Thursday, March 16, 2023

Book Titles

Another in the More than meets the eye series...

Rabelais présente Gargantua - Wikimedia Commons

Francois Rabelais, a 16th Century writer, cautioned against reading too much into a title. He said, [A book’s] title is usually received with mocking laughter and jokes. But it's wrong to be so superficial when you're weighing [a writer's] work in the balance.’ Good advice, especially nowadays when titles sell books. It pays to consider them carefully. 

But if that's true why are there so many weird titles? 

We can agree that the purpose of the title is to attract, intrigue and compel potential readers to pick up the book and buy it. It’s the headline, the very first sentence and it needs to hook the reader. That said, it can't be clickbait where the title has nothing to do with the story. Titles want to sound good—to roll off the tongue—but not be overly predictable or clichéd. 

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. Catchy can work, like Big Boom’s If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start with Your Legs but that’s not quite the style speculative fiction readers are drawn to.

Other Considerations

 Now A Place of Magic

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, Pope Brock, and a billygoat (I’m serious - check the image!) but they did. 

There are definitely rules to follow for selecting titles. Some writers ignore them, to their great success: 

Rule one—don’t use a proper name in the title. Like, um, Harry Potter

Rule two—don’t use words like Bane, Barbarian, Bard, Battle, Book, or Crystal. Like Jenifer Fallon’s bestselling Chaos Crystal

Rule three—don’t use adjective-noun titles. Like Sara Douglass’ bestselling Twisted Citadel

Rule four—don’t use needless complexity. Like, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? As in, the bestselling SF by Philip K. Dick! I will admit that Blade Runner works better for the big screen.

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 book #3 in the Amassia Series will sell a zillion copies! However the Da Vinci Code shows only a l4.6% chance of being a bestseller, so maybe take it with a grain of salt. 

The Working Title w/t

Working Titles (w/t) are often named organically, like pets. Book #1 of my 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 eventually named for the narrative structure, but for the first year of edits it was called The Winged Lion. A little bit like George Orwells book first called The Last Man in Europe. 1984 does have a better ring. More recently, Crown of Bones's w/t was Phantoms of Aku before that was nixed.

The bottom line is, no matter what you name your book as you write it, the publisher, you or marketing will likely give it another twist. For example, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter was firsts The Mute. Prometheus Unbound became Frankenstein. Catch 22 was first, wait for it, Catch 18. Treasure Island's w/t was The Sea Cook, and Gone with the Wind was Tomorrow is Another day

I asked my author friends to chime in on their title experiences and Merrie Defestano told me about one of her amazing novels. It's the one featuring Maddie MacFaddin (“Mad Mac” to fans of her bestselling magical stories). Maddie spent a blissful childhood summer in Ticonderoga Falls and that's where she wants to be when her adult life is falling apart... But is it really all so safe?

This title was first published by HarperVouyger as Feast - Harvest of Dreams, (see image above) but the latest edition is a revisioning of the story titled A Place of Magic released through Ruby Slipper Press. If you read the first paragraph, you will not be able to put it down. I promise!

Another author friend, Zena Shapter, has a title coming out in May
called When Dark Roots Hunt, but that was not always the book's name. Originally it was called Ruin of Shade

When I asked her why the change she said, "I decided the title was too abstract for readers without first knowing the world. I also then changed some terminology in the book to make it more accessible for readers. In comparison, the title ‘When Dark Roots Hunt’ both evokes the book’s exotic ‘other’ world, and hints at the action and menace to come..."

I love it, and totally agree! It's a fantastic read you'll hear more about soon.

Does anyone have a good ‘title story’ to tell? Is there one that particularly compels or repulses?  Comments welcome!


Posts in the 'More Than Meets the Eye' Series

Book Titles

The End



Styling Characters



Kim Falconer, currently writing as A K Wilder, has released Crown of Bones, a YA Epic Fantasy with Curse of Shadows as book 2 in the series.

Kim can be found on  AKWilder TwitterFacebook and Instagram

Throw the bones, read your horoscopes or Raise Your Phantom on the site 


Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Celebrating the "Band of Brothers" in Fantasy #2

Last month, I kicked off 2023 with a focus on the "band of brothers", which although drawn from myth and folklore, legend and history, is a consistent theme in fantasy storytelling. 

The Round Table -- a 'band of brothers' overlapping legend & history

I also explored more of the concept's origins and why I consider the "band of brothers" a quintessential part of epic fantasy, with its focus on quests and war. Its sibling, the "Scooby gang," is equally integral to the wider fantasy landscape. So I'm going to be looking at examples of both in each post.

The Last Airbender -- definitely a 'Scooby gang'

As with so many aspects of contemporary fantasy, it's really hard to go past JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings when honing in on the "band of brothers"especially when the first book is named for exactly that fellowship. 

The nine companions: the fellowship of the Ring

The "band's" prominence in The Lord of the Rings is also not surprising (imho) because the story is so deeply rooted in the Norse myths and sagas. So it would be stranger if camaraderie, brotherhood (it's definitely brotherhood with Tolkien ;-) ), and enduring friendship were not vital to the story. 

The quest-journey goes ever on...

The "band of brothers" is equally vital to David Gemmell's Legend, which in many ways epitomises the concept and the heroic fantasy subgenre. The same is true of all Gemmell's writing, but the thing about Legend is that it comprises 'bands within bands' in the defense of a fortress (Dross Dolnach) against invading hordes. (Outnumbered defenders, desperate oddsyup, it's epic all right!) 

First there's Druss, the ageing and legendary axeman, trying to knock the Dross Delnoch garrison into shape at short notice. Then there's the swordsman Rek (who's also a berserker) and his small band of companions fighting to reach the fort in time. The third and final band comprises Serbitar and the Thirty, a band of fighting monks dedicated to fighting physically and magically until the end. The three bands come together in the fort, but the story throughout is based on their overlapping arcs. 

Last month, I mentioned history's Sacred Band of Thebes, an elite fighting company of 300 warriors, comprising 150 pairs of male lovers, dedicated to each other and their city. In The Sword and the Lion, Roberta Gray adapts the concept with sworn father and daughter pairs, magically bound and endowed with supernatural powers to spearhead defense of Ghezrat, their home city. Again, the stakes are high, although it is only one city state (and the others that lie beyond it) that must be saved, rather than a world (Middle Earth) or nation (the Drenai lands of Legend.)

The Scooby gang comes into its own in fantasy where the stakes are smaller overall, and the "gangs" more buddies and/or chance-met companions, than brothers in a shield wall. In Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows duology, the gang are rogues from Ketterdam's criminal underworld, drawn together to carry out what is essentially a heist. Although there are larger issues at stake, the core mission is the heist and emerging victorious in the underworld's cut-and-thrust. 

The Crows

JK Rowling's Harry, Hermione, and Ron, and the extended Hogwarts crew of friends and allies, are essentially a Scooby gang as well, however grim and dark the magical stakes get toward the end of the story.

Scooby pals...

Bands of brothers and Scooby gangsthere's just so many to pick from in contemporary fantasy, so I'll be back next month to shine the spotlight on a few more. In the meantime, if you have a favorite, do share in the comments!


About the Author:

Helen Lowe is an award-winning novelist, poet, and lover of story. With four books published to date, she is currently completing the final instalment in The Wall Of Night series.

Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog, monthly on the Supernatural Underground, and tweets @helenl0we.


Previous Posts:

February: Honing in on 2021Celebrating the "Band of Brothers"