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How important is a book’s title? And how do you decide on one?

round robin, helena fairfaxA couple of weeks ago I started a competition on my blog to come up with a title for my collection of romantic suspense novellas. Lots of people got in touch. I was really excited with the response, and I’m thrilled to announce I’ve chosen the winner…and it’s the perfect title. Hooray! I’m absolutely chuffed to bits. Thanks so much to everyone who sent suggestions. I was touched by the thought people gave to it. I’ll be posting both the title and the cover here on my blog tomorrow…so watch this space!

And – by perfect coincidence! – this month’s Round Robin subject is :

How important is a title? What attracts you to a certain title, and how do you determine what to title your book?

helena fairfax, romance novels(I’m illustrating this post with some fab covers taken from the British Library Flickr collection. Love the titles! It’s well worth checking out their site. They have lots of cool stuff and all images are free to download.)

First of all, how important is a title?

I think titles are very important, for genre fiction especially. Readers who pick up a book called Mystery in the Old Manor House are expecting a different read to Snowbound with the Billionaire. A book with the title Crime and Punishment suggests you’re not going to get much heart-warming romance. Readers can generally rely on the titles of genre fiction to signal what’s in store for them. With literary fiction that’s not always the case, but the title often sums up the “feeling” of the book, eg The Bell Jar to me suggests something held captive or constrained; the title Jane Eyre is plain and direct, like the heroine; Wuthering Heights straightaway gives the impression of something wild and remote. A good title will give at least some indication of what’s inside the book.

helena fairfax, romance novelsWhat attracts you to a certain title? This question has made me think very deeply! I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book because the title alone attracted me. There has to be something else – either because someone’s recommended the book, or I like the blurb, or even the cover.

I’ve been thinking of my favourite books, and their titles. Pride and Prejudice is just perfect. A romance novel is all about the conflict between the hero and heroine, and there Jane Austen says it all – it’s Darcy and Lizzie’s pride and prejudice that keeps them apart through most of the novel.

One of my favourite films is Blade Runner. You can guess from the title that it’s a sci-fi helena fairfax, romance novelsadventure. It’s a gripping film. But the film is based on Phillip K. Dick’s short story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It’s strange that the title of the short story has a completely different feel to the one for the film. The short story title is quite quirky and philosophical and I think also quite sad and poignant. The film is also sad and poignant in parts, but the title doesn’t suggest that at all.

Another book I love is Gone with the Wind. But the title..! It has to be one of my least favourite titles. If I had no idea what that story was about, this is a book I wouldn’t pick up from the title alone. I think I can guess what Margaret Mitchell meant by it – that the old life in the south was swept away by the winds of change. But the book is about hope – there is hope for Scarlett at the end, and through her stubbornness and determination she overcomes the most terrible tribulations. Why the depressing title?

helena fairfax, romance novelsThere are titles I definitely find off-putting. Anything that suggests horror – The Scream, A Nightmare on Elm Street – or ultra-violence. That sort of title would stop me buying a book. I like to read to relax :) Mind you, I have read A Clockwork Orange, which is a study in chilling violence. The title is symbolic – a sweet, fleshy fruit on the outside, and a cold robot on the inside. It is a great title.

How do you determine what to title your book?

People choose books so quickly these days that I try to choose a title that will let them know immediately what they can expect. The titles of my three novels all suggest a love story, but to be perfectly honest I don’t think I’m very good at choosing my titles. I don’t think any of them are immediately arresting. If I could go back and change them, I would! :(

For my latest release, I really struggled to hit on a title that would appeal to readers and that summed up the themes helena fairfax, romance novelsof the stories in my collection. (My post here explains why it was a problem.) When I asked for help, lots of people responded, and with some really creative and thoughtful ideas. Perhaps I should give up trying to title my own books and ask other people in future!

This has been another great Round Robin topic, and very thought -provoking. I’m interested to know what the other authors have to say on the subject. If you’d like to read their articles, you’ll find the links at the bottom of this post. Please do drop in and say hello!

* * *

How about you? Have you ever picked up a book for the title alone? Do you think titles are important when you choose a book? If you’re a writer, how do you go about choosing the titles for you own novels?

If you have any comments at all, I’d love to hear from you!

Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
A.J. Maguire  http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Heather Haven http://heatherhavenstories.com/blog/
Dr. Bob Rich  http://wp.me/p3Xihq-MI
Connie Vines
http://connievines.blogspot.com/
Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

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27 thoughts on “How important is a book’s title? And how do you decide on one?

    1. That’s interesting that you have picked books for the title alone, Margaret. I wonder what drew you to them? This topic has certainly made me think more deeply about what draws me to a book. Thanks so much for dropping in!

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  1. Occasionally something pops into my head while I’m writing and sticks there, and when it does, it’s because it fits the story, or connects to something important that recurs or is a theme in the story. But far more often, I labor over it for weeks and am never quite happy with my choice. Maybe I should run a contest for each book like you did. On the other hand, I’d probably get the best title ever and my editor would insist on changing it.

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    1. Hi Skype, I can relate to your process on choosing a title. The title of my novel A Way from Heart to Heart is based on an Afghan proverb – a recurring theme in the story.
      And interesting that your editor sometimes changes your title. I guess they are trying to pick the most commercial title. Thanks for your comment, and for dropping in!

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  2. I never thought about Gone with the Wind title as not giving a clue to the story. Hmmm…You’re right. What a fantastic idea to gather titles from readers. I know my first novella, Sunshine Boulevard title did not fit the story, so I will be re titling it when it is re-issued this winter. It would be fun to have folks suggest titles for this light horror, quirky story. Loved both your novellas. Anxious to see what you chose for the title and the cover from Charlie. And thanks for the tip on the free images!

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    1. Hi JQ, that’s great you’re re-releasing your novella. I’m very curious to know what title you come up with. If you run a competition I’d love to have a stab at thinking up an idea. Maybe I might have better luck with other people’s stories than I do with my own :)
      Thanks so much for your comment!

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  3. The title and cover art will catch my eye. From there, I proceed into the interior of the book…unless it’s a friend whose writing I love or a favorite author. However, some of my favorite authors have written books I didn’t care for. As a result, I’ve become a bit leary of buying without at least perusing.

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    1. Hi wildchild, that’s a good point you raised about being able to sample books now before you buy. I really like that option with ebooks. It means if you’re drawn to something like a title alone, or the cover, you can get to try the book before you commit to purchase. Thanks for your comment!

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  4. I have chosen books just for the title, usually if I can tell it’s a story about Ireland, a musician, or a writer (books), I will almost always choose it, and often without reading the blurb. I love stories about those three things. For instance, Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books by Paul Collins. I couldn’t resist that one. Turns out it’s a non-fiction book about a tiny village in Wales that is home to 1500 people and 40 used bookstores. I was fascinated by his story. To be honest, though, it’s often the cover artwork that grabs my attention more than the title. You may not like some of your titles, Helena, but the covers of your books are stunning. And your titles do convey very well what type of stories they are, whereas mine, Brother’s Keeper, could be about almost anything. I need to re-think that title. :-)

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    1. Hi Kimberley, how interesting you bought a book called Sixpence House. It’s an intriguing title – and I think I know that village! Was it Hay-on-Wye? If so, it’s a wonderful place and it’s where I spent my honeymoon :) I’ll look out for that book!
      Thanks for your kind words about my covers. My cover designer, Charlotte Volnek, does a wonderful job. I can’t wait to reveal my new cover tomorrow.
      Titles are such a difficult thing. I guess I’ll never be perfectly happy that I have the perfect title.
      Thank you so much for dropping in. I enjoyed your comment!

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  5. Helena, thanks for that collection of covers, and for the thoughtful approach.
    I hope to soon have a consultation like that about a cover for my coming book, “Hit and Run,” and am intending to offer a small prize for one responder.

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    1. Hi Dr Bob, I like “Hit and Run” already – it’s snappy and it gives a great idea of what might be in store – but I guess it’s been used before. It’s so hard to find the perfect title. Wishing you all the best with your competition. Thanks for dropping in!

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  6. From a 1936 radio broadcast interview by a reporter from The Atlanta Journal with Margaret Mitchell:
    INTERVIEWER: “The title of your book Gone With The Wind, means that the antebellum civilization was swept away by the tornado of war, doesn’t it?”
    M MITCHELL: Yes,,,that’s the meaning of the title…”

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    1. Hi Veronica, thank you SO much for that quote. How fascinating! So my guess was correct. I’ll have a hunt around and see if I can find the rest of that interview. I’d love to hear it. Thanks very much for dropping in, and for your great comment!

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  7. I definitely would not pick a book to read from the title. Saying that though, I am turned off by many titles, so perhaps that is a consideration. I’d be more inclined to look at the cover, but that wouldn’t be a deciding factor either. The decision would be made almost exclusively from the blurb.

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    1. Hi Susan, some titles do put me off, too. Like you, the blurb is my main consideration if I’ve never heard of a book before, but I mainly buy books that other people have recommended. There’s so much to consider when we put our own books out there. Thanks very much for your comment!

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  8. For me, it was pretty simply – create a provisional title and then get on with the job of actually writing the darn thing rather than getting completely hung up trying to transmogrify THE GREATEST TITLE EVER into reality, consequently waste a lot of time and overdo it. So when DEAR MISS LANDAU seemed about to start, I merely used the opening line in my emails to her, which had a basis in 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD (Dear Miss Hanff…) and provisionally entitled it as such. It then turned out, in my publisher’s estimation, to be the best choice anyway.

    I’d also recommend simplicity and brevity. When Ian Fleming was naming his spy, he steered well away from flowery titles (Peregeine Worsthorne!) knowing damn well they’d end up sounding hideously dated and settled on the short and sharp James Bond, author of a book on birds of the West Indies…

    The companion novel, CROSS AT NEEDLES, has a similarly simple title, which literally, er, just came to me…

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    1. Hi James, I completely agree you should just get on with writing your book without worrying about the title. And even without worrying about the opening scene. You can always go back and rewrite. And I don’t think you can give a book a title until you “know” your book.
      Dear Miss Landau is the perfect title, and so is Cross at Needles.
      I can’t imagine anyone saying, “The name’s Worsthorne…” :) Choosing a character’s name is another article altogether (and a whole other set of agonising for me!) but I have to say Scarlett O’Hara and James Bond are just the perfect choices. It’s impossible now to think of them as anything else.
      Thanks for your interesting comment, and for dropping in!

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  9. Love the title From Farm to Footlights. That says it all. I do approve of the title, Gone With the Wind. It does not focus on Scarlett, but on what happened to the South and the southern way of life after the Civil War. It is the title of an epic rather than just one woman’s adventures.

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    1. Hi Judy, I liked the Farm to Floodlights title, too. I’d love to read that story!
      I see what you mean about the title of Gone with the Wind. I mentioned in my comment to Allison below that the book is written in the omniscient tense, and not from Scarlett’s pov, which fits an epic theme. I’d still like the title to indicate something more hopeful, though. There is hope for the south after everything changed. But perhaps that’s just me – I always love a happy ending!
      Thanks for dropping in, and for your great comment!

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  10. This is a great blog post. I don’t know that I have ever picked a book purely by the title – although, conversely, I’m sure that I have rejected some books with off-putting titles. I’m not actually very sure what makes me pick up a book long enough to read the blurb and the first page, and then hopefully buy or borrow it: there has to be *something* appealing or quirky about the look of it. My guilty secret is that the older I get, the less likely I am to pick up a book over about 400 pages unless it is by an author I love or have been recommended – I have a similar attitude to film: it’s got to be something special for me to select one over 90 minutes long!
    This post is especially interesting to me because I’ve been blogging (for 2 whole months now) about Mary Stewart and actually some of her titles are a little, um, odd-sounding to anyone not immersed in literature. Nine Coaches Waiting. Madam, Will You Talk? I wonder if readers picked up these books just to find out what on earth they were about…

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    1. Hi Allison, I guess that’s true about Gone with the Wind. The book is written in the omniscient point of view, and not from Scarlett’s.
      And it’s funny you should mention Mary Stewart’s titles. I was thinking of saying something about them in this post, because they are unusual. I love her titles but I wondered if nowadays a publisher would let her use them. It seems every suspense novel these days has to have the word “girl” in the title.
      Thanks very much for your interesting comment. I hope you enjoy the British Library collection!

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