Write it now: title – the most vital words you’ll ever write

I’ve always held that the two or three most crucial words for any author are the first ones a reader sees – the title.

1195430130203966891liftarn_Writing_My_Master_s_Words_svg_medTitles have to be snappy, descriptive, catchy and short. With the cover design, they can make or break a book. They have to sum up the theme or aim – and that’s true of fiction and non-fiction. Non-fiction books often have a subtitle that further describes the content.

The phrase I’d use is ’emotional capture’.

Figuring out the right words is one of the hardest tasks publishers ever face. Publishers? Absolutely. A publishing contract gives the power to assign title to the publisher. They ‘consult’ with the author – but that’s it. The reason is that publishing is a business, and publishers are the ones who have the sales records and a feel for the way something is going to work.

In this age of online self-publishing, that onus drops back on the author – who becomes publisher.

My books have gone through the trad system. Usually my title’s been close to my intent, though there was one time a book appeared with publisher title that accidentally matched the title of a rival book.

Another time I got into a discussion over the subtitle of my book on New Zealand’s convict-era adventures. My publisher’s marketing department wanted to call it ‘hidden’ or ‘secret’, by way of improving sales. I couldn’t fault the motive, but I objected to the word. The fact that Aussie convicts escaped across the Tasman to New Zealand in the 1820s was extremely well known – what I was adding was an understanding. What’s more, nobody usually knows the role publishers play in titles, I’d likely be credited with it.

Eleanor Catton’s comment that reviews in New Zealand are often used as devices for bullying is quite right. A large part of that is because the field is so tiny that books often get given to rival authors to review. I’ve learned in the past not to leave ‘easy kill’ options for reviewers hostile to my writing books in their private territory or field of employment.

But this time I was over-ridden… and was duly dealt to by reviewers for claiming a non-existent ‘hidden’ past. Sigh.

Have you ever wrestled with a book title?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

9 thoughts on “Write it now: title – the most vital words you’ll ever write

  1. I love writing titles, but am superstitious about them. I never put the title on the document until it is done.


  2. No, not yet. My first book was self-published, so I got to use my title–”Dana’s Dilemma”. Most of my planned book titles are short with 2 words. The current book almost ready to go to a publisher has 4 words. The longest title I have planned is 8 words–”A Pinch of Sweetness, A Slice of Murder”. If I have to shorten it, I’ll go with “A Slice of Murder”.


  3. Small consolation, but at least you predicted the outcome of having to title your book as “secret” knowledge when it’s something well known. I guess I’ll have the exact same fun when it comes to pitching my work to publishers. I hope to keep that time as far away as possible.

    I have real difficulty trying to come up with titles for my work, whether it’s a blog post or a short story I’ve been writing. Novels are an entirely different matter. I have no idea where to start, or how to condense an entire work down into a few words. I keep telling myself I’ll come up with the title when it’s the last thing I do – when everything else has been written and edited.


Comments are closed.