How to Choose a Title for Your Book
When you hear about a new release, or someone recommends a book to you, the very first impression you get is from the title. Does it sound intriguing? Does it make you want to read the blurb, or even read the book itself?
When you send a query, you include a few things in your subject line – the title, the genre, the word count, and your name. The only thing that allows any uniqueness for your particular story is the title. When agents sift through their slush pile, they see the subject lines first. A great, gripping title will make them click on your email. Your fantastic query will hook them, and voila! (okay, so it’s not that simple, but a great title really IS important)
With an 80,000-word manuscript staring you in the face, it’s hard to sum up the entire story in a succinct one to six(ish) word phrase. Sometimes the title comes to you easily. For example, WHAT LIES ABOVE has had the same title from the moment I started drafting it (in fact, I came up with the title even before I started the writing). My current WIP, however, went through a name change, and the first book I ever wrote, CONCEALED, went through numerous changes.
If you are like me, you hate having a manuscript called “UNNAMED” – unless, of course, that is the actual title of your book ;) I like to be able to refer to my book’s title in conversations, even though I often hoard the title as a surprise until much later in the process (as I have done with my current WIP).
How, though, do you choose that perfect title? It can be so frustrating, but when you finally find it, it is the best feeling!
REFLECT ON THE THEME
Some titles are more figurative than literal. Examples of this would be SEIGE AND STORM, or AND I RISE. They have to do less with an actual event or person, and more with the theme of the book. They elicit a certain reaction. SEIGE AND STORM sounds were warlike, and hints that the book will contain lots of action. AND I RISE implies that the character is rising to a place of strength and action. She will be doing something.
Even though I’ve never read this series, I will use TWILIGHT as another example. Each of the books relates to a different stage in the night cycle. Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn. They relate not really to the story in any way, but to the progression of events.
CONSIDER THE GENRE
Genre has a lot to do with title choice. Have you noticed that many fantasy novels share similar key words… crown, midnight, darkness, ruin. These words reflect a very fantasy-esque vibe. They make you think of dark, swirling magic and medieval worlds.
On the other hand, science fiction tends to be more futuristic. It involves technology or far-flung solar systems. Instead of dark, magical worlds, sci-fi often has harsher syllables (i.e. THE HUNGER GAMES, DIVERGENT, ORIGIN, BEYOND THE RED). Don’t these titles just sound like they belong to a more realistic, science fiction world?
Now, there are no hard-set rules as to the words you should include. You want something unique and different. Taking a bunch of popular words and throwing them together isn’t a sure-fire way to attract readers. Choosing a title that perfectly reflects your story will.
TYPES OF TITLES:
Here are some examples of different title types.
Describes the Protagonist –
THE GOOSE GIRL
THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS
All these titles focus on the main character, and a particular attribute of them. These words cannot be random. They relate in some form to the story. For example, in THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS, a major symbol in the book is a religious ritual where the main character has her finger pricked by a rose, and the blood is collected as a sort of vow. This is where the word “thorns” comes from. “Fire” comes from the power her supernatural godstone gives her.
In the other three examples, the title simply describes the character outright. The protagonist in RED QUEEN has red blood, in a world divided by red and silver. In THE SHIFTER, the main character is a shifter. She shifts pain from body to body. Simple, and yet complex. It wraps up the story in two words.
Describes an Event –
THE HUNGER GAMES
These titles do not focus on a character, but on an event. In both of the books above, the events are vital to the story. The Hunger Games themselves are the major flaw and enemy in the trilogy, and the thing which Katniss fights most against.
The traveling circus Caraval is where the majority of the story takes place. Playing the game is what the main character must do. Therefore, it is very appropriate that the book be named after it.
Describes a Place –
WHAT LIES ABOVE
BEYOND THE RED
UNDER THE NEVER SKY
These are more mysterious titles. They are questions. My MC in WHAT LIES ABOVE must face what lies above her underground city. The first half of the book, she wonders. The second half, she survives. In both cases, she must still deal with the world above.
Describes an Important Object –
CROWN OF MIDNIGHT
THRONE OF GLASS
Comes from a line in the Book –
AN EMBER IN THE ASHES
Means Something Different Upon Reflection –
THE KISS OF DECEPTION
Okay, so how can you use all of these examples to decide your own title?
First, brainstorm some ideas. Even if they are awful, getting your thoughts out will help you to recognize some words you like.
Do you want the attention to fall on a major event, or the character? A place, a theme, an idea? Try one from each category. Create as many possibilities as you can.
Next, narrow the list down to your favorites. Which ones look good on paper? Say them out loud. Do they have a good ring to them? Do they roll easily off the tongue?
For example, would RUIN AND RISING have the same ring if it was named Rising and Ruin? Different syllables flow differently.
After you personally narrow the choices, ask your friends and family. Have them vote on their favorites. Sometimes, the titles we think sound nice might sound different to other people’s ears.
In some cases, a title might take a little getting used to. When I was brainstorming new titles for my WIP, I thought I would never stop liking my original one. I didn’t love it, hence why I was selecting a different one. But a title becomes a part of a story if it stays long enough. For example, I could never think of changing WHAT LIES ABOVE to anything else. The title has become part of the story. Part of the world.
In other instances, I’ve known in my gut that the title wasn’t right. This might be hard to believe, but when you find one that really clicks with your story – one that highlights everything and sums it up perfectly – you’ll know.
You’ll get excited about it.
It will reflect the world, the plot, the characters. The theme and style of your book will be perfectly shown in the word choice.
You might have to call your manuscript UNNAMED until you finish. Once you have the basic story down, you’ll be able to better see the style and theme. If you choose the title from a sentence within the manuscript, you’ll have more of a choice once all those sentences are down on paper.
Also, realize that on some occasions, publishers change the titles of their acquired books. If you aren’t 100% satisfied with your title, all hope is not lost. ORIGIN was first named Perfectly Pia when Jessica Khoury sent it to agents.
I hope this breakdown of title categories helps you in selecting a name for your book. If you are currently in the first draft stage, I wouldn’t sweat it too much. Focus on your writing, and a title will follow.
Titles are easy to change. Entire books are quite a bit harder ;) So work on strengthening your writing and polishing it. You’ll get there!
Have you struggled with choosing a title? How did you ultimately pin one down? Are you happy with it?
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