Sunday, June 16, 2013

It's all in the Name

The menu is not the meal. - Alan Wilson Watts

Back in the 16th Century, early critics cautioned against reading too much into a title, saying,

The title is usually received with mocking laughter and jokes. But it's wrong to be so superficial when you're weighing men's (and presumably, now days, women's) work in the balance. Good advice, but don't titles sell books these days? I think it pays to consider them carefully.

The purpose of the title is to attract, intrigue and compel. It’s the headline, the very first sentence and it must hook the reader. It wants to sound good, to roll of the tongue, but not be overly predictable or clich├ęd. 

A good title can have double meanings, though it’s best to be careful there. For example, Mouse Work’s 1995 title, Cooking with Pooh is questionable, though funny.

Catchy titles can work, like Big Boom’s If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start with Your Legs but that’s not quite the style fantasy and paranormal romance readers are after. Maybe.

There are other considerations. Titles have to fit on the book cover. I’m not sure how Crown got Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam’ squeezed together with the author's name, Pope Brock, and a billy goat (I’m serious) but they did. 

Short titles can be preferable. George Orwell first called his masterpiece The Last Man in Europe until changing it to 1984.

I did a search and found there are rules to follow for selecting titles. Some writers ignore them, to their great success. For example:

Rule #1 – Don't use noun-adjectives, like Pamela Palmer's Desire Untamed (NY Times Bestseller)

Rule #2 - Don’t use proper names in the title, like JK Rowling's Harry Potter . . . right.

Rule #3 - Don’t use words like Lord, Magic, Moon, Sea, Wizard, as in bestselling JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Ursula K. Le Guin's The Wizard of Earthsea, or Patricia Briggs' Moon Called.

Rule #4 - Don’t use adjective-noun titles like Jeaniene Frost's bestselling Once Burned, Twice Tempted Or Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games.

Rule #4 - Don’t use needless complexity, like Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

Rule #5 – Don't be ironic, like Kerrelyn Sparks' bestselling Eat, Prey, Love, or Charlain Harris's Dead and gone.

Rules aside, there is a website where you can put your title to the test. This program generates the odds a title has of becoming a bestseller. If it’s accurate, my next book is going to sell a zillion copies! However the Dead Until Dark, Charlain Harris's book that spawned True Blood shows only 10.6% chance of succeeding, so maybe take it with a grain of salt.

My first two books were named organically, like pets. Book #1 in the Quantum Enchantment Series, The Spell of Rosette was just ‘Rosette’ for years. She got ‘The Spell’ as the story matured. 

Book #2, Arrows of Time was named for the narrative structure. It’s based on the theoretical notion that time is fully symmetrical - arrows going both ways and around in circles. I named Strange Attractors before I wrote a word of it. The idea of ‘strange attractors’- a pattern that appeared chaotic until seen from the right perspective - intrigued me.  

My most recent release, the novella Blood and Water in Vampires Gone Wild, was originally the idea of a series of books in this genre (paranormal vampiric romance) called Of Blood and Water. Those who have had a look know why!

Has anyone a favourite ‘title story’ to tell? Is there one that particularly compels or repulses? I’d love to hear about it. Comments welcome!

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Kim Falconer is a Supernatural Underground author writing paranormal romance, urban fantasy, YA and epic science fantasy novels. She also co-directs Good Vibe Astrology, an astrology and law of attraction school.

You can find out more about Kim at or on the 11th House Blog. She posts here at the Supernatural Underground on the 16th of every month. Her latest release is Supernatural Underground: Vampires Gone Wild


Jaime Rush said...

I love "Across a Wine Dark Sea." It's so evocative.

One of my favorites is "Darkly Dreaming Dexter." Not only is it alliterative, it's compelling.

One of my own favorite titles was Blindsight, named for the condition of hysterical blindness, which my heroine suffered. My publisher changed it to Now You See Me, but I changed it back when I indie-pubbed it.

DB Ayers said...

Great post, Kim! Where is the website that rates the odds of a title being a bestseller? Or did I miss that link somewhere in your post?

DB ♥

Kim Falconer said...

Jamie, I love that title, 'Across a Wine Dark Sea.' Beautiful. It reminds me of Tanith Lee's 'Drinking Sapphire Wine' . . . have you read TL? I love her!

And yes, your Blindsight! I think that is a more powerful title than the publisher's choice, and says more about your heroine, and maybe tone of the story . . . just shows how we can be trumped, at times.

I wanted to call the first of my second fantasy series, 'Avogadro's Stray' (a play on Avogadro's number and the science element in the fantasy series . . . a stray atom that changes everything - creates shape-shifting ability) but . . . my publisher felt it was too obscure a reference. It's titled 'Path of the Stray' . . .

I did go out and ask people randomly if they knew who Amedeo Avogadro was. Most didn't, so maybe my publisher was right in the end. Still . . .

Kim Falconer said...

Hello DB Ayers. Thank you! I forgot to put the link in. Stand by. Doing that now.

:) It's pretty fun!

Kim Falconer said...

Okay, DB, it's linked. 'Put your title to the test'. Let us know how you go :)

Bonnie Gill said...

Hi Kim,

Thanks for the post and the link. It seems every title I put in has a 10.2 chance. Coming up with a title is harder than writing the story, maybe because so much is riding on it.

Kim Falconer said...

Bonnie, I know what you mean. It's like coming up with the tag-line or 'shout line'(logline in scripts). Condense 165,000 words into one sentence please. Then, for your title, condense it into 1-4 words.

No small task!

But it keeps the thoughts zinging, the mind brainstorming.

DB Ayers said...

I came up with 59.3% on my current title and my work-in-progress. So I'm good? :-)

Kim Falconer said...

I would say so! Yes!

I think the main thing about a title is the Author LOVES it. That's where it begins. (of course, the publisher has to love it too . . . but it starts with us!)