Writing Killer Titles – Your Suggestions Please!

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I think the worst titles are Sally Rooney's: they are anodyne. But if it's a great book, like hers, the title doesn't matter (to me, anyway; I don't buy a book for its title).
Thanks, Katie-Ellen. That list has a lot of titles I'd have mentioned. Including:

Title: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
Author: Dr Oliver Sacks
Genre: Non-fiction. Neurology/neurolopsychology. Case studies about the brain/mind and what can go wrong.
Thoughts/Reactions: fantastic book with incredible insights into the (fragile) human conditon. Accessible to the lay reader. And the man DID mistake his wife for a hat, because of his neurological illness :(

Title: Neverwhere
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Fantasy
Thoughts/Reactions: one of the best fantasy books by one of the best fantasy writers. The title took two ordinary words and combined them to promise another, magical, world. The book lived up to the promise.
Sorry, I posted this in the wrong place on the forum, so here it is again...

Personal preference, I like book titles that gives me a basic idea of what the novel is about. In most cases, that, combined with the cover and blurb, will be enough to make me purchase (or not).

My favourites classics:

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Call of the Wild
by Jack London

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
by C. S. Lewis

All Quiet on the Western Front
by Erich Maria Remarque

by Mary Shelley

by Bram Stoker

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
by Mark Twain

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll

The Godfather
by Mario Puzo

War and Peace
by Leo Tolstoy

The Spy who came in from the Cold
by John le Carré

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams


Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
by Lynne Truss

A Short History of nearly Everything
by Bill Bryson

Magnificent Desolation
by Buzz Aldrin

It Shouldn’t happen to a Vet
by James Herriot

Years ago, the best title inspirations were taken from the Bible, Shakespeare, poetry, and other novels …

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (Shakespeare, The Tempest)

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (Shakespeare, Timon of Athens)

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy (W. B. Yates, Sailing to Byzantium)

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (Arthur Conan Doyle, Silver Blaze)

… but that trait seems to have disappeared now.

Modern day crime, I loved most of Dick Francis titles: Dead Cert, Odds Against, Bonecrack, Bolt, Whiphand, Field of Thirteen, 10lb Penalty, High Stakes… His
books did exactly what it said on the tin…

I also liked the Sue Grafton alphabet series. A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar etc. (Great reads, but I bought a lot of them just to have the full set!).

I have an aversion to titles that aim for a shock factor. Example: Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach.

The latest book that stopped me was: The Man who Died Twice by Richard Osman. The cover did nothing for me, but the interesting title made me buy.

Hope that helps, Peter.
TITLE: Resisting Hitler: Mildred Harnack and the Red Orchestra.

AUTHOR: Shareen Blair Brysac

GENRE: biography

LINK IF YOU HAVE ONE: Nonfiction Book Review: Resisting Hitler: Mildred Harnack and the Red Orchestra by Shareen Blair Brysac, Author Oxford University Press, USA $30 (512p) ISBN 978-0-19-513269-4

YOUR THOUGHTS / REACTIONS: This title compelled me to pick up the book and read the back blurb and finally purchase it. It's not especially flashy but still pulled me in and made me want to know more. Another Harnack bio came out recently and I'll likely read it, but the title is really cumbersome > "All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler"
Use this format:

TITLE: A Big Boy Did And Ran Away

AUTHOR: Christopher Brookmyre

GENRE: Thriller / Dark Comedy



Fantastic story and brilliantly sharp prose. Withering at times and hilarious others.
TITLE: A big boy did it and ran away

AUTHOR: Christopher Brookmyre

GENRE: Crime

YOUR THOUGHTS / REACTIONS: The title reminded me of a Billy Connolly routine about his childhood when he shit his pants in school and claimed a big boy did it and ran away. Familiarity with the phrase definitely helped as did the title of another of his books 'All fun and games until someone loses an eye'. Both titles also give an idea that although the books are crime thrillers they will contain some humour.
TITLE: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West

AUTHOR: Dee Brown

GENRE: Non Fiction/Historical

LINK IF YOU HAVE ONE: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee - Wikipedia

YOUR THOUGHTS / REACTIONS: The title grabbed me - what more can I say? Hard hitting, opened my eyes to the evils of colonialism and intolerance, greed, religious bigotry and closed minds.
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TITLE: The End of Mr Y

AUTHOR: Scarlett Thomas

GENRE: Not sure... Ursula le Guin describes it in a review as "combining elements of various genres - fantasy, science fiction, cerebro-thriller"

LINK IF YOU HAVE ONE: The End Of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas - Canongate Books

YOUR THOUGHTS / REACTIONS: It's mysterious and cryptic, and there's a kind of melodrama/romance to it that drew me in (although I think it was recommended by a friend so not purely the power of the title. But I don't read everything I'm recommended, so it must have done something.)
Also has a beautiful cover design which helps:
TITLE: The Night Circus

AUTHOR: Erin Morgenstern

GENRE: fantasy

LINK IF YOU HAVE ONE: The Night Circus

YOUR THOUGHTS / REACTIONS: I discovered this title via Twitter when the author was busy getting the word out. The idea of a Night Circus intrigued me... what is a Night Circus? The title seduced me into checking out the social threads Erin'd shared. I pre-ordered it and really loved her book.
TITLE King of The North Wind
AUTHOR Claudia Gold
GENRE History
LINK King of The North Wind

A romantic title in the broadest sense of the word. Like El Cid. It's got epic written all over it. In what way was he a 'king of the north wind'?

The North Wind doth blow, and we shall have snow....
A royal tragedy. A king of England like a raptor, a hawk from the North, married to Eleanor of Aquitaine, former queen of France, ruled huge swathes of France also. Ruled the greatest empire of any medieval monarch. But much of his life's work was lost within no more than 1 generation. He lost a much beloved son, and was ultimately was betrayed by his surviving sons; John, whom he particularly cherished, and his oldest surviving son, heir, Richard. Defeated, ill, and grief-stricken, sick to his soul, he took to his bed, turned his face to the wall and died.

I might have suggested Ring of Bright Water, Gavin Maxwell. Wonderful title. Don't care for Maxwell.
Brilliant range of titles so far, thank you everyone…. Please keep ‘em coming. “Writing Killer Titles” as a seminar initially seems a gargantuan (not to say foolhardy) undertaking… but themes and approaches are indeed emerging, mostly inspired by your spadework above.

I’m in Sandwich (mayo? pickles?) from tomorrow but will be checking in here as Wi-Fi allows. Keep up the good work :)
The difficulty with this exercise is that my view of a title's draw is inevitably affected by my memory of a book. If I was in civilization I'd probably walk in to a book store and just look at the welcome table to see what attracted me, but then that is inevitably affected but the cover design which might or might not draw me to the book. I think that would add value to my input here.

TITLE: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

AUTHOR: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

: Modern & Contemporary fiction

LINK IF YOU HAVE ONE: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_Day_in_the_Life_of_Ivan_Denisovich

YOUR THOUGHTS / REACTIONS I'm always drawn to Russian literature of this period, although I worked there post 1989. As I wrote in the opening para above, memory of a book colours my view of the title.
TITLE: Child 44

AUTHOR: Tom Rob Smith

GENRE: Modern & Contemporary fiction

LINK IF YOU HAVE ONE: Child 44 - Wikipedia

YOUR THOUGHTS / REACTIONS This one I picked up from a charity shop last week. It fits my taste for Russian (or any) fiction set in the Soviet era. I started reading it yesterday. But the title? Almost suggestive of 'Cathy Come Home' and/or child murder type stories - which I do not enjoy - but the blurb hooked me - not the title. You judge the draw of the title. The link above also provides an interesting record of critical diversity, worth reading in itself. Grauniad readers might well have missed out on this book, damned with faint praise. I also confused Angus Macqueen with Alexander McQueen...No doubt somebody will dress me down for that.
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TITLE: The Final Empire

AUTHOR: Brandon Sanderson

: fantasy



I didn't buy this book. It was on my bookshelf at home because it belonged to my wife. She bought it before she met me and i stumbled across it while looking for something to read.
I pulled it off the shelf because the idea of a final empire intrigued me. How could it be final? What does that even mean?
You reminded of a name I've always thought ingenious @Jake E. Incorporating The Final Empire, it's the "The Mistborn Trilogy," and "Mistborn" caught my eye.

So this is an example of a great title (The Final Empire) and a great trilogy name (Mistborn). A slam dunk! In fact, I'd never even noticed the actual title before, I just knew the first book in the trilogy as "Mistborn," lol. How wrong I was :) But that's how strong "Mistborn" was to me.

LINK IF YOU HAVE ONE: Amazon product ASIN B004N622EY
Just spotted this title. It caught my eye. (Published by Chicken House)

Title: Who Let the Gods Out

Author: Maz Evans

Genre: MG SF, Fantasy, Myth, humour for children

Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Who-Let-Gods-Out-Evans

Thoughts/Reactions: Clever. Catchy. You know this book is going to be a fun read. As it turns a song title around, you can even sing it!
It's the 4th book in the Who let the Gods out trilogy. ("Against all Gods", "Beyond the Odyssey", "Simply the Quest", "Who let the Gods Out"). I've read the first part of the amazon blurb. That's great too.
This is an example of the ABSOLUTE WORST title I have ever come across. I think it's a shocker.

TITLE: Tirra Lirra by the River

AUTHOR: Jessica Anderson

GENRE: Literary novel

The title is a quotation from The Lady of Shalott, and it does have some reference to the content of the, really not bad, novel. (A bit reminiscent of Shirley Jackson's non-creepy stuff.)
It does not, however, reach out and grab the browsing reader.

Background, from Wikipedia
'Tirra Lirra by the River' is a Miles Franklin Award-winning novel by Australian author Jessica Anderson. First published in 1978, though written much earlier. It is included in Carmen Callil and Colm Tóibín's collection The Modern Library: The Best 200 Novels in English since 1950 (Picador 1999).
TITLE: The Unbearable Lightness of Being

AUTHOR: Milan Kundera

GENRE: Good question, puzzled me. I looked at Waterstones! They list it under Modern & Contemporary Fiction.

LINK IF YOU HAVE ONE:The_Unbearable_Lightness_of_Being

YOUR THOUGHTS / REACTIONS: When I read the post It took me about 10 secs to dredge this title up from my memory. Not a book I would choose based on the blurb, but the title was intriguing and suggestive of something deeper. It was not a page-turner for me, but there again I like to learn from books and I did. Worth reading. On the other hand, 'Cancer Ward' turned me off till I read the blurb.
That's one of my fave titles too
Two titles I have on my radar but have never gone the whole hog and read the books. It's just that both piqued my interest. Both conjure up instant atmosphere and draw for me. Mind, so much so I've never read them... :rolling-on-the-floor-laughing: but you know what I mean. Cracking titles.

Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis de Bernieres Link

Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell Link
TITILE: The Dancing Wu Li Masters

AUTHOR: Gary Zukav

GENRE: Non-fiction

THUGHTS: First non-fiction book I ever read out of choice, inspired by the title and the cover (which depicted Einstein doing Tai Chi, if I remember rightly). Nice intro to Quantum Physics when it was first getting mainstream attention.
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October Flash Club Winner!

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