I ruminated about titles over the holidays when I had a chance to read some titles from my TBR pile and catch up on a few TV shows I’d missed. I found that some books and films spun out tales that fit perfectly with their titles. Others didn’t.
And it seemed to me the titles that didn’t match their content were harder to remember. And “memorable” should be our number one goal when choosing a book title in the days of mega-competition. So here are some things to keep in mind when making that final decision about your title. (I realize only indies have the final decision on a title, but we can all hope….)
1) Is it Memorable?
These days the competition in both the book and film markets is mind-boggling. Today’s market is more saturated than authors of 30 years ago could have imagined. Successful indie authors publish 12 or more books a year. And both publishers and authors are madly republishing their backlists. 1000s of new books launch every day This means choosing a book title that people remember is essential.
Like it or loathe it, Emily in Paris is a memorable title. It’s not cute or clever or original. But even if you have zero interest in getting near it, you’re probably aware of a TV series called Emily in Paris. The simple title tells us clearly what it’s about, so it sticks in our memory banks.
But “artsy” titles are often harder to remember. The Power of the Dog is an Oscar-destined film, but the title conveys nothing about the subject, setting, tone, characters, anything.., so it’s tough to file in your brain.
At least it was for me. I heard about it first on NPR and thought I’d like to see it, but within minutes I couldn’t remember the title. Ditto the second time I heard further “buzz.” I watched for info about the debut, but I had to keep Googling “Benedict Cumberbatch New Film.” Eventually, Netflix presented me with a film teaser featuring Cumberbatch looking fetching in a cowboy hat, and I went for it. But half my brain kept looking for the dog. I’m not saying the film isn’t brilliant, or that the ultra-talented Mr. Cumberbatch didn’t do a bang-up job playing the biggest jerk west of the Pecos.
But there were NO DOGS. 🙂
Well, I guess there was one, in the contours and shadows of the mountains that soared above the ranch. But this dog-vison was mentioned only once. In about ten words never to be heard of again.
2) Is it Audience-Appropriate?
When I thought about it, I realized that The Power of the Dog is probably not a bad title at all. The problem wasn’t with the title. It was with me.
I’m not the film’s target audience. It’s what used to be called an “art house” film. It’s aimed at people who are looking for a cerebral, contemplative film experience. An enigmatic title that suggests dark subject matter is probably just the thing for attracting that audience.
There was a time I included myself in that demographic, but I’m very clearly no longer there. I didn’t hate the film, and I could appreciate its brilliance, but I found it too slow and depressing. I guess I live my life at a faster pace these days, and have lost a taste for slower, contemplative films. That may be why the title didn’t reach me.
But I have to admit I spent much of the film thinking of new titles. I amused myself titling it with different audiences and genres in mind.
- For the Lifetime Channel, naybe: My Mother’s New Brother-In-Law is a Sociopath!
- On Hallmark: Romance in Old Montana.
- PBS: Toxic Masculinity in the Old West
- For an action/thriller audience, maybe Dark Secrets, or Burning Flowers.
This is all silly of course, but we do need to be aware of audience when we’re choosing a book title (or screenplay title.) It would not be a good idea to title a thriller In Love with a Billionaire Duke or call a sci-fi adventure The Blueberry Muffin Affair.
We need to resist the urge to change it up and choose something shocking and fun, like a dark thriller called Daisy and Susie Go Shopping.
Remember we’re living in the age of search engines, and robot overlords, so we probably don’t want to take that kind of chance. If some robot puts your Daisy and Susie thriller in the Chick Lit category, it may be hidden from your target readers forever.
3) How Will it Look on the Cover?
A wonderful French translator has been working on my story collection, Why Grandma Bought That Car. He says most of the story titles work in translation, but the Grandma thing won’t mean much for a French audience. So he suggested a title that was 10 words long.
I had to explain to him how that many words, plus both our names would stuff the entire cover with text, which would have to be in a flyspeck font. And it would allow for no cover art.
He got it, and came up with a great French title, Rebelle, Rebelle, which I adore.
The best titles stand out on a cover. And remember your name has to be on there, too! And some catchy cover art.
4) Is it in Use?
Titles can’t be copyrighted, but you still don’t want to choose one that’s currently in use, especially if the user is a big seller.
When we published the prequel to the Camilla Randall Mysteries, which I titled The Best Revenge, my publisher only found two other books with that title. Both had been out of print for several years and none were romcom mysteries. So we took the chance.
But that was before the “Kindle Revolution.” Now we live in the age of republished backlists and instant book publishing. The last time I checked, there were at least 50 books with that title. My novel can’t be found on Amazon without some other helpful keywords.
This means the chance somebody else is using the name is pretty good. But it’s worth Googling around to see what you can find.
Having a book with a similar title as somebody else can even work in your favor. I remember when Catherine Ryan Hyde had just launched Take Me With You, and a new author debuted with the same title that week. Catherine offered to do a promo together, which gave a big boost to the debut author. But we probably shouldn’t count on something like that happening.
So there’s nothing wrong with a used title, but we should be aware of what’s out there. You don’t want to choose From the Darkness for your memoir title if there’s another book with the same name that’s a Satanist manifesto or some steamy BDSM erotica..
So do a thorough search of the title before you choose.
5) Keep a Thumbnail Image in Mind When Choosing a Book Title
I used to tell authors to avoid one-word titles. But in the age of online retailing, a one-word title can be an advantage in the tiny scope of a thumbnail image of your cover.
You still don’t want an all-encompassing generic title like Hope, Love, Family, War, or Peace, unless you really think you can go toe to toe with Leo Tolstoy. All-encompassing, generic titles can often force you to bite off more than you can chew.
I think in these days of online marketing, a 2-or 3-word title may be the sweet spot.
Keep in mind that a thumbnail is the most likely way your potential customer will see your title.