Choosing the right title
By Jade Craddock
Don’t underestimate the power of a title. In the scheme of things, choosing those few words to grace the front of a book may seem inconsequential, after all it’s the 80,000 words inside the cover that are really going to make or break it. ♥
However, just as you wouldn’t chance on the first name that pops into your head when naming a baby, but rather deliberate on, and test the names out and finally wait until you have your little one in your arms to make sure the name fits, authors should take just as much care over naming their books.
Not only are you going to have to live with the title for the rest of your career and have it staring mockingly at you in your backlist, but more importantly it serves as a potential hook for readers when choosing their next book.
A good title will capture a reader’s attention, attract them to the book and encourage them to read it. A bad title may mean that your book doesn’t even get a second glance. Unfortunately there’s no secret formula; no foolproof guide to creating a winning title, but hopefully like the baby name you’ll know when it’s right.
Long titles don’t necessarily mean bad titles
There are some schools of thought that follow the caveat that a long title is a no-no and, yes, whilst long titles can be offputting and frankly a bit of a minefield, it all depends on the title. A well-balanced, flowing, and intriguing longer title can actually be appealing; it’s the didactic, wordy and overly complex longer titles that can be more disastrous. Having said that however even the most considered titles will begin to flag if too long, so keeping a title to single figures may be advisory. A shorter title may also be more reviewer/media-friendly especially in magazines and newspapers where writers may be working to a word count. So if you want to avoid having your title abbreviated or turned into an annoying acronym, shorter may be better. The answer surely then is single-word titles, no? Well, a quick look at this year’s chick lit releases to date would suggest otherwise, with only a handful opting for a minimalist approach (Beauty, Skeletons, Ghostwritten, Vintage). If overly long titles tend towards complex and dull, overly short titles can become vague and generic. But again it depends on the title: Beauty, Fame and Secrets may become old-hat but Fangirl, Fishbowl and Watermelon certainly aren’t. So really there’s no mathematical formula to choosing a title, but for those of you who are inclined, I’ve crunched some numbers in your honour, and just as a matter of interest, based on the 100 titles in the Ultimate 100 Chicklit Collection from Chicklit Club, the average title length is 3.21 words, the shortest title length is one word and the longest is eight. And in terms of the frequency of different title lengths it’s 1-word=9 appearances; 2 = 23; 3 = 36; 4 = 15; 5 = 9; 6 = 4; 7 = 3; 8 = 1. So it seems from this analysis that if you want to get into the chick lit top 100 you need to come up with a three-word title, or, alternatively, just write a great book!
Read the title out loud to see if it sounds good
One of the ways to test out your title is to read it out loud. What sounds good in your head and looks good on paper might not work at all when said out loud. And if readers and booksellers are going to be talking about your novel you want to ensure that the title works when spoken. Louise Douglas describes the problem perfectly when she writes about The Love of My Life:
“By the time I’d finished, the book’s title was The Moth’s Kiss which looks fine on paper only is impossible to say aloud without lisping.”
Hardly conducive to a winning title. If you’re stuttering over a title, finding it awkward to say, it just sounds clumsy or boring, or it becomes a rude acronym, it probably isn’t the best moniker for your book and certainly won’t be the best advert for it.
Make sure the title matches your story
As a reader, for me, this is crucial. I can’t recall how many times I’ve felt a complete disconnect between the title of a book and the actual story and have been left wondering how exactly the title fits in. This is not to say that your title can’t be clever or subtle. Indeed, whilst you want a title that matches your story, you don’t want something that will give everything away before even reading. The best titles are those that relate to the book but also carry some degree of intrigue or curiosity that will only reveal itself on reading the book. Personally, I like books that take a line or phrase from within the book itself as the title. Not only does this create a strong and obvious connection between the two but it’s also quite fun for the reader to spot these links. But again it’s got to be a phrase that’s meaningful and matches the soul of the book. When a reader finishes a novel, they need to feel that the title fits, rather than trying to decipher it like a master codebreaker.
Avoid using a title that’s already been taken
It’s amazing how many titles in chick lit have been used more than once. If you’ve thought of a great title and it fits your novel but then you find out it’s already been used before, really consider if you still want to use it. It obviously lessens your book’s USP but more than that it can be confusing for readers who are searching for the book and who may as a result end up inadvertently buying the wrong book. Try looking up your title on Chicklit Club or Amazon once you’ve come up with it. Cliches and everyday expressions, especially, tend to be quite popular so are likely to already be taken, but whilst some may suggest avoiding these altogether in fact they can be really appropriate for chick lit and good fun, particularly when combined with a pun: Just Another Manic Mum Day, Nearlyweds, The Quest for the Holy Veil.
Random title generators
There are some good resources for helping with titles, but random title generators have got to be amongst the most fun. These online tools will offer you a selection of possible titles at the click of your mouse. The titles tend to be more generalised, although there are a few sites that specifically generate romance titles, eg Romance Random Title Generator, Random Romantic Book Title Generator, Romantic Film Title Generator. If you’ve already written your novel, I’m not sure these random title generators are the place you should really be looking for a title, after all they’re not going to be specific to your book. But for writers looking for inspiration to start writing, a title can be a good way in, at least initially to get you thinking. And, hell, it’s just pretty damn fun to see what comes up: The Wave of the Wave , The What Solitude, Playful Nobody, The Name of the Frozen Wand (hmmm!). Clearly, you have to take a lot of the titles with a pinch of salt, but they may help get the cogs turning, and you can even find some diamonds in the rough: Silent Sons, The Danger of the Beginning, Missing Secrets, The Cold Kiss. But for chick lit, look no further than Tara Sparling’s Chick lit title generator, which gives you four columns of words to string together a four-word title based on the fun formula of the day of the week you were born; your first initial; your birth month and the initial of your surname which then matches up with a given word. So the title of my chick lit book would be If Hearts Should Steal. Not bad. If nothing else, there’s definitely hours of fun to be had here working out the chick lit titles of friends or relatives. Or, of course, if you’re actually after a chick lit title, I must admit there’s potential: And Tomorrow Will Come, Some Lies Can’t Speak. And of course if you’re after that winning three-word title Dreams May Fall, Desire Will Win.
A good title doesn’t a good book make
Remember that a title is one of the first ways your book will be identified and the main way it will be referred to. It can be as effective as a cover in raising initial interest and as divisive in opinion when it doesn’t match the content. The title shouldn’t give too much away but it shouldn’t be too obscure. Ultimately it should fit the book like a glove, and if it’s funny, emotive, original and memorable to boot, you can’t ask for more. But a good title can only go so far, ultimately it comes down to the book itself to determine whether the title is one that crosses readers’ lips. Just make sure you’ve got the perfect title ready for when it does.
A few of my favourite chick-lit titles
- Nine Uses for an Ex-Boyfriend – witty, feisty and original, everything that good chick lit should be
- No One Ever has Sex on a Tuesday – great example of taking a winning line from the book
- Forever, Interrupted – powerful and poignant
- I’m Not Julia Roberts – can’t fail to grab a reader’s attention
- Jane Austen Ruined my Life – putting Jane Austen in your title won’t automatically guarantee success but the great novelist ruining your life, now that’s worth reading
- From Notting Hill with Love … Actually – puntastic title combining chick lit and chick flicks
- The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight – perfect example of a long, wordy title that works
- Deranged Marriage – sometimes the simplest play on words are the most effective
- Mummy said the F-Word – the universal accusation of children world over can’t fail to speak to the masses
- This is a Love Story – says exactly what it does on the tin
Ever since Jade Craddock can remember she’s loved books, as her groaning bookshelves attest (she’s pretty sure the house will need reinforcing soon so that it doesn’t collapse under the weight). With a PhD in English Literature, she had a valid excuse to read pretty much constantly for seven years. And although she’s finally finished studying, she’s still reading non-stop.