Monday, April 15, 2013

Writing 101: What's in a Book Name?

I see new indie books literally every day. Because I move fast, I'm usually looking at one piece of information only: the title. I won't even look at the cover, I'm not worried about your name. I don't even care about  the blurb. I make my decision after I read the title. 

What will I be thinking when I read yours?

By Any Other Title...

They say that names aren't important...and they're wrong. When it comes to books, the title is everything. And lately, I've been seeing all sorts of weird stuff in all kinds of titles. I think it's time we set a few guidelines for writing good ones. 

  • Length: Too long is just too long. I've noticed all sorts of epic book titles lately, one or two that were just about as long as one of my opening chapters. If you're having trouble squeezing all the words onto a book cover, take that as a sign that your title is just too long. By the same token, you may want to re-consider all those really short titles, unless you have some way to distinguish them. One-word titles are perfect for books within a series. Otherwise, you might have trouble distinguishing your one-word title from all the others that are out there. 
  • Proper Names: There's a rash of book titles containing proper names lately. It's tricky business, doing that. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is pretty good, there's a hook in there. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert sounds intriguing. Abby Got an E-Mail from Kate Winslet isn't such a great title, and I'm not even sure it's legal to write that book. Only use a proper name if it is what? Easy to spell and easy to remember, which is what your pen name should be also. Never forget that you are already asking readers to remember a name before you put one in the title: yours.
  • Weird Adjectives: Stuck on You is a clear metaphor that I immediately get. Coaxing Your Love is a little bit more obscure, but I'm still with you. Venerating Johnny, that's just too darn complicated. If I have to figure it out, it's just too much. The title is not the best place to trot out the four-syllable words or impress the world with your knowledge of little-known descriptors. Remember that simple language is usually the best.

If you look for these three things, and eliminate them, you'll have better book titles. You want something fairly simple, yet distinct. Something I can remember that's not too cumbersome, something unique. Try cutting proper names down to just one (The Curious Case of Benjamin?), simplify those adjectives and edit out any unnecessary length. Because by any other name, I might decide not to read that book.

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