Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Titles - Joy or Torture?

Are you good at thinking up titles for your book? Next to writing all the bits that go with the submission, I find coming up with a memorable title almost the hardest thing of all.

I’ve always understood that the publisher, or more accurately the marketing department, has the last word on this, but even so, you want a good title when you send something out to an agent. I’ve always considered it as a working title that may later change, but this alone can make you feel it’s hardly worth slogging away for hours when what you’ve dreamed up may not last.

But the title is part of the package that will hopefully catch an agent’s attention, so … remember it will set up an association of ideas in the agent’s mind, perhaps even at a subconscious level, before they finish reading your cover letter. Think about it: you only have to see the words Cruel Mistress, Considerate Lover and you know you can’t be far from the category romance. Cloud Atlas, and you know you are moving into the realms of literary fiction. Words, even single  words, have great power and depending on your perception and their context, words convey whole volumes of meaning. a good example would be Revelation. Others might be Heretic, or Heresy, Treason. Look at them, and see what filters into your mind. Those few small words, when applied to your book, will set up a whole raft of expectations in your reader.

If you thought up a good, strong title that captures the eye, the chances are good that the publisher will keep it, and that will give you a nice warm little glow in the days when your book is for sale. So the first step is to decide what sort of a book you’ve written. Romance? Thriller? That gives you a handle on the sort of titles you should consider. Then start thinking of any ad every title you could possibly use. I check them against Amazon, because one thing you don’t want is a title that  has already been used – and possibly used more than once, for more than one genre.

Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent, recommends free associating at this point: write lists, she says.  Put all the words associated with your book "in columns: nouns, verbs, adjectives. Describe or suggest the setting. Then think about each of your major characters and write down words that relate to them. Think about the action in the story and write down verbs that capture it.” Keep going until you have at least 100 words.

There has been a fashion (it may even be passé now) for single word titles, which can be powerful. If not, put combinations of your words together. If you have a thesaurus, use it. to jog your memory. From this point, you should be able to winkle out perhaps 20 possible titles. Then go away and do something else for a day. The following day, add any ideas you’ve had in the intervening 24 hours to your list. Then select the five that appeal most and try them out on other people.

A couple of days later, consider how your potential titles would sit in among the lists you’ve seen on Amazon – or your local bookshop if that’s handy. Are you happy to make a final choice? Does the selected title match your book? Does it suggest right away that this book is Romance, Historical, Thriller? Is there any sense of a time period within the words? Will it attract attention from the buying public? If you are planning a series, can your title be adapted or made to fit and match with later volumes? Dunnett connected six of her titles in the Lymond series to chess, and the idea worked beautifully.

Rachelle has more to say on the topic.

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