What’s in a Title?

I’ve been thinking a lot about titles lately because it looks like I’m going to have to say goodbye to the original title of my YA novel, GOODBYE, CHARLIE.  I’m totally cool with this and from what I’ve seen, changing the original title is pretty common. But what is surprising me more and more each passing hour is…HOW HARD TITLES ARE!

You would think that anyone who completes a manuscript (or writes more than a paragraph for that matter) would be able to come up with a title.  I mean, how long are titles, really?  Two, maybe five words?  And yet, I can’t come up with a decent one to save my life!  These days, possible titles are pretty much always on my mind—while I’m driving, while I’m eating, while I’m talking to someone. And besides my agent and editor, my sister and husband are on the case as well.  I keep emailing myself ideas as I head into the grocery store or am in the pick up line at my kids’ school, afraid that I might forget what at the moment sounds GREAT only to read it later at home and realize how terribly horrific it really is.  The other day as I was falling asleep, something came to mind and in a half stupor I asked my husband to email me the idea so I wouldn’t forget it.  Pretty much on my mind all the time, and still, no dice.

But it’s suddenly hit me why.  Yeah, titles are usually only two to five words, but those two to five words should sum up what it took 60-80 thousand words to write.  Two to five words that should make someone stop in their tracks, pick up your book, and open it.  Two to five words that somehow capture the very essence of your story.  Two to five very important words.

No wonder I’m banging my head against the wall!  But hey, maybe I can gather some inspiration by browsing the aisles of the bookstore or just by being reminded of some awesome book titles. Any memorable titles come to mind?  What makes them memorable?

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14 Responses to What’s in a Title?

  1. Lucie says:

    Titles are a pain in the butt!

    Some of my favorites (fiction): Wicked Lovely, The Lightening Thief, Devil in a Blue Dress (all the Easy Rawlins books, really), The Bluest Eye, and – I have to admit – Twilight really gets the job done in terms of accomplishing everything a title should. Contrast that with Vampire Academy, which I didn’t read for years because I thought it sounded silly, but when I actually gave it a shot I liked it more than pretty much any YA fantasy book I’ve read.

    My favorite nonfiction title is The Fire Next Time.

    • Oooooohhhh…all very good titles. And I have to admit, there are many books I didn’t give a chance because the titles sounded silly! I guess that makes this even harder. No pressure or anything, lol.

  2. Sarvenaz says:

    Of course, since I was title-less for over 6 months, I also spent a lot of time thinking about great titles and two that came to my mind as being just fantastic were THE LIGHTNING THIEF and THE LOVELY BONES. I think they both evoke really strong images as well as giving us a gateway to the story.

    Maybe we can figure out who came up with those and set them to work on your book!

    • Yes! I LOVE titles that evoke strong images and both of those are awesome. And if I knew who came up with those titles, I’d start stalking them because, no kidding, I’ve come up with some really baaaaaaad ones.

  3. Julia says:

    (Not my particular problem since I have only need to please myself right now….but I can see how this could drive you crazy!) My 2 cents… I usually like really short, one word titles like Holes and Hoot. Or I like really long titles, like: So Long, And Thanks for All the Fish. Of course then I realized I also like things like The Kid in the Red Jacket, which is medium length. I think, for me, I like titles that are a little quirky and also make me think a little, especially for kids/YA. Exciting!!

    • Usually I like one word titles also, but then you have a title like Please Ignore Vera Dietz or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and you think, GENIUS! Oh, and I totally agree with the quirk factor. I’m a sucker for quirky titles.

  4. erikamarks says:

    I was so lucky to be able to keep my novel’s title–but maybe I’ll be faced with this for book 2…Yes, titles are so hard–and then when you find one, it sticks and you love it and then to have to come up with a new one…BUT, I think so often we come up with titles early on in the process, so maybe there’s something to be said for a new title when the novel is done (with the exception of edit rounds) but done enough that you can see it truly for what it is.

    That said, I can’t wait to learn what the new one is…

    • Yeah, I can’t wait either, lol. And I agree, I totally feel like I can see the story for what it truly is now and am excited about a new title that captures that better than the old, but…well, I’m just at a blank. Let’s just say, I can’t wait for the moment something clicks and I think that’s it…that’s it…and it’s perfect!

  5. Titles ARE hard! I have one for my WIP that I really like, so I hope *when* I find an agent and editor, they like it too. Though I’m open to changing it if it means more people will buy the book.

    I hope you’re able to come up with the perfect title soon!

  6. I love coming up with titles, so toss me your book, and let me have at it! (Please, please?) Quirky titles are my favorites — Really long, short, odd…The Dead Father’s Club, A Wrinkle in Time, Memories of My Meloncholy Whores…

    Good luck — can’t wait to hear what you decide!

  7. Yes, name it! Any and all suggestions are welcomed! Funny, I remember picking up that Gabriel Garcia Marquez book b/c of its title.

  8. Jenny-
    I had a problem with my email server and just got your message!

    Great post, I think you summed it up perfectly why titles are so hard to come up with. I had to change the title of my book too, but ended up with one I liked more than the original. The best title I’ve seen this year…I think I would have to say MATCHED. As soon as I heard the title I knew it was something I wanted to read, and the book turned out to be just as fantastic as the title!

    • Hi Jenny,

      Yay, my agent sister! I love when you see a title and you just know you have to read the book and it turns out to be wonderful! I think Fat Kid Rules the World by KL Going is one of those for me. It’s pretty awesome!


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