If you think about it, titles seem to be one of the biggest struggles of all authors out there. You see titles on your shelves and you think “Why didn’t *I* think of that?” because you want to find something that shines.
The thing is, most of the titles were selected after weeks of brainstorming, and with an editor and a marketing team behind them. It’s very rare that an author will keep his original title for the work, so it’s something you really don’t have to worry about. It’ll most likely change anyway.
But like me, you dream of finding a perfect title that just calls enough attention to separate your MS into the unique shelf. *shines* Because I’m a little too full of myself (and well… this is my blog after all) I’m going to discuss some of the titles I chose for my own projects and which ones I think fit well in the category.
So here are some tricks I do when I’m choosing my titles:
- Look at titles in your genre — book or movie. Watch out for trends on titles in the same genre as yours. For mysteries and thrillers, two-word titles work. For my Gone Girl-esque YA, I’ve chosen CAREFUL PLANNING (I deliberated a lot with Bad Girls, but it sounded too generic). Fantasy titles are often one word or a title that evokes a certain atmosphere, or an important feature of the story. For my YA fantasy with mermaids and pirates, I’ve been using THE SIREN’S CALL which is a special power that some sirens have. If it’s a rom-com, choose a quirky and funny title, and so on. Title is super important. You don’t read something called “The House Murders” and see a romance, for example.
- Poetry, proverbs, songs and catchphrases. Those are always the best place to look for your titles — if a poem inspired you, remember to use it. Look for titles in known quotes and proverbs and anything in between. Titles and lyrics of songs work, too.
- Important event/character. This works every time. Your title has to stand out, but it also has to be in sync with the story told inside. It’s ok to name your novel after the MC, but you can also use a verb. (Verb + Name of Character, anyone? Those combinations can be my favorite. Extra points if it’s a pun). Works best for SFF in this case, which usually revolves around a central object – a quest, a sword or a magical object.
- Have someone else read it. More often than not you’re already deep in your MS and are too exasperated at trying to find a title that fits that you can’t really see it. Someone coming with clean eyes to your world might find an easier title than you.
- Look at titles selling right now. If you’ve written a YA Fantasy and you’re using the words Queen/Fire/Shadow/Sword/Crown, there’s 100000% certainty that it won’t call any attention in the genre. Goes for the genre you’re writing in — titles follow tendencies, same as book covers, so you have to watch out to not repeat yourself and make a grave mistake in your book. This year/last year we’ve had both “Queen of Shadows” and “Shadow Queen”.
- Don’t be afraid to change titles. That’s ok. It’s very hard to find a title that fits perfectly. Most of my titles aren’t entirely written on stone either. Trust yourself to move on and come back to it from time to time — you’ll be surprised at the difference some time away to the MS can make.
Finding the perfect title…
- One word titles. These are easy — choose one proeminent element from your story and stick to it. It’s what I did for FIREBIRD — a retelling of the Russian fairytale and that fit my MS perfectly.
- Phrases. “From Russia with Love”, or “The Fault in Our Stars”. You can twist phrases around or even catch one of them in your own MS to put it in the title.
- Combining words. You’ve seen this before. “The Wrath and the Dawn”, “A Court of Thorns and Roses”, “The Girl of Fire and Thorns”. They work really well for any fantasy titles, so find words that stick out in your MS and that revolve around the main theme.
- Title drops. One of my favorite ways to get the title — sometimes so subtle and then the title is in the middle of a sentence and you go WHOA. SO THAT’S WHAT IT MEANS. It has to be both meaningful to the book as well as work as a title itself. Look for those scenes where everything changes for your MC and where the plot thickens.
- Retellings. If your story is a fairy tale or classic novel retelling, be sure to reference in the title. Can be like “Cinder” (Cinderella) or “Princess of Thorns” (Sleeping Beauty). For my Romeo and Juliet retelling I’ve chosen THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS, and I can’t see the MS without it.
Always, always look for a title that clicks. Try to look for something that stands out — but that doesn’t look out of its depth. Don’t be afraid of using a provisory title while you don’t have it — that’s ok. When it comes to you, you’ll know.
And to complete the list, some of my top fifteen favorite titles of all time…
- A Thousand Pieces of You, by Claudia Gray. I just love this title so much, I don’t even know where to start.
- The Last Ever After, by Soman Chaimani. What an awesome title for the ending of the series.
- An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green. This is both my favorite novel and favorite title from John Green. It conveys so much from the book without spoiling the essence.
- Finding Audrey, by Sophie Kinsella. All my love for this book – and Audrey for finding herself.
- The Scorpio Races. To be truthful, all Maggie Stiefvater’s titles work so well. They bring the magic of the books to themselves.
- Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo. The whole trilogy has amazing titles in my opnion.
- Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevski. Never go wrong with the classics.
- The Hero’s Guide to saving the Kingdom, by Christopher Healy. Caught my attention at once and it’s my favorite MG series.
- Since You’ve Been Gone, by Morgan Matson. Go ahead and try to take the Kelly Clarkson song out of your head.
- If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler, by Italo Calvino. DUH.
- Tomorrow, When the War Began, by James Marsden. I’ve always loved this title.
- To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, by Jenny Han. I love Jenny Han. I love this book. I love everything.
- The Left Hand of God, by Paul Hoffman. All the titles of the series blew me away. Hardcore fantasy.
- The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, by Leslye Walton. This book is so magical that even the title reads like magic.
- Dumplin’, by Julie Murphy. ‘NUFF SAID.