Saturday, March 26, 2011

Tantalizing Titles

Do you judge a book by its title?

Finding the perfect title - that elusive single word or phrase which will encompass the tone of a story while grasping potential readers’ attention… yeah, it doesn’t happen for me as a writer. I’m uber-awful at creating names for my books. Mine always end up changing. I’ll make an entire list of possible titles and show it to my friends, only to discover they ALL pretty much suck. Perhaps I am too long winded to create titles? Maybe I should throw a bunch of alluring words into a hat and just pull one out, then devise a way to insert that word into the book. Because, really, I’m certain that’s what some authors and publishers must do.

Is it just me, or are there a lot of books these days with cool titles that have nothing to do with the story? One-word titles are all the rage. For example, I always wondered how Twilight got its name. It’s a kick-butt title, much better than her original choice of Forks, but it doesn’t relate to the story at all, for me. And does it really matter? Is it enough to have a catchy title to draw readers, even if it doesn’t relay anything about the narrative? Do you get peeved, or could you not care less?

* Reminder: You have five more days to enter Jeyn Roberts’s Query Critique Contest!


  1. I hadn't noticed the trend of one word titles lately...but you're right about the meaning being lost... maybe some serious symbolism? I think they need to be more direct, like The Hunger Games... totally relates - very direct - three words

  2. I don't judge a book by it's title, but I AM drawn to books with certain titles. A great example of this is Eve Forward's Villains by Necessity. I mean, how could you not want to know what necessity made them villains?

    I think you're right too, about so many books nowadays having titles that have nothing much to do with the story. Twilight's a great example. It's a cool title, and there was a catchy theme with all of the titles of the books, but stuff like that always makes me think of a fashion line of clothing. "This is the Twilight line" or "Here's the Uglies line" (although as I understand it, the Uglies titles fit with the story line)

    It's all about branding, I think. I prefer titles like Kristin Cashore's Graceling, which draws you with its uniqueness but is not overdone. I also love Janni Lee Simner's Bones of Faerie, and Faerie Winter, which have everything to do with the stories but also stand out in your head.

    As for titling my own books, I thus far have always gotten good responses to what I have, and I've never put a lot of effort into them. They just tend to show up in my head, some before I even start, others during the process. Now, since I'm still querying agents, maybe once I have one, all of my titles will get trashed. Who knows. Here's a few of mine:


    Red Chief

    Amarok and the Gone Missing Girl

    Eyes like Glass
    A Heart Like Stone
    A Soul Like Ash (These are a series)

  3. I agree, titles are difficult but sometimes you might have a brainwave and come up with the perfect one!
    I love the quirky titles. Some of my favourites are:
    The Sky Always Hears Me And The Hills Don't Mind
    Feeling Sorry For Celia
    How I Spent My Last Night On Earth
    Please Ignore Vera Dietz
    Sean Griswold's Head

    And I love almost all the titles from the Confessions of Georgia Nicholson series.

    But yeah, for me, the titles have to match something in the book or it just plain irks me.

  4. Thanks, guys! A. Grey... you rock - I might have to pay you to read my books and come up with titles, haha. :)
    Bee, ooh, those are great titles! I kind of liked the title "Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side" and it was a cute story, too. The title definitely has to match the tone of the work.

  5. I, Evie, am a title and cover judger to the max.

    It's bad, I know, but how else am I supposed to pick books? I ain't got all day to spend looking, even though I'd like to.

    Anyway, that's so true about titles not matching! I just re-read Hush, Hush yesterday, and I still can't figure out why it's called that. But I love the title (and the cover...*swoons*).

    But titles used to be my favorite thing to come up with when I was writing. I used to sit for a good couple of hours sometimes brainstorming titles. It was fun. :)

    Great post, Wendy! :)

  6. I think there's something powerful about a one word title--if the word can pull off intense emotion & curiosity ... like Evie, I'm way intrigued by the book 'Hush' now ... such a great word. Yeah, title & cover do affect how interested I am with a book---but if the title doesn't have to do w/ the story, I hardly notice! (like w/ twilight, it was enough for me that Edward mentioned that twilight was the safest time for him & Bella-& I *think* that's the only time the word is mentioned!)

  7. A great title can definitely catch my attention. It's weird because with my books, sometimes, the title is just THERE from the very beginning. I know it and love it. Then there are books where I feel like the title is going to do me in. I just can't figure it out and it drives me nuts!

  8. I had way too much trouble coming up with a title for my novel project. I tend to really like one word titles, but I think I was like that before the trend happened. Most of the books on my shelf have titles that are three or four letters, so I'm not sure how that happened.

    My two novel projects have one word titles, "Ghost" and "Divided". Ghost directly relates to my story. Very directly. It's not a ghost story, which seems strange, but it still relates to the story.

    Divided is a little more vague, and, because of this, more subject to change. But a one word title feels right for it, since the short stories it's based off of are all one word titles as well.

    I love titles. So much. But titles that make sense make sense. You know?

  9. Lydia, I like those titles, especially Divided, and I think it makes sense for titles to make sense, haha. :)
    Evie, the awesome title of Hush, Hush combined with that incredible title actually made me cry with jealousy when I first saw it on amazon (I'd just completed draft one of my fallen angel story, hence the envy). But you're right, after I read it I pondered, "Okay, cool. But why the title?"
    Morg, one-word titles are gripping, and some work perfectly, but I don't like when they feel forced or generic. Then I feel like I've been suckered.

  10. Oh my gosh, this is EXACTLY what I'm going through now. There seems to be a trend in YA to have short, one word titles. And yeah, a lot of them seem like they don't have a whole lot to do with the book. Like Twilight. My boyfriend assumed Twilight was titled that because that's when vampires can come out to play.... but that doesn't really fit with the rules of Meyer's world.

    I've been hunting for the perfect title for MONTHS now. I mean, I know that when you find an agent/publisher, whatever title you have is subject to change. But titles are important, especially during the query process. While a title won't make or break an agent's decision, I've heard that a good one can catch an agent's eye and make them request pages even if the query isn't perfect.

    I have a tendency to come up with longer titles that don't seem to fit with the current trends. They're unique and tell you about the story, but they always end up sounding middle-grade. And my complaint with some of these one word titles is that they don't really tell you about the story, and most of them come out sounding a little melodramatic. And a melodramatic title doesn't really fit my book. But neither do these quirky middle-grade types. There has to be a fine line somewhere. I just have to find it and learn to walk it.

    Good luck with your hunt!

  11. I like for the titles to some way be tied to the book, if nothing more than by it's concept. But if you can tie it in by a word that's used throughout the MS several times w/multi layered meanings, to me, that's when it all gells.

    But I don't go into a story w/that in mind. I go back later and see if there are any words I used that would work.

    My YA spin-off of Alice in Wonderland that's out on sub right now is titled SPLINTERED.

    I picked that word after realizing I used it in the MS several times subconsciously.

    First, my MC thinks she's going crazy like all of the women in her family. She refers to it as her sanity being splintered.

    Second, the looking glass she steps through is cracked and splintered.

    And third, the Wonderland "fairytale" that she finds waiting for her is a splintered and warped version of the Lewis Carroll tale.

    This one was easy to pin down a title for; I've had others that are more difficult to sum up and have to bang my head against a wall to come up w/anything at all. :-) Good luck finding your perfect title!

  12. Ugh, Christine, YES! Good luck to you, too. I wish I had some advice to give, lol.
    Anita, I did find one cool word in my MS that was used twice. I'm still rolling it around in my mind. I love, love, love the title Splintered! That would completely catch my attention in a bookstore.

  13. Good titles definitely pull me in, and although there seems to be a trend for single words or snappy one-liners, I don't limit myself to those. John Marsden's "Tomorrow When The War Began" is longer than most, but it has always stuck with me.

    As for my own, well, it is a single word... at the moment ^^;

  14. Titles do catch a reader, as well as the cover art and blurb.

    Don't worry too much about a title just yet, for now, make sure you have a killer blurb.

    That's the one that will hook a reader. :D

  15. Oooh, T.D., I've got to be honest. I don't read blurbs. I'm weird like that. I feel like they give away things I'd rather learn from the story. But regardless of whether I read them or not, you're right. Most people DO read them, so the blurb needs to pop and grab. (I stink at blurbs, too... but we'll leave that for another day.)

  16. Oh gosh, I am terrible about judging books by their titles! And their covers (which, incidentally, I hear you're really not supposed to do). If a book has a gorgeous cover and a catchy title, even if the blurbs or summary don't sound very promising, I'll end up getting it more likely than not. I'm easily coerced into buying new books. It's sort of pathetic, really. I have no willpower!

    I'm a new follower, by the way. Cannot believe I haven't found this lovely little slice of book blogging heaven before now ;)

  17. Lilly Bear! Yay! Thanks so much for following and commenting. We're glad to have you. :)

  18. It's interesting how titles can change. Out guest query critiquer Jeyn Roberts originally called her book Baggers, which is now Dark Inside.

    Covers influence me greatly for book buying, but so does Twitter.

  19. I do judge a book by Title and cover! I don't like when neither has anything to do with the book.

    I believe Twilight came from the line in the book when Edward mentions that Twilight is the safest time...

    I believe that there should always be a little focus research done for titles, it truly can change the life of the book!

  20. I think Titles should be catchy, but they're not going to make or break a book for me. While I love long titles ("Wolves, Boys, and Other Things That Might Kill Me"), most of my projects tend to go the one word route. Usually in past tense, too, haha. I blame it on my love for the Twilight and Shiver series. :-D

  21. I'm extra rotten at titles, and I so know what you mean about titles that have nothing to do with the story. If you think of Twilight and The Lovely Bones (which I can reference because I just, JUST finished it on Thursday), there is one sentence in the book that mentions it. A very 'authory' sentence, if you know what I mean, but I suppose it gets the job done.

    Nice post!

    Marie at the Cheetah

  22. Honestly I kind of due, but I also kind of judge a book by its cover even though I know I shouldn't. The title and cover are going to be the first things that catch someone's attention if they've never heard about the book before. I also think you should get a sense of the plot or theme of the book by either its title or cover, perhaps not both but definitely at least one of them.

  23. I'm SUCH a hypocrite! I really do judge books by their titles, but I'm horrible at coming up with titles for my own.