MY TROUBLES WITH PICKING A BOOK TITLE

I’m terrible with titles. I can come up with a story easily enough, but I can never think of what to call it. The WIPs on my hard drive have names like The Italian Holiday, The Free State, Berlin Underground… Sounds great, if I was writing travel guides. But I write steamy, fast-paced romances about brooding alpha males and their ladies. I need my book titles to reflect that!

 

 

WHY A GOOD TITLE IS IMPORTANT

 

The book’s title and the cover image are the first things the potential reader sees. We shouldn’t be sloppy here. When a new reader comes across your book, you only have a few seconds to catch their interest before they move on.

 

A good book title

  1. sounds cool
  2. gives an idea what the book is about
  3. fits the genre (IMPORTANT)

 

I can’t stress point number three enough; a good title heavily depends on the genre. A great fantasy title wouldn’t necessarily make a great romance title and vice versa.

I love the book title guideline Tucker Max gives in his blog. Ask yourself this question:

 

If you were to tell someone the title of your book at a party, would they have to ask what it’s about?

 

If the answer is yes, you might want to rethink your title.

A reader who stumbles upon your book is like that stranger at a party, except that the reader is not going to stick around and wait for you to explain what your book is about. A few seconds, remember.

But like with all guidelines, you shouldn’t take this advice too seriously. It’s probably impossible to come up with something that instantly gives everyone the right idea. Think in broad strokes—can they guess the genre? And the tone? Or will they confuse your horror novel for something light and humorous?

 

MY WORKING TITLES THAT DIDN’T WORK

 

CASE NO. 1: My debut novel, a contemporary erotic romance about a woman who falls in love with her kidnapper

The original name of the manuscript was The Long Weekend of Evelyn Moorland. I thought it was such a great title and I was so proud of it I already had it on the cover, ready to be published.

 

 

With a little more experience (ahem) I see now that it’s too long, too vague, and not particularly sexy. It might be a good title for another genre, but it doesn’t really work for a steamy kidnap fantasy.

 

 

 

 

A lot better, isn’t it? This says more about the genre and the actual plot. It’s way more dramatic, too.

 

It’s funny that I’ve tried so hard to learn about book titles, and yet I have such a hard time coming up with good ones. I thought The Long Weekend of Evelyn Moorland was brilliant. It was my beta readers (bless them!) who pointed out that I should switch my title to a better one.

The credit for the title His Hostage actually goes to my critique partner, friend, and fellow author A.C. Melody. Her suggestion was, “…’Hostage’ or something like that…not only is Evie Hal’s hostage, she also ‘plays’ his hostage a few times to get him out of sticky situations.”

 

So hence the title His Hostage. Thanks A.C., you rock!

 

CASE NO. 2: My second novel, an erotic science fiction romance about a woman who buys herself a sexy man from a pet shop

 

The manuscript originally went by the working title Her Alien Pet—cute, right? If you search this title on Amazon, you’ll come across a bunch of cartoons for small children. Do I want my super steamy scifi romance to sound like a children’s book? Um, no.

I tried Captive Alien next, but my beta readers shook their heads. Unappealing.

What about Untamed? Turns out this is such a popular title that there are at least twenty different books on Amazon called Untamed.

After some further brainstorming with my betas, I decided on Hers, Untamed. This reflects the plot, the relationship dynamic, as well as the genre pretty well. At least I think so. And as a cherry on top, there are no books with this title yet!

 

WOULD YOU LIKE YOUR BOOK TITLE RARE OR WELL DONE?

 

It’s a bit of a balancing act to find a catchy, genre-appropriate title that is also unique. A one-of-a-kind title helps your book to stand out from the crowd, but landing such a title can be tricky, as I discovered.

In spring 2016, when The Long Weekend BlahBlah became His Hostage, I immediately went and searched the title on Amazon and Goodreads—no matches! No existing books by that name. I bought an ISBN, did the formatting, published the book…and then I realized that someone else had just published a book also called His Hostage.

So my title didn’t end up being as unique as I’d hoped. Bummer.

If this happens to you, no need to panic.

The truth is that these accidents are fairly common. Think about those twenty plus books called Untamed I mentioned above. Search any short, dramatic title and see how many hits you get. Certain titles are already used many times over, and if you come up with something new, the odds are that someone else will independently have the same idea before long.

 

Rights of Writers has an excellent related post that I think every author should read: Titles and the Law: Can I Call My Novel “The Great Gatsby”?

 

(No, don’t call your book The Great Gatsby, stay the hell away from famous titles.)

Book titles are not copyright protected—thankfully, because imagine the mess we’d have on our hands if every author had to come up with a never-used-before title for every single book. A lawsuit nightmare about who had what idea first. I think we’re all very lucky this is not the case.

In a nutshell, it’s okay to use the same title as someone else, as long as you’re not misleading the readers. You never want to imitate someone else’s brand. It’s very important that the readers can tell the books apart and grab the one they want.

In my case, it appears that the cover, the author name, and the subtitle are enough to distinguish my His Hostage from the other. No reader or reviewer complained about confusion so far, so I’m perfectly happy with the title and I’m happy with the situation in general. I will strive to come up with unique book titles also in the future, but if I end up sharing a title with another author, or twenty other authors, so be it.

 

Do you ever have difficulty naming your stories? How do you come up with your book titles? Is your book title one of a kind, or are there also other books by that name? Let me know in the comments, I’m interested!

8 thoughts on “MY TROUBLES WITH PICKING A BOOK TITLE

  1. I find titles so hard!

    The working title for my current novel is “Rain on Dragon Scales”, and no one I’ve told it to has screamed yet, so either it’s not terrible or they’re too polite to comment. When I send my book to beta readers I will press them to tell me what they think of it.

    I think (hope) that “dragon” conveys the genre (fantasy) and of course says something about what the book’s about. Overall I was trying to convey a feeling that’s slightly slower and more thoughtful within the genre, rather than huge battles and earth-shattering magic. The title is also a reference to the main character, though a reader won’t understand this until they’ve read the book.

    And last time I checked the title was unique, so yay!

    1. Ooh, I love your working title. It creates a lovely image, I immediately started thinking how a dragon’s scales might glisten in the rain. Beautiful. I’m not a fantasy title expert (or any kind of title expert), but I really like yours. Yeah, I think there’s no mistaking the genre, the word “dragon” is a pretty strong indicator. 😀 I think you have the tone nailed too, it doesn’t sound like a title for huge battles, rather something deeper and more atmospheric. I’m very curious about the story now.

      It’s of course a good idea to get several opinions, especially from other fantasy readers/writers. Awesome that no one else is using this title yet, here’s to hoping it’ll remain yours alone! 😀

  2. Ugh, titles are so hard! I have a working title that I really liked, but that a beta reader (quite rightly) pointed out was both a bit of a tongue twister and potentially confusing, so I’m stuck again. Short stories I find easier, but then they’re not quite as important to get exactly right. I’m very glad to hear I’m not the only one that has this problem, though!

    1. Me too, I’m so happy to know that I’m not the only one who has a hard time coming up with good titles. <3 A confusing tongue-twister working title? That's refreshing! 😀 You must have a good imagination. My working titles are incredibly boring as you can see above, and when I try not to be boring I fail in other ways. Sounds like you have competent beta readers, so I'm sure you'll find your perfect title. 😀

  3. This is a really great post, Anna. Wish I’d known these things years ago! All of my WIPs are sitting on my laptop under the MC’s names, until I can figure out what title I want to use. That’s how I’ve always done it, and probably always will, but character names also make great titles – They’re just not very genre specific, since they could be a new Erotic Romance or another Stephen King classic.

    I’ve gotten a few complaints about The Zen Lounge, because that’s in NO WAY a genre specific title and doesn’t appeal to the readers of its genre, either. I had one reviewer say she was expecting a mellow “zen-like” experience, which the book is the exact opposite of. Oops… Ugh, hindsight! 🙂

    Thanks for the shout out and link-back in your post! Now, if I can only be as thoughtful with my own titles lol

    1. Thanks A.C., I’m glad you like the post! 😀 I owe a lot of my knowledge to you and my other CP’s and betas. I used to think that any title is good as long as it’s original. You and others rightly pointed out that it should also be punchy and fitting to the genre.

      I agree that names make excellent titles! Short and to the point. And I think especially male character name book titles indicate romance genre more than anything else. If I see a book titled “Brandon” or “Jack”, my first thought is that the story is about getting together with the dude in question. I see what you mean about Stephen King though…a woman’s name as the title (like “Carrie”) might be horror just as well as romance. Funny, isn’t it.

      I see what you mean about The Zen Lounge, it can be confusing, although it never occurred to me before now. Then again I read The Zen Lounge after I’d read Avarice, so I knew what kind of tone to expect. 😉 Let’s keep helping each other out with the titles! I have plenty of awful ones I need help with…

  4. My WIP is called “Manuscript 3”. I can’t even come up with a working title, let alone a real title!

    But I have a title idea for a book I probably might never write, and that one hasn’t been taken yet. Sadly, it doesn’t fit my WIP whatsoever.

    1. Hey Kat, nice to see you here! 😀 Hehe, I think “Manuscript 3” is a splendid working title, it conveys all the necessary information for the time being. Actually, considering that my working titles sound like travel brochures, I should probably just keep it simple and give them numbers. I’m tempted… Don’t worry about the real title yet, it’ll be easier to pick once you have the complete story written down. And I’ll be happy to help, although you’ll probably have better ideas than I do.

      Funny that you have a manuscript without a title and then also a title without a manuscript. If only these two could be combined… 😉

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