!

Ok, ok, you're right, I'd probably just bounce off all the pedestrians staring at the great round orb that has recently returned to the NYC skies.

Back to the reason for my window ledge excursion:

Book titles!

I have several books almost ready to go out on submission and all of them need new titles.  I'm staring into space muttering things to myself such that the Sharkly Assist gives me her trademarked raised eyebrows and not-so-furtively reaches for the butterfly net:

Good titles aren't make or break items but a good title --the RIGHT title-- sure doesn't hurt. Thus my mutterings and grumblings.

I like to pick a phrase from the book, and when I read a novel I make a list of some of the words I think might work.

And then there are the times when the author has an idea and I have an idea and together we have:

And then there are the times we have a title and one of us decides it should be something else. #oops. It's not a good idea to change a title mid-submission so the new title has to be amazingly better than the old one. And even then I don't like to do it (it drives editors bonkers and makes it harder to track email conversations and submission records).  I want to come up with the right title BEFORE I go out on submission.

So, when you need a title, what do you do? I'm not above stealing your tricks of the trade for my own nefarious purposes.


Bill Cameron said...

Please, share tricks for her to steal. Not that I have a personal stake in this or anything.

Jaimie said...

I'm trying to think of a title myself. It's so frustrating! I find my brain can only do it for 5 minutes. After that, I can't distinguish up from down anymore.

One trick I tried, with semi-good results, was to go on tor.com and look at the new releases for my genre (urban fantasy). They post updates every month. I got ideas based on what's out there now.

Gary Corby said...

I usually ask my literary agent to think of a good title.

(Always happy to help; no need to thank me...but if all else fails, I believe "Acropolis Now" might be available.)

Cat Connor said...

I am probably zero help. Writing a series makes it a tad easier to come up with titles. (Actually it really doesn't, I'm running out of computer related words that I can butcher and turn into something ending in byte because they still have to be relevant to the story.)
Forgetting the Byte series for the moment.
I've named stories because of a particular character or whatever. Example, latest WIP a kiwi book titled 'Wherefore art thou' .. because the dog in the book is called Romeo and the main character specializes in finding people.
Song titles are also good and the write song can hold a gem or two in the title department!

Good luck!!

Patty Blount said...

I can't write a story until I know its title. Titles mean everything to me.

I start with songs. Sometimes, a song lyric inspires a great title. A play on words... (I have an unfinished novel called Postpartum Deception and STILL think that's an amazing title)... a twist on a famous quote. My favorite titles, when things align this way, is when I can pull a title directly from a line of dialogue. This seldom happens for me since I like to have my titles before I have words, but sometimes in rewrite, a great line leaps off the page.

I'm also a huge fan of single-word titles. I like their stickiness - it's hard to forget one word. SEND was unnamed for weeks. I kept calling it the YA social story. After explaining a few dozen times how one click of the Send button destroys my MC's entire life, it clicked as the title. If you can find that one word that encapsulates the whole story - grab it.

Adelle Yeung said...

I personally like titles of important names, roles, or concepts that appear within a story. When they're unique to the story, they catch my eye. Something like "The Hunger Games," "The Maze Runner," "The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight," or "The Clockwork Prince," over something like "Perfect," "Legend," or "Delirium" (based on titles alone).

Those are just my browsing preferences, anyway, so I try to apply the same to my own titles.

Dee said...

I had a title for my novel picked out for months but knew the entire time that it just didn't work. Finally, I asked my beta readers to help. Between the three of us, we brainstormed until the RIGHT title arrived.

I can't explain just how much the entire project changed once we found the right title. I want to say everything got easier... but there is nothing easy about writing a novel. It just simply changed the process and breathed life into it!

Melinda said...

Man, all I can think of is to go to the scene which, to you, encapsulates the book. Then pull your title out of that. If there's nothing cool enough to pull from it, screw around with rewriting the scene until you get something cool.

Ali Trotta said...

Titles are tricky. Most often (and I'm just realizing this as I'm thinking about it, I'll pick a phrase from the story/novel that's important.

But the important thing is resonance. It has to evoke something, anything. Something that catches interest. When I read NUMB, the title and the cover was immediately intriguing. Because I wanted to know more. Then there's a title like THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, which is a play on a Shakespeare quote.

Polly said...

Fifty Shades of Mystery!
Fifty Shades of Blood!
Fifty Shades of Crime!

No? Is there an idea or theme that appears a few times and is given a name? Or if the book was a song, how would you sing it (no kidding, sorry Bill.) Or is there a quote from a favorite play or movie that reminds you of your book? Or just mess around brainstorming any titles at all - totally ridiculous is fine, because you might hit on something "so crazy it just might work." Or play 10 titles in one minute.

Or, you know, drink whisky until you pass out and hallucinate the perfect title. Healthy Living.

JDuncan said...

Notoriously difficult, since as you're already aware, you just KNOW there's a better one waiting out there around the corner. And of course there are about a bazillion and three ways to do it, so can only say what I do, which may actually help nobody at all. AND my titles may suck anyway, so there ya go.

My fallback for titles comes from whatever the initial essence of the story was that got me started on it. For my Deadworld series, it was from the initial thought of wanting to write a book with a vampire character in it and just what it was that made my vampires different. Deadworld was that place souls "lived" in before they moved on and vampires tapped into it in order to draw their otherworldly powers. It became a central focus of the story arc, thus it made sense to call it Deadworld, which for me also rang true with the main characters who were damaged in such a way that they felt dead as people. Anyway, rambling here.

My latest proposal's title comes from setting also. It's in a future, flooded Manhattan, and called Rising Tides. The series is called Dark Waters. There's Merfolk in it. A partial I never finished was from a dream, also related to the setting, called The Bare Dirty. How or why I dreamed this place and new what it was called is beyond me, but I love it and will use it some day.

I'm sensing a theme here in my ramblings. Setting. What is it about where the story takes place that ties into either character or plot? I guess that's my one notion to try. Of course depending on your story, that might be entirely useless. Good luck, Bill! lol

Jearl Rugh said...

I had a great first line—13 words—I thought would hook the reader right into the novel. But it didn’t work as dialogue and wasn’t going to be the first step in an edgy cliff hanger action sequence. Albeit a great elevator speech as it defined the work, it seemed headed toward the thought world of some omniscient narrator, and that seemed wrong, just wrong. So, I moved it from page one to the title page and edited it to five words. Now under agency review, “Born to Make the Kill” sounds more like the thriller I intended than some of its former monikers—“Playing Dead,” “Dandelion Parachute,” or “The One.”

Kate Larkindale said...

I sympathize! I hate figuring out titles and usually spend the entire writing process with my books called Chris, or Casey, or Liz until I absolutely have to come up with one.

But with my latest, the title came before the story and in fact, gave me the book.

Sometimes looking up a foreign word for the theme of the book helps!

Charley said...

Depends on genre, sometimes. One word great if you can find a unique one. For a thriller about a plague, I went with "SCOURGE" after googling and finding out Plague and Epidemic and numerous other options were overdone. But for a humorous ballad with no redeeming social value, I tried "O'Connor's Third Quest (Not Counting the Two He Didn't Finish)." Something that matches the tone of the story, in other words.

Michael Seese said...

I just go with Atlas Shrugged. Hey, it worked once; it will work again.

OK, seriously, in some cases it's obvious. I recently completed a novel about a young man who creates a monster in the flesh from his own nightmare. So I called it Nightmares. That was easy.

But just today, I wrote a flash fiction short story about someone recounting a dream. The Mona Lisa is a recurring element. At the end, the Mona Lisa talks to him. So I settled on "Mona Speaks." The story isn't really about that. But I think it sounds good and it's appropriate enough.

Feaky Snucker said...

Here are mine.
1. Freak in the mad of your mind.
2. Raptor Snatch.
3. Pedestals of sand (it's a memoir about my experiences as a biological child whose parents took in foster kids).

I find it fairly easy to name things. They may not work for everyone, but they seem to be memorable. :)

NotaWarriorPrincess said...

Mary-Chapin Carpenter went meta and called her first video "My Record Company Made Me Do This."

My usual strategy is to name everything I write, from grocery lists to the Great American Novel (pending) "Fish Heads and Rice." Then the real title usually comes later, from a muse or a chemical stupor or overhearing things out of context. E.g. my two young boys refer to each other as "Little Miss Sledgehammer" and I'm not sure where it comes from but I love it for a title (for what?)

My writing group keeps coming up with dog titles for my latest project--not that the book is about dogs, but that the titles they suggest usually bark. Or drool.

Sadly, I can wax rhapsodic about titles I love for hours and not come up with one that clicks for my own book.

Still thinking....

Leila said...

I have actually given this some thought lately. Though this thought process will not necessarily help you, Janet, tonight, perhaps it will be interesting to others who have more time. (BTW, agents might help us come up with titles? OMG this whole concept of finding an agent gets more and more appealing every day!).

So my two favorite titles recently are: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS and WONDROUS STRANGE. (Disclaimers: I have only read the former and the later is hardly new, but new to me). These are both, as I'm sure many of you already know, quotes/references to Shakespeare.

What I've taken away from my love of these titles is that I, as a writer, I could stand to read poetry more regularly. I think it's inspiring to our prose style, for one thing, but I also think there's a wealth of lyrical titles to be repurposed from poetry.

Good luck, Janet!

Leila said...

Like here's one right now just in my own research tonight: THE MIND OF WINTER. I'd like to read that book :).

Gabrielle Prendergast said...

I wrote an article about titles years ago that you can find here:


It pretty much sums up my position.

Noble M Standing said...

When thinking of a title I usually use a one-three word title that goes along with the theme of the book.

For a book about a man who goes through an extreme deconstruction and change as the character arc I named it Emergence as he is emerging as a diferent person by the end. Latent is about a man who has changed his identity and is still dealing with his former ID being latent in his head. Awaiting is about a woman who is trying to survive a pregnancy while it seems everyone is out to get her and the baby.

I've also used an event or setting. But theme usually gets me a decent title.

-b said...

I agree with Noble M about the length of titles. I like the 1-3 word variety. Unfortunately, finding the right 1-3 words can be excruciating.

Personally I want the title to either be iconic or active.

For the iconic titles you look for the key theme then tie that theme to a character's name (i.e. Schindler's List). The list is iconic and the possessive brings it to life. For the active title you need a juicy verb. (i.e. Catching Fire).

When all that fails you can always fall back to the name of the main character (i.e. Moby Dick, Hamlet, Harry Potter). If your main character is named Joe Jones ... pray for inspiration.

BPatterson said...

I read Victorian poetry. Something about the way the words work together tends to inspire creativity.


ScottWelsh said...

Sometimes it's useful to look at famous quotes or orations for titles. For example, if you have a book about a guy who breathes fire, you could search through one of many quote databases for quotes about fire.

In my opinion, it's comparable to listening to song lyrics or reading poetry; someone out there has already said exactly what you need. You just have to find it and be inspired.

Bonnee Crawford said...

I've never struggled to find a title (except for that time I was working in collaboration with like 7 other people, but that was more because we couldn't AGREE on a title), I've always been able to just find one that fits naturally, no hassle. So... I dunno, sorry, but it's an interesting thing for me to think about, just in case my luck runs out.

Brigid Kemmerer said...

I google idioms. Find something in the story that might be a little unique, and google that word plus idioms. You might not find anything from basic concepts, but it will get your mind spinning in the right direction. This is my favorite way to find title ideas. A great site is: idioms.thefreedictionary.com

Joyce Tremel said...

I usually don't have trouble coming up with a title until this last book. It had the working title of The F***ing Book until right before I queried it. I knew I wanted the name of the town in it (Spite), but didn't know what else. I got help from my blog mates, who gave me some good suggestions. I'm still not married to what I came up with--In Spite of Murder.

I loved the title of my previous manuscript: Marred By The Hand of Man. It's a quote from something Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain wrote about Gettysburg.

How about a contest to name the book?

Bonnie said...

Sometimes a title is obvious and sometimes is obscure. I'm stuck on a title for a Halloween novella right now that's driving me crazy. All tips are appreciated.

BTW, I don't think you can use defenestration to mean throw yourself out a window. I'm pretty sure someone else has to be doing the throwing. :-)

SiSi said...

I struggle with titles, so I can't be any help here but I sure do appreciate all the suggestions everyone else has made!

Kathleen said...

I choose the main character's name, NINA, AINE or the name plus what they want, FITZROY: THE BOY WHO WOULD BE KING, what they do, WITCH HUNTER or the people, FAERIE FOLK, something important to the people, LORE OF FEI, or in the case of the murder mystery I took the name of the day of the week and played with it: IF IT'S MONDAY, IT MUST BE MURDER. I've also used a song title, PLEASE TO SEE THE KING because it was based on characters from English ballads. I agree that a 1 to 3 word title is best unless it's catchy.

Wry Wryter said...

I’m pretty good with titles, I’m humble too. Okay, this is what works for me.

In the first three chapters the title often rises to the surface and bumps around a little, as a phrase, a sentence, a sentiment or short piece of dialog which seems to best express what the book is about.
If I obsess over the perfect moniker, it doesn’t come.
Relax, don’t seek perfection, and up it will rise to an ‘ah, ha’ moment of WOW what a perfect title that is.
Like naming a boat, what’s painted on the transom best explains its owner, the title of a book intrigues. A man I knew whose last name was Sonnet, called his boat, Fourteen Lines. My father, who wanted to name his boat after his father William Oliver, (man’s name a no no) called his boat Willo.

The title is floating around in your head right now. If the book was a boat, what would you name it?

Steven J. Wangsness said...

I'm still trying to figure out how you caught on fire between leaping out the window and hitting the pavement.

Julie Rowe said...

I use wordle to help me find key words (www.wordle.net). Wordle creates a word map of your document with the words repeated most larger than other words. It's useful for self-editing too.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Naked Nerds of Fifth Avenue ... Feel free to steal it for umm what ever.

Hazel Keats said...

Take the query letter and make the letter size 16 and print it out. Cut out the words of the body minus last blah blah blah paragraph. Find some synonyms for the interesting words. Put the words in a container and mix. Then pull the words corresponding to a number of five lines. For number one put one word, number two put two etc. All pulling from the container one by one. Leave the room then come back. Write down the first word that catches your eye. Rinse and repeat asneeded.

Well that is what I do. Hope it helps.

Amy Ashley said...

Go back to the query.

Hopefully (probably) it was a good one. See if you can summarize it in a sentence, or if there is a line there that's a hook, focus on that.

Your query and hook should convey plot in their words. The title should convey emotion and tone, give them that gut impulse to read more.

Focusing on just the query or just the hook is easier than looking at the entire book. A title should leave you wanting more just as the query should.

Amy Ashley said...

I should say that if there's no query, then a synopsis would work fine too. Anything that breaks it down into something on paper or screen you can look at. If you don't have one, even writing a seat of your pants summary will help.

Don W said...

I heard you shouldn't get too caught up in your title, because likely it would be changed by the publisher anyway.
In my current book, I made sure the title was uttered in dialogue in my book.
If I want bad ideas, I go to my critique group. If I want good ideas, I sit at the computer and brainstorm titles for twenty minutes. Then I go back to my original title idea. Sigh!

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

1. Under the Cloud: Death by Attitude.

2. 6.2 in One Blow.

3. The Day Brooklyn Died.

4. The Neptunium Conspiracy: Or, how I added to the periodic table.

5. Famous Goats: A ten step program.

6. Wampun, Tokens, Dimes, and Sex. My Life on Broadway.

... any of these working for you? ...

7. The Chicken Little Conspiracy. How wars start.

8. The Warriors Guide to Sushi

9. Off the Grid and on the Griddle.

Wry Wryter said...

Young British boy named Harry experiences Tornado in the Welsh countryside ‘witch’ blows him to Kansas.

Tiger mom locks up daughter for graffiting her little sister’s butt just before the recital.

A tell-all page-turner about what goes on back stage at the National Spelling bee.

And my personal favorite, THE YELP
A southern kennel owner’s experiences raising black labs and how they rightfully poop in the owner’s pie.

Marsha Sigman said...

Not sure I can compete with all this brilliant advice but the old standby is asking yourself what sort of mood/feeling do you want to invoke?

Then write a list of words that pertain to your story/mood/genre and start throwing crap at the wall.

Or just put the whole ms into one of those wordie generator things and whatever word is used most often is your title! Pretty sure it means all mine should be named 'That'. Whatever.

Sra said...

Head + Cinderblock wall

It doesn't get titles, so much. But it alleviates some of the agony.

Les Edgerton said...

This is easy! Just pick the name of the author's first pet and then the name of the street they lived on at the time. Ex. The Fluffy Third. Who wouldn't buy a book with that title?

Full disclosure: This is how strippers pick their stage names...

Kari Lynn Dell said...

I'm thinking you don't want advice from the person who once sent you a manuscript called One Stormy Night.

Why yes, Snoopy was my inspiration.

Janet Reid said...

Kari, I loved that book!

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Great post. Titles? My WIP that languished as "Women's Work" is clicking right along now that it's called "Ride The Lightning." Like the others, I looked for a phrase that encapsulated some of the essence of the book.

The first was the name of the law firm when the book was more of a light-comedy cozy. However, the second erupted when the edges started to sharpen into a more straight on legal thriller. I had the title when the prosecutor said that the defendant was going to "Ride the lightning to the Promised Land."

Bill - your book was born to be "Bacon Country Blues" or "Chasing Bacon" or "Bacon County Line."


A3Writer said...

Is there such a thing as an easy way to come up with titles? I think some of it comes down to genre. I'm a fan of the older stuff, so I'll look over titles in the same genre from way back.

With mysteries I like the title to actually be the solution, but not obvious, like Hammett's Thin Man or Chandler's Little Sister

I'll pore over some old pulps for the others, too. Sci-fi (Asimov & Bradbury), fantasy (Robert E. Howard), and others. Something in their title scheme generally clicks, and I can approach mine in the same way.

Oh, and puns. I like multiple meanings in my titles, but then I'm a little sadistic.

Amy Ashley said...

If it's something abut a place named Bacon, I'd call it Everything's Better in Bacon. Even if it's not. The twisted cliche is funny.

BP said...

I guess the fact that most of my titles are the first words of my book I write wouldn't help, here.

I guess the title really should either be

A: an embodiment of what the reader should walk away with after reading the book
B: some snippet of the elevator pitch
C: A combination of both

????Sorry. What is life; it's spring break, and my brain is not taking voicemails. UGH :D I know you both will find the perfect title, soon!

Stephanie Evans said...

From now on, I plan to title ALL my books NAKED BLONDE as the publisher is going to change the title anyway and NAKED BLONDE will at least get their attention.

SWILUA said...

I think a good title necessarily lacks something that the novel HAS to have: nuance.

See, in a novel, you can take something and give it nuance. You have time and space to do it. So things that would otherwise be unappealing/creepy/non-hooky become totally compelling.

But in a title, you only have, like, 10 words. More than that, you only have, like, ten seconds to convince a buyer to pick the book up (if that).

So, what I do. Write down what is compelling about the book. Let's say, it's a book about someone who lies about incest.

Then, I cross out everything that--in the absence of nuance--is icky or not compelling, etc. Like, incest? Ew. Cross it out.

Lies on the other hand? Totally compelling. No nuance needed. So my title would be something like,

"Because She Lied."

If you wanted to hint that there *is* nuance in the book, I think you could play a little, but you'd have to absolutely avoid anything that *needs* nuance to be compelling. Maybe you could do a riddle or something.

"Because she lied, my truth is your fiction."


"One of us is lying."


[Insert the brilliant title you're probably MUCH more capable of coming up with than I am because, dude, I work in academics. We like long windy erudite collections of bombastic words and at least two semicolons, if you're at ALL worth your pedantically self-satisfied weight.]

I guess that's basically it.

Something compelling (obviously). But (importantly) with absolutely no dependence on nuance to *be* compelling.