A Book by Any Other Name

Red Pencil ThursdayYes, It’s Thursday and yes, we’re supposed to have a Red Pencil Thursday critique, but unfortunately, without a volunteer to offer up his/her first 500 words, we’re dead in the water. From unpublished newbies to New York Times bestsellers, I’ve had authors at every point in their career in the RPT hotseat. So far, everyone says the experience was useful to them and I know the rest of us have learned from their work.

When I used to sing professionally, I was often invited to participate in Master Classes. I’d sing an aria before a packed room and then a seasoned operatic pro would pick my performance apart.

“A little more nuanced interpretation here.” 

“A trick pianissimo would work well there.”

The master would give me a bath in public as we tore apart the music and reassembled it after about a half an hour of fits and starts. Finally, I’d get the chance to perform the same piece once more and it was always an improvement over the original. Not only did the exercise help me, it benefited all the other singers in the audience who were taking copious notes about how to use what they’d learned for their own singing.

That’s the idea behind Red Pencil Thursday but you aren’t limited to my opinion when you submit. Lots of my writer buddies drop by to offer their expertise. So if you’d like to participate, please send me an email and we’ll schedule your visit to RPT! 

Now to the topic at hand–picking the right title for your book. Why is this so important? Because your title is something that makes readers pick up your book.

The title is your foot in the door. It’s the first chance for you to show the reader what kind of story they’re going to get. CL Wilson’s Lord of the Fading Lands isn’t likely to be mistaken for a contemporary comedy.  Why? The title is too reminiscent of Tolkein. This is one place where it’s ok to be like something else. You want to call an image to the readers’ minds that will tell them where your book falls.

  • It’s true that authors have no final say on the title. That’s up to the publisher and more specifically the publisher’s marketing department, but make up a good one anyway. I sold Stroke of Genius based on nothing more than the title and a paragraph. Why is it a good title? First it’s a play on words with a sensual double entendre. It also gives readers their first hint about the main character—an artistic genius.
  • Use something familiar—Play on movie titles: Karen Hawkins does this with Sleepless in Scotland and The Scot who Loved me. Then there’s Kieran Kramer’s clever Cloudy with a chance of Marriage. Play on TV shows: Elizabeth Boyle’s How I Met My Countess echoes How I Met Your Mother. Play on song Lyrics: Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Ain’t She Sweet? is a prime example. Play on familiar sayings: My own Between a Rake and a Hard Place fits this category.
  • Series titles—To show books are connected, the titles need to have some elements in common. Evanovitch’s One for the Money kicks off a series that’s only limited by how high she can count. A is for Alibi still gives Susan Grafton 26 bites of this particular apple. Sarah MacLean uses numbers and a rhyme scheme to catch readers’ eyes with her 9 Rules to Break when Romancing a Rake, 10 Ways to be Adored when Landing a Lord, and 11 Scandals to Start to win a Duke’s heart.
  • Alliteration—People respond to patterns. Christie Craig’s Divorced, Desperate and Dating has a great rhythm. As does Tammy Falkner’s Tall, Tatted & Tempting (which is a FREE download right now for your Kindle! Click through and get it now!)

So now it’s your turn. What title do you think really works? Why?

4 thoughts on “A Book by Any Other Name

  1. Thank you, Mia. I agree, titles matter. Many a catchy one has made me look at the description of the book, which determines whether or not I’ll buy it.

    But IMHO, sometimes the marketing department tries too hard. That includes a title that alludes to a popular movie, song, or TV show. I almost never think it’s cute or clever, just derivative and affected.

    And in the long run it will pose a problem for the author and publisher. A few more years and the title will sound dated. Once a new generation of readers comes along, it might have to be changed. Thus leading to confusion and frustration among readers, something there’s already too much of.

    Of course, all this is just one reader’s opinion. I’m in no position to tell the marketing departments how to do their job. If a book with title that makes me groan ends up on the NYT Bestsellers List largely because of that title, well, so much for what I think.

    As for titles I like, what I think works, it’s hard to generalize. I prefer to consider this on a case-by-case basis.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Mia says:

      I see what you mean about titles becoming dated based on their similarity to other popular culture entertainment, but publishers aren’t as concerned with longevity of a book as its ability to fly off the shelves during that all important first two weeks after release. That’s what determines if a book hits a list, not the actual number of copies sold.

  2. Hi Mia,

    I like titles that have a double meaning or spin a popular television/movie title. Your “Touch” series had great connections (no pun intended)

    Have a super Easter!

    1. Mia says:

      Thanks, Barbara. Happy Easter to you and your family too.

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