In this age of web-publishing, discovery is everything, And one way to help skew the calculation is with the right title.
Titles are the ultimate advertising slogan. They are the icing on the cake of the world the author is trying to build – summing up their creation in a few words. Problem is, titles have to do a lot of contradictory things. All at once they have to be:
1. Short and snappy – you have one or two words, maybe with a qualifying phrase if the book’s non-fiction.
2. Inspirational – the title has to get the reader’s imagination going – usually by promising the emotional response they’ll get from reading the book.
3. Descriptive – the title also has to say what the book is about. This is especially true of non-fiction.
4. Original – This may sound obvious, but it pays to check, and even publishers can fall into the trap. It happened to me – a publisher imposed a title which, it turned out, was identical to a competing book on the same subject. In New Zealand law, a title cannot be ‘copyrighted’, but it’s a bit naff to match someone else’s.
5. Distinctive – at least in its intended genre.
So how do you get those elusive few words? The best place to start is with your logline. Uh –you do have a logline…don’t you? Think about your intended audience. This may be an agent, a publisher, or the eventual readership. The final title may actually vary depending on who you’re targeting. Write down a lot of words and variations – look at them. Ponder.
Some may spring out. Remember, you can change that title to suit as your work evolves, too. And keep revising it right up to submission point – or the moment when you self-publish. That’s nothing new – F. Scott Fitzgerald, for instance, oscillated between a whole lot of possible titles for his The Great Gatsby (1925). He kept doing it even after the publishers were working on the book.
For writers with a publisher contract, title is often a moot point. It’s still important to create a catchy slogan to sell the book to the publisher – but they may or may not use it. Most contracts have a working title, but there’s also a clause giving final decision on title to the publishers.
Often this is quite a good thing. Publishers will usually develop a title based on what their marketing departments think works best. And they have a very good feel for that. Sometimes it can be quite subtle – Harry Potter and the Philosophers’ Stone was retitled Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone for the US market, for instance.
How do you concoct your titles? Do you find words that inspire? Is it tortuous or easy – I’d love to hear from you.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012