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 


No comments: