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Sunday, June 12, 2016


Judging Books by Their Titles

Have you ever gone to a bookstore or a library – or to a digital list of books on Amazon – browsed the book titles, and then neglected the books based solely by their titles?


As writers, we like to think that there is so much more to our books than their titles – and there is, there definitely is – but the titles are an advertisement for the magic within. A title needs to grab a reader’s eye, give a hint at what to expect from the story, and entice the reader to open the cover – or at least read the summary blurb.

We have working titles that help us get through the drafting stages. These titles may change numerous times through endless drafts, only to have an agent or editor – or both – veto our best attempts. This may be frustrating, but getting the title juuuust right can be very advantageous for selling your book.

Do I have tips for writing an award-winning title? No. I am here to commiserate with you about the difficulties of considering titles and having them stripped away. For the first (yet-to-be-published) novel I wrote about female athletes in ancient Sparta, the original title was From the Cliffs of Mount Typaeum, but my critique group told me ‘Mount Typaeum’ wasn’t well-known so therefore it wouldn’t grab anyone’s attention.

Then I changed it to Once a Spartan, figuring most people have heard of Sparta, but the titles sounded too similar to other book titles.

After that it became The Goddess of Victory. Any Greek mythology buffs out there? This would be referring to the Greek goddess, Nike (pronounced Nick-ee, not like the brand name).

My agent thought that title was too blah, and suggested I change it to something a little more risqué, so then it became Thigh Flashers. Although possibly attention-grabbing, this could be totally taken out of context, so I’m not content with this title.

I’m curious what the final title will be....

Check out this infographic – Working Titles of Famous Novels. Which titles do you think work better? Do you have any tips for landing the perfect title?

Written by Anne Greenawalt, writer and writing instructor

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Blogger Angela said...

I'm guilty of that too! That's a great infographic. I had no idea those were the original titles. How vague of a title is "Something That Happened"? (Of Mice and Men) And "Trimalchio in West Egg" doesn't have the same ring as "The Great Gatsby."

I don't have any tips for book titles, but I do enjoy coming up with article titles. I frequently rework article titles from freelancers. Many I get are very vague and I make them more specific. I think that may be the opposite of novel titles...I think the key is to write something not too specific that makes people curious, or something that's funny or clever. Who is your reader? Even though your book is about ancient Sparta, what if you tried a few titles that didn't focus on the time period, and instead focused on something female athletes would gravitate towards?

1:16 PM  

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