When I saw what I'd scheduled to talk about today, I had a brief, inner-toddler moment of "Don't wanna!"
That's because titles are hard. And even if you work your butt (or your "boom-boom" as my 3-year-old inexplicably calls it) off at creating what you think is the perfect title, your publishing house might change it.
Why do so many titles get changed in the publishing process? The best theory I've heard on this is that a writer tends to pick a title that has meaning and sticking power only if you've read the story. I think that's definitely true for me and likely many other writers as well.
So does it matter what you call your book if there's a 50% chance your future publishing house is going to change it anyway? In short, yes. In Save the Cat, Blake Snyder suggests that the title is part of the one-two punch of a great pitch, which includes your one-line. The title should "say what it is" but should say it cleverly. The example he gives of a great title is Legally Blond. He's right - it's a wonderful title. It says something about the tone, the story, the audience.
How do you come up with a great title? Brainstorming and trial and error.
My all-time favorite title is The Earth, my Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler. I read in an interview that it took her 2 years of reworking that title, and it's paid off big time. When I bought the book at Barnes and Noble, the clerk laugh and started flipping through it. When I've talked about it on here before, my mom asked if she could borrow it. It's a title that grabs you, makes you laugh, and makes you curious.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself to test the titles you've come up with:
Is it unique?
Could it apply to only your book or many others? The title Love or Money could be applied to tons of stories, so it lacks uniqueness. The Other Boleyn Girl (Philippa Gregory) couldn't. It's a great title. Or Hunger Games could only apply to Suzanne Collin's book. Same with The Uglies by Scott Westerfield.
Does it say something about what the book is about?
A great way to test this is on Facebook. You can post, "If you saw this book title, what would you think it was about?"
Like The Pact by Jodi Picoult. I instantly think this is about some sort of grave agreement. (It is.) Or My Sister's Keeper also by Jodi Picoult. My first impression would be it's a story about sisters and one is in charge of the other. (Close enough.)
The Earth, my Butt, and Other Big Round Things. Weight, but done in a funny way. (True.)
The Other Boleyn Girl. My thoughts instantly go to, "It's not about Anne ... did she have a sister? What would life have been like as Anne Boleyn's sister?"
The Passion of Mary-Margaret by Lisa Samson. I think 3 things - sacrifice, religion, and Catholic. All correct.
Is it memorable?
We've all had titles we have a tough time remembering. I really enjoyed the movie In Good Company, which came out a couple years ago. But for the longest time, I could NOT remember what it was called. I was always saying to my husband, "It's just like in ... that movie we watched. With Topher Grace ... remember he becomes Dennis Quaid's boss..."
I'm also not a fan of "50-cent" words in titles. Those big complicated words can make it tough to remember and can also make the meaning unclear.
It's possible you've written a marvelous book, but if your title and your elevator pitch don't sell it, it'll hinder you when you're trying to get it in front of agents and editors.
One of the best ways to learn what makes a good title is simply noticing them and paying attention to what captures your attention and what doesn't. So let's share! I've given examples of some titles I think work well; what are some of your favorites?