I have noticed titles being a point of contention lately. Either little thought has gone into them, they do not fit the genre, or writers are waiting to be represented or published to decide on a title.
While the title you query with often won’t be the title that goes to print (as the marketing department has a say and publishing houses ultimately make that decision), first impressions are still very important. You query with the title in the email subject heading which is the first thing agents and editors see in their inbox. We will always look past titles to the body of text, but why not use that opportunity to show how serious you are about your work.
How do you come up with a great title?
1) While you work keep a journal of tag lines, themes, phrases, epigraph ideas, puns, and intertexual references. Even after you decide on a working title, these notes can also keep you on track while you write with a special focus on themes and your hook.
2) Go to bookshops or Amazon to look at books in your genre. What are they doing? What are the trends? What are the common factors? Make a list and take note.
3) While it is important to fit within your genre it is also important to stand out. With over 250,00 books published in North America and 200,000 in the UK each year, you have to jump off the bookshelf.
Example - One word or long titles are trendy: Room vs. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. These are trends to use when they fit your tone. Short titles are definitive and confident. Long titles have room for description, but can be very enigmatic: who is the girl and why does she have a tattoo? This is following a trend without succumbing to saturation. You can stand out and even create a new trend while fitting into genre expectations.
4) Being straightforward is great for non fiction. In the age of metadata and online book discovery making your non fiction title accurate to the subject matter is of the utmost importance. Your title, and especially subtitle, will be the key factor in explaining what your book is about. Tip: Include the reader in the title to engage them immediately (i.e. What to Expect When You’re Expecting).
Agents and editors will help with this process, but be aware of the importance of titles in the querying and submission stage. This can attract great interest from the industry giving you the best chance at getting the agent and editor you want.
Q: How do you decide on title? What techniques work for you?
(Images: Trevor Coulart, HarperCollins)