Friday, January 9, 2015

The Name Game: How to Select the Right Title by Jacqueline Seewald

I believe that a well-chosen title helps 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, short stories, 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 believe 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. Here’s an example: one of my Five Star/Gale novels is a mystery entitled THE THIRD EYE. There are a number of other books with the same title. However, my full title is: THE THIRD EYE: A PINE BARRENS MYSTERY. This differentiates it. It also informs readers that this novel is primarily a mystery.

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. Maybe it represents a reoccurring symbol in your book. Example, in THE DROWNING POOL, my second Kim Reynolds mystery, the pool becomes an important symbol and, in fact, there are two separate pools related to two separate deaths. You’ll note that a much more famous mystery writer than myself used that title before I did. But I didn’t hesitate to adopt it because it happened to fit my novel as well. In THE BAD WIFE, latest Kim Reynolds novel in this mystery series, the first murder victim and the key character in the novel is (you guessed it!) the bad wife. And yes, she really is very bad.

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 one of my novels is DEATH LEGACY. Just two words. Appropriately, it’s a suspense thriller. Enough said.

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 the Kim Reynolds mystery series I used the title THE TRUTH SLEUTH. Kim is an amateur detective and also an academic librarian. So the title fits the main character. The whimsical bit of rhyming hopefully makes the title stand out.

 In my short story collection, BEYOND THE BO TREE, I used alliteration. I also hoped to provoke curiosity with the unfamiliar Bo tree in the title.


In my YA novel THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER, I used familiar names in the title to provoke reader curiosity.


Are there any titles that stand out in your memory? If so, why? If you are a writer, how do you select your titles? 


Madeline said...

I had to come and read this! Two of my published shorts had their names changed by the publisher.

Every time I take a short-story to my groups, they hate the titles.

I think I may have become title phobic--I'm sure that's a recognizable condition--and if it is, I have a severe dose.

I can do this, yes I can, thanks for the pointers.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Madeline,

Every story or book can have a variety of titles. Truthfully, I agonize over them myself. Some publishers are known for changing titles, others not so much.

Betty Gordon said...

Jacquie, good comments. I think the title and cover work hand in hand. This is one advantage of doing your own cover; however, I'm going through a search now for several reprint covers and it is not an easy journey.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Betty,

You're so right! Title and cover art need to mesh or it confuses readers and turns them off.

Allan J. Emerson said...

I'm never satisfied with my titles. A couple that I've loved from other writers include "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" by Dave Eggers, and "The Cuckoo Clock of Doom" by children's author R.L. Stine.

Why can't I think of stuff like that?

Dotti said...

Excellent blog post.

Nancy Means Wright said...

Great tips, Jacquie. I have a love/hate relationship with titles.I've been lucky with editorial acceptance of most of my book titles, but early on an agent changed my longer, illustrative title to The Losing, and it was just that! I still have boxes of copies.

Rosemary McCracken said...

Great suggestions! I find creating titles extremely difficult because I spent many years as a print journalist. The headlines of my articles were done by the page editors--the page layout determined how long (how many words)the headline would be.
Another reason for short titles is tweeting them on Twitter. The longer the title, the fewer other words you can add to your tweet.

Cindy Sample said...

Great post, Jacquie. As you know the title of my first book was DYING FOR A DATE, an apt description for a romantic mystery. For the sequel, I decided to stick with the theme and titled it DYING FOR A DANCE. It's best defined as Murder She Wrote meets DWTS. So every book after that ended up being a DYING FOR A D... title. Hopefully the series has created a brand that people can recognize by the titles and covers.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Dotti, Rosemary, Mary and Cindy,

Thanks for your comments! You've each added something beneficial to this discussion.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


The books you mentioned do have interesting titles that obviously have drawn readers.

Susan Oleksiw said...

I struggle with titles, especially in the Mellingham series. But with the Anita Ray series, I decided early on to use an Indian name, god, goddess, or epic hero/heroine, preferably in a phrase. At least that gave me a start.

Hemingway said that Fitzgerald got titles exactly right (which was about the only nice thing he said about him).

Jacqueline Seewald said...


I like the titles for your Anita Ray series because they are appropriately exotic.

jrlindermuth said...

Good suggestions, Jacquie. And since I'm currently grappling with the task of finding the 'right' title, I plan to put them all to use.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


I'm glad to know that my suggestions may prove helpful to your work.

Helen Henderson said...

Nice summarization of vetting a title. I use pretty much the same technique.

Susan Coryell said...

J: I entitle my books after I finish writing. Beneath the Stones, soon to be out, includes the symbolic stones that are part of the mystery. Great post!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Helen,

Glad we think alike!

Jacqueline Seewald said...


That's a great suggestion! I believe once you've finished writing a book or story you have better insight as to what should be presented in the title.

Maddy said...

I definitely agree with Susan's sentiment to find the right title by the time you finish the book--however, I write with Scrivener which demands a title before you can write your first line.

Jacqueline Seewald said...


It's probably a good idea to have a working title, just so long as you realize it needn't be set in stone.

Patricia Gligor's Writers Forum said...

Great post, Jacquie! I love your titles!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Pat,

Thanks for your comments! Glad you liked the post.

Anita Page said...

Jacquie, an interesting post. It's hard to find a title no one else has thought, but I think it's important not to pick a title that's been widely used. I've done that once and was sorry I didn't research the title more thoroughly-easy enough to do online.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Anita,

True, the internet makes it fairly easy to research title use. It's made certain aspects of writing easier for writers.

B.K. Stevens said...

Thanks for the suggestions, Jacquie. Finding a good title is often one of the hardest parts of the writing process.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Thanks for commenting, B.K. No question that titles make an important initial impression.

Karen Michelle Nutt said...

Intriguing post. I have to say I agonize over trying to choose just the right title. Looks like I'm not alone. lol

Thanks for the pointers. :)

Bonnie D Tharp said...

Good advice. Titles can be a challenge, they don't always present themselves when you're writing. My third book in the feisty family series has no title yet, just #3. Thanks for the suggestions on checking out possibilities. Best,

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