Blog Post: Titles: What’s in a Name?

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Feb 3, 2024
New blog post by Claire G – discussions in this thread, please
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A Rose By Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet, Right?

The Silence of the Lambs, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine, 1984, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Colour Purple – titles that we remember, titles that I love. But what makes them so effective? And do titles affect sales?

What if Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was called something else?

Why was a book with an unimaginative title like The Girl on the Train such a huge pull for readers?

Did a three-year-old choose the title of Gone Girl? This really bugs me!



The Long and Short of It

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time; Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café; My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry…maybe it’s down to my choices but books with long titles always seem a bit quirky to me and I adore them for that. However, I’ve heard that titles shouldn’t be too long. Now it obviously didn’t hurt these books, so what’s an author to do?

On the other hand, short titles like Beloved, Americanah, Atonement and Fingersmith pack a huge punch and I think they’re great too. They say so much in just one word! Perhaps there’s more gravitas here compared to longer titles, so maybe the subject matter/genre of the book dictates the author’s choice?



To Alliterate or Not to Alliterate?

A Little Life, Gone Girl, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – I think alliteration makes titles more catchy and memorable…and if a book has this quality, it’s sure to stick in readers’ minds…hence more recommendations and sales?

But alliteration has to be crafted carefully, otherwise it may be perceived to be a childish gimmick (something that’s concerned me about the title of one of my contemporary romances)!



Experience

I’m trying to build a brand with my contemporary romances. I’ve self-published The Strange Imagination of Pippa Clayton, Daisy Roberts is Dead and Imogen Green’s Little Shop of Possibilities. I’m part way through writing Evie Watson Goes Wild. The titles seemed to just spring into my head fully formed, but afterwards I realised that they all included alliteration or assonance. Catchy, or silly?

My psychological novels have shorter titles: In Sanity, Catfish, All Inclusive. The short stories I’m most proud of, which tackle difficult subjects, have titles of only one word: Surfacing, Blossoming. Again, these choices may have been subconsciously down to genre and the gravitas of the content.



Final Thoughts

Do you have a favourite book title? What do you think makes it so effective?

What’s your least favourite book title? Why don’t you like it?

Do you prefer long or short titles? Why?

How do you select your own book titles?
---

By @Claire G
Get the discussion going – post your thoughts & comments in the thread below…
 
I like alliteration if it presses my curiosity button e.g. Spinning Silver. The Starless Sea. I like titles that hint of magic e.g. The Night Circus, All our Hidden Gifts, The Bear and the Nightingale, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. I don't care if titles are long and short as long as they capture my imagination.

Select my own book titles? With blood, sweat and tears. Sometimes someone else suggests a title and I think, Perfect!

Titles, I'd say, do affect sales. If your title doesn't stick, and I mean really superglue stick, in people's heads, they won't search for it. They won't buy or borrow it or remember it enough to tell their friends. It's a crowded market out there.
 
New blog post by Claire G – discussions in this thread, please
---

A Rose By Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet, Right?

The Silence of the Lambs, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine, 1984, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Colour Purple – titles that we remember, titles that I love. But what makes them so effective? And do titles affect sales?

What if Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was called something else?

Why was a book with an unimaginative title like The Girl on the Train such a huge pull for readers?

Did a three-year-old choose the title of Gone Girl? This really bugs me!



The Long and Short of It

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time; Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café; My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry…maybe it’s down to my choices but books with long titles always seem a bit quirky to me and I adore them for that. However, I’ve heard that titles shouldn’t be too long. Now it obviously didn’t hurt these books, so what’s an author to do?

On the other hand, short titles like Beloved, Americanah, Atonement and Fingersmith pack a huge punch and I think they’re great too. They say so much in just one word! Perhaps there’s more gravitas here compared to longer titles, so maybe the subject matter/genre of the book dictates the author’s choice?



To Alliterate or Not to Alliterate?

A Little Life, Gone Girl, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – I think alliteration makes titles more catchy and memorable…and if a book has this quality, it’s sure to stick in readers’ minds…hence more recommendations and sales?

But alliteration has to be crafted carefully, otherwise it may be perceived to be a childish gimmick (something that’s concerned me about the title of one of my contemporary romances)!



Experience

I’m trying to build a brand with my contemporary romances. I’ve self-published The Strange Imagination of Pippa Clayton, Daisy Roberts is Dead and Imogen Green’s Little Shop of Possibilities. I’m part way through writing Evie Watson Goes Wild. The titles seemed to just spring into my head fully formed, but afterwards I realised that they all included alliteration or assonance. Catchy, or silly?

My psychological novels have shorter titles: In Sanity, Catfish, All Inclusive. The short stories I’m most proud of, which tackle difficult subjects, have titles of only one word: Surfacing, Blossoming. Again, these choices may have been subconsciously down to genre and the gravitas of the content.



Final Thoughts

Do you have a favourite book title? What do you think makes it so effective?

What’s your least favourite book title? Why don’t you like it?

Do you prefer long or short titles? Why?

How do you select your own book titles?
---

By @Claire G
Get the discussion going – post your thoughts & comments in the thread below…
Yes, titles are so difficult. But they are important.
 
I like names in titles. Not sure why, I just do.

My favourite author, John Irving, has two of his finest works with characters' names in the titles - The World According to Garp and A Prayer for Owen Meany.

I wasn't consciously thinking of this when I came up with the working titles of my WIP trilogy, but Irving's influence is never far away.
(Those titles are: The Superior Position of Hannah Thomas; The Mysterious World of Neil J. Harper; The Forgotten Songs of Sarah Sullivan. Although I've considered Everybody Knows this is Nowhere as an alternative title for any or all of them.)
I've changed my mind and back again so many times - Are names in titles off-putting? Is it a trend that's over? Does it mean readers would remember the characters' names rather than mine? (Who wrote Eleanor Oliphant again? I've read it. It's on my bookshelf, but I had to look to remember.)

All this was before I knew you, Claire, and now I see your titles and they work well, so I'm encouraged.

I think it's the actual words more than the length of the title that matters to me. I like words like Tipping and Velvet, words like Lessons, and (Lessons in) Chemistry, Trespasses, Station (Eleven), Tomorrow (and Tomorrow and Tomorrow). I like Time Being as in A Tale for the... I like the word Oranges even though it's Not the Only Fruit. I love the word Nineteen more than the words Eighty and Four, but as a title it takes some beating.

I don't like the word Milk.
I never wanted to read Milkman or Milk Fed until they were recommended by people whose judgement I trust. I enjoyed them both, but would never have read them based on the titles. And I don't dislike milk. I just don't think the word has a place on a book cover.

There's absolutely no rationale for any of this, and I'm possibly untypical.

Thanks for this blog post @Claire G - titles are so important, but it's so hard to pin down what works.
 
I like quirky titles, especially ones that sound intriguing like 'The Curious Incident...' and 'A Confederacy of Dunces'. As long as they're not too long, weird or specific. I also like titles with word play, like 'Deaf Sentence' by David Lodge. And I like alliteration, not too much but enough to make it stick.
I dislike anything that smacks of formulaic, or series (so probably not in your target market for the contemporary romance series, even though I like the titles individually and understand what you're trying to do with the branding.) Your psychological thriller titles would appeal more to me, and I also quite like the one- or two-word short story titles.
I've read and enjoyed some books DESPITE their titles, like some of the novels by John Irving (also one of my favourite authors) mentioned by Sedayne. And I've picked up books based on the title and first few paras only to be disappointed and drop them half way through (yep, I do that now -- so many books, so little time!).
To me, a title should be a hook into the story that hints at voice, theme and genre. A tall order indeed! Equal parts art and marketing genius.
 
Titles can sometimes seem unimportant until you see good ones and then the penny drops.

As someone who's spent countless post rehearsal hours in pubs trying to come up with band names and now facing similar challenges with books, this causes me considerable grief.

I like both Claire's and Sedayne's titles. A character's name often works and sets the tone for what a reader might expect.

Select my own book titles? With blood, sweat and tears. Sometimes someone else suggests a title and I think, Perfect!
And I'm 100% with you on this, Hannah.

Two authors I've read in the crime genre - Chris Brookmyre and Adrian McKInty have an approach that works for me, too.

Brookmyre uses things like familiar 'sayings':

A big boy did it and ran away - When the Devil Drives - All Fun and Games Until Someone loses an Eye.

McKinty's acclaimed 7-book Sean Duffy series used quotes from Tom Waits songs:

The Cold Cold Ground - I Hear Sirens in the Streets - The Detective up Late.
 
As someone who's spent countless post rehearsal hours in pubs trying to come up with band names and now facing similar challenges with books, this causes me considerable grief.
I love coming up with band names - much easier than book titles. But there's less at stake when it's just for fun and not a real band. I have several fictional bands in my books - The Nowhere Boys (70s), Purple Words (early 80s), Montezuma (early 90s) and Tree Museum (late 90s) are the main ones, but Pie Tuesday, The Doubtful Guest and Sounds From Somewhere also get a mention.
 
I love coming up with band names - much easier than book titles. I have several fictional bands in my books - The Nowhere Boys (70s), Purple Words (early 80s), Montezuma (early 90s) and Tree Museum (late 90s) are the main ones, but Pie Tuesday, The Doubtful Guest and Sounds From Somewhere also get a mention.
Agree with band names. They are easier. Some I've actually played in over the years.

The Essential Bears (rock) - Maggots (prog rock) -Whitaker's Patent Remedy (folk rock) - The Hitkickers (bluegrass country rock), to name but a few of many.

Some good ones there Sedayne. I think I might've been tempted to splash a few quid of my dole money on seeing Pie Tuesday. As long there was a concession for UB40 cardholders :)

One of my WiPs has a band at its centre called Yer Man (it's pronounced in Belfast dialect - oh, and this bit in brackets isn't part of their name :) )
 
Agree with band names. They are easier. Some I've actually played in over the years.

The Essential Bears (rock) - Maggots (prog rock) -Whitaker's Patent Remedy (folk rock) - The Hitkickers (bluegrass country rock), to name but a few of many.

Some good ones there Sedayne. I think I might've been tempted to splash a few quid of my dole money on seeing Pie Tuesday. As long there was a concession for UB40 cardholders :)

One of my WiPs has a band at its centre called Yer Man (it's pronounced in Belfast dialect - oh, and this bit in brackets isn't part of their name :) )
Pie Tuesday did classic pub rock covers midweek in yer local. There was no entry fee. They were good, but went downhill after their bassist was poached for Montezuma.

I think I'd have liked The Essential Bears. (Bears are by nature essential, I believe.)

Yer Man is a brilliant band name - fictional or otherwise.
 
I trust Pie Tuesday did Hi Ho Silver Lining at some point and closed their set on a 20-minute version of Black Magic Woman, complete with an improvised guitar solo of at least fifteen minutes?

Thanks for the strong reaction to Yer Man as a band name. I have been kinda ambivalent at times.

Back on topic though. Book names are so tricky to get right. I'm revisiting the Hitchhiker's canon on audiobook.

Currently on book 2: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Great title - as indeed is the THGTTG itself.
 
I trust Pie Tuesday did Hi Ho Silver Lining at some point and closed their set on a 20-minute version of Black Magic Woman, complete with an improvised guitar solo of at least fifteen minutes?

Thanks for the strong reaction to Yer Man as a band name. I have been kinda ambivalent at times.

Back on topic though. Book names are so tricky to get right. I'm revisiting the Hitchhiker's canon on audiobook.

Currently on book 2: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Great title - as indeed is the THGTTG itself.
Hitchhiker's series all have great titles. They are all good-sounding in themselves, and then are doubly appealing when you discover what they mean in the context of the story.
It's a very long time since I read them. I think my favourite title is Mostly Harmless, although my favourite book was more likely TRATEOTU which I remember more clearly.

(PS Pie Tuesday were indeed known for their version of Hi Ho Silver Lining, a regular end of night singalong crowdpleaser, but alas, their guitarist wasn't up to any lengthy solos. A bit of a faker, truth be told, and they didn't last long after bassist, left for Montezuma who were more into Man, Bowie and Neil Young with a few original numbers thrown in. Now their guitarist was good....)
 
Neil Young's - Heart of Gold. First 'proper song' I learnt on the guitar.

Before that I was like all aspiring players. Bobby Shafto and Tavern In The Town as taught in the seminal guitar tuition book - Bert Weddon's - Play in a Day.
Most authors would give their eye teeth to sell a similar number of copies. Currently north of 2,000,000 and still in print.

Version in the pic was the one I had. :)

Bert.jpg
 
Neil Young's - Heart of Gold. First 'proper song' I learnt on the guitar.

Before that I was like all aspiring players. Bobby Shafto and Tavern In The Town as taught in the seminal guitar tuition book - Bert Weddon's - Play in a Day.
Most authors would give their eye teeth to sell a similar number of copies. Currently north of 2,000,000 and still in print.

Version in the pic was the one I had. :)

View attachment 18477
Heart of Gold is the first song my fictional teenage band The Nowhere Boys do. Way cool.

Apologies to Claire for hijacking this thread. We should either shut up or start a new one.
 
New blog post by Claire G – discussions in this thread, please
---

A Rose By Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet, Right?

The Silence of the Lambs, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine, 1984, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Colour Purple – titles that we remember, titles that I love. But what makes them so effective? And do titles affect sales?

What if Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was called something else?

Why was a book with an unimaginative title like The Girl on the Train such a huge pull for readers?

Did a three-year-old choose the title of Gone Girl? This really bugs me!



The Long and Short of It

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time; Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café; My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry…maybe it’s down to my choices but books with long titles always seem a bit quirky to me and I adore them for that. However, I’ve heard that titles shouldn’t be too long. Now it obviously didn’t hurt these books, so what’s an author to do?

On the other hand, short titles like Beloved, Americanah, Atonement and Fingersmith pack a huge punch and I think they’re great too. They say so much in just one word! Perhaps there’s more gravitas here compared to longer titles, so maybe the subject matter/genre of the book dictates the author’s choice?



To Alliterate or Not to Alliterate?

A Little Life, Gone Girl, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – I think alliteration makes titles more catchy and memorable…and if a book has this quality, it’s sure to stick in readers’ minds…hence more recommendations and sales?

But alliteration has to be crafted carefully, otherwise it may be perceived to be a childish gimmick (something that’s concerned me about the title of one of my contemporary romances)!



Experience

I’m trying to build a brand with my contemporary romances. I’ve self-published The Strange Imagination of Pippa Clayton, Daisy Roberts is Dead and Imogen Green’s Little Shop of Possibilities. I’m part way through writing Evie Watson Goes Wild. The titles seemed to just spring into my head fully formed, but afterwards I realised that they all included alliteration or assonance. Catchy, or silly?

My psychological novels have shorter titles: In Sanity, Catfish, All Inclusive. The short stories I’m most proud of, which tackle difficult subjects, have titles of only one word: Surfacing, Blossoming. Again, these choices may have been subconsciously down to genre and the gravitas of the content.



Final Thoughts

Do you have a favourite book title? What do you think makes it so effective?

What’s your least favourite book title? Why don’t you like it?

Do you prefer long or short titles? Why?

How do you select your own book titles?
---

By @Claire G
Get the discussion going – post your thoughts & comments in the thread below…
Just off the top of my head, The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store comes to mind. I think I like such titles because they draw my curiosity. And some single word titles can be very powerful, like Ian McEwan's Atonement. I've long liked The House of Sand and Fog because it is so infused with atmosphere, mood. Hmm.....I'll have to think more about this.

So now a few more: A one word title: Absolution. Another that conjures atmosphere and mood: The Covenant of Water. And how about, for quirky and curiosity stimulating: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.
 
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