July 04, 2003

Five things to consider in giving a title for your novel

I've had weird trouble with novel titles so while I can't say mine are great, I've been around the block.

1. Titles should be short for various reasons, one of which you want it fit on the cover, and be readable from a distance. THE STAND or IT or MISERY can leap out at you from across the bookstore.

2. You want it easy to spell. If your potential reader goes in and asked busy bookstore worker "I want SEONSDGNDSSE" the clerk will pause, fingers over keyboard and go 'Huh?" I've had people report back that my books under "Wen Spencer" was difficult for clerk to look up because after checking 'spenSer' they say "I can't find anything by her." (For the same reason, you might want to goggle the name you're going to publish under and consider how easy your name is to spell. I went with Spencer because I would always say 'Kosak, K-o-s-a-k, yes K-o-s-a-k. That was A-K. yes." and even after twenty years, my mom can't spell my married name. I have a friend I want to smack who on panels says "John *R* Smith, remember the *R* because there is a John *K* Smith and a John *G* Smith and a ...." SMACK! I considered long and hard before going with Wen Spencer because of William Browning Spencer, but decided that while the names are similiar Wen probably wouldn't be confused with William.

3. In this day and age, the fewer hits the key words in the title brings up the better. The original title of BITTER WATERS was NATIVE SON (okay okay, so I didn't know someone had used that catch phrase as a title ages ago for a classic.) This is where using a famous quote might get you into trouble.

4. Words like "Dragon" are a two edged sword. Everyone goes 'oooh ahhhh' but it also gets lost in the flood of other books.

5. Don't fall in love with your title. Everyone of my titles has gone through the wringer. The publisher originally hated ALIEN TASTE, and so did I, and I gave them the list of hundred titles I had thought up and rejected and we ended back to my original title. The publisher disliked TAINTED TRAIL, but my editor liked it, so she told me that we would ignore the publisher until they forgot they hated it -- and they did. NATIVE SON made it to the sales team, and then got changed. TINKER originally was TINKER'S STEEL CITY BLUES.

Lastly, here's a funny article on naming books.


Posted by wen at July 4, 2003 11:17 PM

good advice! I'm 3/4 thru my first novel and I STILL haven't got a name for it... :D

Posted by: sandra at July 9, 2003 03:42 PM

I can say that I've got several things on the go (a couple of short stories which have titles [but one is trite, _The Quest_]), and so far only one of my longer works has a title. Although that has more to do with the title (Faerie Godparent) having to do with the secret government organization that the main character becomds a part of, than anything of an erudite nature on my part. Besides, it should stand out; the title is of an SF novel.

As to the fantasy novel, I've got the whole thing outlined, but only about the first chapter written.

The murder mystery has characters, and crimes, but no title, and no killers yet (the deed's been done, but even I don't know who they are yet). Ok, so it's actually an occult/paranormal murder mystery. What do you expect when you live (like I do) in a city with 5 large glass pyramids, a structure that resembles a ziggurat (sp?), and a convention centre that could play at being the Hanging Gardens of Babylon? I mean, it's only 2 short blocks from where the ladies of the evening (whores of babylon?) ply their trade. :)

Eep! This is way too much text, and almost would do credit to a blog entry of my own, if I kept such a thing. :)

BTW, Wen; congrats on winning the John W. Campbell award! WOOHOO!!!!

Posted by: William Katzell at August 31, 2003 05:28 AM