I love titles. They are one of my favorite things about a new story. Coming up with a good title is like coming up with a good band name, which I also like doing in my spare time.
A book’s title is its identity; its name. It’s the first thing people see along with the cover and it’s the thing people will use to talk about the book and introduce it to others. Having a good title is just as important as having a good book cover.
Consider this: did you or someone you know, have an unusual or hard to spell name when you were growing up? Did that person have problems such as teachers saying their name wrong, or even being teased and bullied? Or maybe your name was too common, and easily confused with someone else. This is important to remember when you name your book. Just like people, books need a good name that doesn’t incite confusion or ridicule and must also be memorable.
I know titles are difficult for people, so I decided to write my ideas of how to come up with a good title. I’ve come up with an example title for the purpose of the post.
The Epic Adventures of Jerry and the Magical Pink Unicorn of Hope that Helps Him
You might be thinking no one would come up with a title like that. I stick to my example, and I’m going to drag better titles out of it.
Short Sweet to the Point
My biggest pet peeve about titles is when they are too long. You want to be as succinct as possible, not give away the ending, or be too obvious. That sounds complicated, but it’s really not.
“But, R. R,” you’re saying, “your book title is long.”
Yes, it’s a bit long. The original title was Darkness Falling. That’s it. Then I decided to cut it into a trilogy. Darkness Falling One doesn’t work, and I wanted all of the pieces to have the same name. Part one of the original manuscript was A Soldier and a Slave. At first I grudgingly decided to use it, but it bothered me. It’s too long; too many words.
In the end it was easy to fix. I just moved (and changed) two letters: Soldiers and Slaves. Read the two titles and see the difference, or better yet say them out loud and hear the difference.
Darkness Falling: A Soldier and a Slave
Darkness Falling: Soldiers and Slaves
Technically, both fit the story but the second one really latched on to a main theme rather than assigning it to characters you will meet. That one change made a big difference.
My point is, watch out for long titles. Figuring out which words you need and which you don’t will help you construct the right title. From my made up title I might go with Jerry and the Unicorn. It’s still long, it’s still tells the story, and it could still use work. I might also shorten it farther to Jerry’s Unicorn. (By the way, Jerry and the Unicorn is also a good band name.)
Examples of long titles that still worked out:
Harry Potter and the (any one of the books fits here)
The Lord of the Ring: The Fellowship of the Ring
Think of titles as poetry.
Titles need to have a lyrical flow of language. The Wind in the Willows comes to mind when I think of the poetic quality titles can obtain. Just like a good cover image can pull in a read, so can a good title with a siren song of “read me!”
The Epic Adventures of Jerry and the Magical Pink Unicorn of Hope that Helps Him is not poetry. It’s an explanation, but it clunks around in your head looking for a way out.
All stories have themes, both ones that were planned and ones that grow organically as they are told. Choosing from one of these is a good way to choose a title. It’s also a good way to create poetry from your story.
Just like with my own title, a Soldier and a Slave was not lyrical whereas Soldiers and Slaves was much better. (You might notice I like alliteration at this point, you can choose your own poetry style.)
With the example title, I might go with Unicorn of Hope.
Avoid pumping yourself up too much.
There’s a rule that you should never apologize before you show your work or give a speech.
“I’m sorry, this is only partially edited and I, uhm, plan on fixing it more,” is like saying “I know I’m bad at this and I know you’re going to hate it.” You need to be confident in what you’re presenting or don’t present it at all.
At the same time, over confidence is just as bad. The moment I see things like “The Epic Adventures” or “The Awesome Journey” or anything similar on a title, I immediately think it will be terrible. I could be wrong, but in the end that doesn’t matter. You should avoid chasing your readers away as often as possible. The only exception to this rule is if I know it’s a comedy and it’s trying to make fun of something.
My rule is to never, ever, ever give your work tags that should be decided by others. It’s like giving yourself your own nickname. No one is going to start calling you Twinkles just because you say “everyone calls me Twinkles” when you introduced yourself. You just need to get over it.
Epic, awesome, excellent, best, perfect, amazing, and so on are all words that should be given by reviewers and readers. Even in a description I would not say “my book is an epic fantasy.” Nope. Even if it is an epic fantasy, that’s not my call.
So in my title The Epic needs to go. Maybe instead we could go with The Adventures of Jerry or again, Jerry’s Adventures.
People Place or Thing
One good way to come up with a title is to use a character as an inspiration. The Hobbit is a good example. Jane Eyre and Emma are also good examples. This is especially useful if the book really centers around one character’s point of view.
The name of a place in the story is also a good title idea, especially when the place almost features as a character in its own way. The Secret Garden is a great example of a book where a place is also like a character. Mansfield Park also comes to mind, although the place is not featured as a character. The Wizard of Oz uses both.
Other stories use things in the title, such as The Sword in the Stone. You get the idea.
In my made up title, I might just call it Unicorn or maybe even just Jerry.
This is a big one for me. I’m working on a series, so it was important to think about how I was going to title everything. I went with the “everyone has the same first name with a different middle name” approach. It’s not uncommon. It creates uniformity. I’ve already pointed this out in both Tolkien’s series and J. K. Rowling’s series.
One big thing I’ve noticed is adding “Book One of the Magical Rainbow Unicorns Series” onto book covers. This goes right along with the “too long” category.
The Epic Adventures of Jerry and the Magical Pink Unicorn of Hope that Helps Him (Book One of the Magical Rainbow Unicorns Series).
I’m going to use George R. R. Martin’s approach here. He has a very long series, and each book has a different name. The titles are all very well done, I might add. I’ll admit I have only read A Game of Thrones, but I do know the series is called A Song of Ice and Fire. When I see copies of his books online, I don’t see “Book X of A Song of Ice and Fire Series” plastered on the front. It may or may not be on the back, I don’t know, but that’s where it should be, or on the inside. (Because, yes, somewhere it should be labeled which book it is in the series.)
I will say this was sometimes done with the Wheel of Time series, and it bugged me then and it bugs me now. (I’ve also seen more recent copies stopped doing it.)
If you feel you must, then please be kind and keep it short. (This is kindness to yourself and your readers, by the way.)
In the end, my made up book title would be Pink Hope: Book One of Rainbow Unicorns.
I hope you found something useful for your own titles. Feel free to share your own title tips below!