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Friday, June 21, 2013

Selecting the Right Title by Jacqueline Seewald

I believe that a well-chosen title helps to sell a writer’s work. The first impression a book or story creates depends on several factors, one of them being the title. The title will set a certain tone or expectation. Whether you write literary work, genre fiction, nonfiction, poetry, etc., the title should fit the work. If it’s not appropriate, the reader may rightfully feel cheated.
I have a few suggestions that I think might prove useful:
First suggestion is to do some initial research. For instance, visit Amazon and Google. Check out titles for the kind of work you’re writing to get a sense of what is appropriate.
All right, let’s assume you have formed some ideas for titles. Second suggestion, go to World Cataloging and type in your title under the keyword heading. See what pops up. If your title is used by many authors many times, you might want to try for something different. Ecclesiastes states that there is nothing new under the sun; however, you can do some variations that are unique. Also, keep in mind that titles are not copyrighted unless there’s a trade mark involved. You can, in fact, have the same title as another author, although if possible, it’s best to distinguish it in some way. My next Five Star/Gale novel is a mystery entitled THE THIRD EYE. There are other books with the same title. However, my full title is: THE THIRD EYE: A PINE BARRENS MYSTERY. This differentiates it.
Several people have asked me if the title of my novel THE INFERNO COLLECTION (http://www.harlequin.com/storeitem.html?iid=27895&cid=) was taken from Dan Brown’s new bestseller. I responded it’s more likely Dan Brown’s INFERNO title was borrowed from my work since my novel was published originally in hardcover in 2007-- although it came out in a new paperback edition from Harlequin Worldwide Mystery two months ago. However, although the themes of our novels are different, Dan Brown and I both wrote serious mystery suspense thrillers. Also, the term “inferno” directly connects to Dante’s Inferno for both books. In fact, the initial quotation that starts my novel is a quote from Dante’s Inferno.
Dan Brown observes in “10 Questions,” an interview with him which appears in the May 27, 2013 issue of TIME Magazine, that an important theme of his new bestseller is overpopulation. In my mystery novel THE INFERNO COLLECTION, the title refers to a banned book collection, and in part the theme of censorship.
This brings us to my next suggestion: consider if the chosen title can properly characterizes a theme of your book, story, poem, article via your word choice. This can make the title more meaningful.
Another suggestion: keep your title short if possible. Modern titles are generally brief unless you’re writing an academic dissertation. Otherwise, a few words will suffice. For example, the title of my last suspense thriller was DEATH LEGACY.
Last suggestion: Try for a clever use of words which will make your title in some way memorable, interesting, intriguing, and/or provoke curiosity. Example: for the third novel in my Kim Reynolds mystery series I used the title THE TRUTH SLEUTH. http://www.harlequin.com/storeitem.html?iid=27323  Kim is an amateur detective. So the title fits the main character. The bit of rhyming hopefully makes the title stand out.

As a reader, what titles stand out in your memory and why? If you are a writer, how do you select your titles? Are there some that have been memorable and increased your sales?

49 comments:

Susan said...

You're right - the title is very important. It's the first contact between reader and writer and often can make or break a book. Loved your advice!

Susan, aka Janis

Nikki said...

Thanks for this blog, Jacqui. I'm currently struggling to find a title, and this helps a lot. I'm going to share the link with some writers also trying to figure out their title.

Karen McCullough said...

HI Jacqui -- Good post. Title and cover art are the first things readers see when they pick up a book, so both need to be enticing. I can't think of one right off hand, but I'm pretty sure there are some books I've bought based on the title alone.

Sheila Boneham said...

I agree completely. Traditional publishers, however, usually control the title, and some of us have had to fight for our title and, more to the point, against terrible titles that completely change that first impression. Same with covers. Good post - thanks, Jacqueline.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Thanks, Susan. I've talked about cover art being important. I thought it was important to give equal time to title selection.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Nikki,

Glad to be of help. I hope you select a really good title.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Karen,

Mysteries and romances in particular follow certain title patterns. Gives the reader a heads-up. That's why it pays to research in your particular genre.

Kaye George said...

Good points! Thanks for the thoughts.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Sheila,

Many publishers do change the original titles--sometimes to the detriment of the work. Harlequin is famous for title changes. Five Star/Gale has never changed any of my titles.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Kaye,

Thanks for stopping by. Incidentally, I love the title of your latest novel.

Kaye George said...

Why, thanks, Jacqueline!

Betty Gordon said...

Excellent blog, Jacquie. As a writer, I initially have a title in mind when putting words on paper or at least fairly soon. However, I change the title numerous times and put all the ideas at the beginning of the work. By the time I finish, the perfect title presents itself.

June Shaw said...

Great advice, Jacqui. Thanks for sharing.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Betty,

I change titles quite often myself before, during and even after my work is written. Getting it right isn't easy.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

June,

Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

D'Ann said...

Very good advice!

Jan Christensen said...

Great post, Jacqui. I totally agree--the title is so important. And sometimes very difficult to come up with. Other times, though, it seems the perfect one just comes. I often spend a lot of time thinking up a good title. Sometimes, for short stories, I simply have to give up and go with something I'm not that happy about, but can't think of anything better. Just one more thing a writer has to think about.

Irene Bennett Brown said...

I enjoy the process of trying to find the right title, although I can't say it's easy. I took the title for my historical novel, Long Road Turning, from an old Irish saying, "However long the road there comes a turning." Seeking a better life, my Irish heroine is making a desperate run from the bounty hunter her abusive husband has hired to find her.

Laura Mitchell said...

I'm not that good at whipping up titles out of thin air. I have a working title but I let the story tell me what the title should be.

Gail Farrelly said...

I like this post, Jacqueline. The advice about looking at what's already "out there" is especially important, I think. I love it when a title just pops into my head and I know it's right. But if it doesn't, then I just give myself some time to think of something. Often the idea comes to me when I'm not even consciously thinking of "the problem." I think Agatha Christie's titles are wonderful. Simple, but clever. I also like the titles of the Perry Mason books by Erle Stanley Gardner.

Earl Staggs said...

Great topic, Jacqueline. Story titles mean a lot to me. I usually have a working title until the perfect title makes itself known. Sometimes a few words in the story will leap out as a great title. There have been times when I thought I had the perfect title, but then changed it. One story was "The Right Thing" until I checked and found that title had been used a million times. The story became "Doctored Justice," which I like just as much.

B.K. Stevens said...

Very helpful column, Jacquie. Finding a good title is often a major challenge for me. Once or twice, though, a great title has occurred to me, and I've had to think of a story to go with it.

Mary F. Schoenecker said...

Good post, Jacquie. When I wrote my first novel the title of a Civil War story, ACROSS FIVE APRILS, was my incentive. Using a similar time element,The title I chose was FOUR SUMMERS WAITING. It was successful. As you said,Themes are important.

Nancy Means Wright said...

Wise words, Jacquie. I chose The Nightmare as a title for my second Mary Wollstonecraft mystery because the painting of that same name is key to the plot. And the painting itself, "The Nightmare" is now the cover art. But I subsequently discovered that the title has been used umpteen times by writers, and the painting as well. Yet I had to re-use it!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

D'Ann,

Thanks for coming by!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Jan,

You're right we sometimes get a perfect title and other times not.
Maybe when we don't, it means the story doesn't have enough of a focus?

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Irene,

I like the title "Long Road Turning." It has a nice poetic quality.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Laura,

It's important to have a working title, but equally important to realize that when you finish your work, you might very well need to change the title.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Gail,

I like Agatha Christie's titles as well. They're clever, just like her mysteries.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Earl,

"Doctored Justice" is definitely a better title. It offers a sharper focus and you can tell right off that the novel will be either crime or mystery fiction.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, B.K.,

I've never had a title come before the story, but I think it's great to be that creative.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Mary,

I especially like the title "Four Summers Waiting." It intrigues the reader and acts as an immediate draw for the novel.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Nancy,

Sometimes we just need to use a title that's been used before because it fits so perfectly. I had that happen with THE DROWNING POOL. Of course I researched and knew the title was used for a movie as well as a number of novels. However, calling that particular novel anything else just seemed wrong since there were two drowning pools in the novel and surprises connected with each one.

Karen Michelle Nutt said...

I have a difficult time choosing titles for my books. It takes me forever to decide. lol

What titles stand out for me? I like the short titles like... Outlander, Clockwork Prince, Red Glove, White Cat... For some reason those titles stick with me. I guess I should follow that rule for my books. Hmm... some of my titles are longer. :) Enjoyed the post.

Pat Marinelli said...

I agree title are so important. I love it when the title comes first, but that doesn't happen often.

As a short story writer, I need a lot more titles than a novel writer. Usually a title will come to me by the time I finish the story, if it doesn't then I'll ask my critique group for suggestions when they read the work.

Working titles can be a real pain sometimes. Mine can be funny, sad, even stupid. My 'pervert' story became "Innocent Target" and my 'cow' story became "Roundup Time." "The Dancer," I had the title before I wrote the flash piece.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Karen,

Romance novels usually have certain types of titles to tip off the readers that they're getting the type of novel they want to read. Usually the titles tend to be a bit longer.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Good titles, Pat. You are right about short story writers needing more titles than novelists. I do both and agonize more over novel titles myself.

Ahmed A. Khan said...

Hi, Jacqueline.

Thank you for your comment on Warren Bull's blog about the title of the Bradbury Tribute anthology, DANDELIONS ON MARS. I will immodestly take credit for that title

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Ahmed,

Thank you for dropping by. I do believe DANDELIONS ON MARS is an example of an intriguing title. Therefore, you need not be modest.

Ann Marie Meyers said...

Great points Jacqueline
Thanks for posting this

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Thanks for dropping by, Ann Marie!

Carole Price said...

I received an email accusing me of stealing his title, Twisted Vines. Mine was followed by, A Shakespeare in the Vineyard mystery. I responded by letting him know there was no copyright on titles.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

You're correct. As mentioned, unless a title has been trademarked, there is no such thing as title theft, no copyright on them.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Jacquie,

I'm late but what else is new! This is a great blog post. Titles are so important. If you have a great title and a great cover, you double your odds of someone taking a look. Then its up to the writing to set the hook.

I have had lots of fun using a money theme for my accounting series. My Cleopatra Jones is questioning things about her boyfriend in Dime If I Know.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Maggie,

Dime If I Know and my next novel The Third Eye will be published by Five Star/Gale together. I'm looking forward to it! Things will definitely heat up for us in August. Fingers crossed for good reviews.

Maryann Miller said...

You are so right about carefully coming up with a title that reflects the story and the theme in some way. And shame on Dan Brown for riding on your title coattails. LOL

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Maryann,

Thanks for making me laugh! Somehow I don't think Dan Brown lifted my title since I'm certain he's never heard of me (alas!).

Nancy J. Cohen said...

I'll make two lists of keywords if I'm having trouble with a title. One has to do with the series theme. For example, my Bad Hair Day series features a hairstylist, so anything to do with the beautician business, salons, and hair care will work. My second column relates to the book itself. Thus the story wherein my hairstylist sleuth went to a family reunion at a haunted resort became Dead Roots. When one mystery took place on a cruise ship, it was Killer Knots. And so on. Then like you say, you should check the title online to make sure it hasn't been done before. In some cases, it won't matter if the last story with the same title was years ago.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Nancy,

Great advice! By the way, I love the clever titles you give your Bad Hair Day series.