After characters show up in my head and badger me until an idea germinates with a story where I might put them, I start kicking around possible book titles. It has always seemed important to me to have a working title I think will grab a reader’s attention and will in some way exemplify my story.
My first title thoughts are always too wordy. A wise author once told me to keep a title simple. Yes you want the title to fit the tone, the general theme and of course your sub-genre, but short is better. Two words fit well on a cover. I was told to use descriptive nouns and short words with punch. I think it’s true because consider successful movie and song titles. Many are one or two words.
I do review current song titles when I’m looking to title a book. I like the Country-Western titles because many of my stories are contemporary cowboy or ranch stories. I check out the “somebody done me wrong” titles, but find many too long and too funny to make use of.
The authors I know want something original. Given the number of songs, movies and books out there, cobbling together a totally new title seems pretty impossible.
I spend way too much time gnashing my teeth over titling my story. But I’m a list maker so I start a list of possible choices. It gives me an excuse to go to the bookstore. I see what current titles are on the shelf and which ones “speak” to me. I like to go through books of poetry and see if any words that evoke emotion stand out. (Okay—so I dink around with this when I should be writing the book.)
And the more books I write, the more difficult this process is. I sometimes sketch my rough idea to writer friends and ask them for title possibilities which I always think are better than mine. I add those to my growing list.
The truth is, after all this work and angst I try not to get too attached to what I settle on as a working title. My editor may hate it. Or maybe they’re going to publish a book with a similar title that I know nothing about. Early in my career I had good luck picking titles that ended up on my books. Now—not so much. In fact I sometimes end up sending in nearly all of the titles on my list and still need to go back and search for more.
I have one writer friend who thinks I’m silly to waste time I could be writing on titling my work in progress. She lists hers and Work 1, Work 2, etc. When her book is finished she brainstorms titles with friends, relatives and her editor. And I must say her titles are crisp, concise and compelling. But my OCD tendencies want an honest-to-goodness possible title at the top of every page I write.
You probably already know that titles of songs, movies and books can’t be copyrighted. So it’s okay to filch partial or whole titles that you like. Also remember to look to the pages you’ve written for words that resonate. Is your story about forgiveness, revenge, heartbreak, honor or justice? Do you have a bit of introspection or dialogue that’s smart, snappy, and perfect for your title?
Do any of you care to share what you do to arrive at a book title? Also, do you think titles matter to readers?