Waiting for the book title to appear.

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
Book titles are crucial to attract a reader's attention. I've mentioned this anecdote on the Colony before, but it bears repeating—I was using the computer in my local library one day, and overhead a chat between two librarians and two readers who were each borrowing an armful of books. One lady commented that she always chooses books by how intriguing their title is—whereupon, her friend and the librarians agreed with her—I almost fell off my chair, shocked at how shallow their selection criterion was. Not to dismiss such an illuminating revelation, I've since chosen what I hope are eye-catching, provocative and memorable titles. I don't think that having an effective title guarantees a book's success, but having a terrible title will certainly hold it back.

It's common practice for a novelist to insert their book title somewhere in the story. The same thing happens in other art forms, such as poetry, song lyrics and film scripts.

I did so with my first Cornish Detective novel, Who Kills A Nudist?—which is what my protagonist detective wonders to himself at the end of Chapter 2, after an initial examination of a naked corpse found on a windswept beach in winter. The second novel's title, An Elegant Murder, wasn't referenced until three chapters from The End when my detective commented that a cunning killer had found an elegant way to transfer the blame for the slaying of an innocent.

Book 3 is called The Perfect Murderer, a term that a supposedly respectable retired policeman uses to describe a serial killer who leaves no clues. It's a deliberate piece of misdirection, for he used his status as a detective to conceal his vendetta against hardened criminals, killing one a year for 40 years. Never suspected of involvement, he's really the perfect murderer. Book 4, Sin Killers, features married ex-secret agents, zealots who've mounted a campaign of slaughter against sinners transgressing their pagan religious beliefs. The husband is a Druid bard who performs readings of old texts in which sinners are killed.

My WIP will be titled The Dead Need Nobody, a title that will appear early on in the story when a forensic pathologist says so as a passing comment after autopsying a murder victim. My detective will be reminded of her observation when interviewing a suspect, a manipulative art dealer, a needy narcissist who comments that dying is a great career move for a painter.

Do you, as a reader, look out for the title appearing in the text?

Do you, as an author, reference your chosen title somewhere in the story?

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I like the sound of your titles, Paul. They somehow connect all the books together.

As a reader, I don't look out for titles, but notice them when they appear in the text.

When I wrote the first book (an animal adventure) I struggled with finding a title. A massive headache. I just couldn't find anything suitable. So I sat down, thought what the book is about and ended up with: Gangs, Plans and Pink Underpants. (It's about a gang, they have a plan, and someone will be wearing pink underpants.) It kind of stuck.

The second book had the title in the text, sort of. Call Me Cuckoo. There are several references to being called cuckoo in the story and at one point one of the characters says: You can call me 'the Cuckoo'.

I've just started with the third novel, and have a working title. Immolation. I'm not sure whether it works / intrigues / confuses , but if I end up keeping it, I'll try to weave it into the story. I find it difficult to choose an appropriate title which would grab someone's attention.
In The Farthest Reach, a palmist tells my young policeman when he's just a boy, that he is a seer, a bridge between worlds, a fisherman of the farthest reach, and he'll one day save a life.

The title came afterwards.
If it fits the story I will use the title inside it, but as a general rule I do not. For me, the title is more about pulling it all together in a few words, not something I want readers to be on the lookout for. I want them reading the story, after all, and getting lost in the characters. Not the words. :)
I don't think authors with a publisher get to pick their own title.

But ... No, I don't look for it in the text.

Yes, I never thought about but I suppose I do put my title in the text. But it's pretty obvious.

I'm not really good at titles and names and such. Sometimes I get lucky but it's difficult for me to think of names and titles.
Titles are tough, and if you have a publisher, not always yours to decide, which makes it tough to insert the title in the text. However, if you have a brilliant title, like Paul's, you might get to keep it.
No doubt titles are important, though I agree, you'd think there would be more to picking a book to read. For something unusual (slightly), the novel I just completed is "USS Berlin, Third Star to the Right." Well the first part is the starship that the book is about, the second part doesn't come into play until the very last line in the novel, when the Captain is asked what course to set, to which he replied, 'third star to the right and on until morning.' Some might twig to where that came from, but it's not a direct copy.
I don't think authors with a publisher get to pick their own title.

Some publishers may change titles, but not all, and not every book. I've only been asked once to change a title, and that was because Evernight thought of one they felt would be more intriguing and less generic.
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Fanfare! And another one...

Books as Commercial Products