What’s in a name?

Title page from the first edition of Jane Aust...

Title page from the first edition of Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


First of all, my apologies for not posting last Monday. It was the end of a long weekend – away, no  less – and I spent most of the morning throwing up. As such, social media and networking was, unfortunately, not really on my radar. Sigh. Anyway, I’m back now and hopefully won’t be having any more days of being AWOL.😦

Today I want to talk about one of the banes of my existence – titles.

I am rubbish at titles. I don’t shy from that fact. Every story I’ve ever written has either had between six and ten titles, or landed the first one I thought of (and hated from that moment onwards). My working titles are as changeable as the weather, and perhaps as reliable too. So I am in absolute awe of anyone who can seemingly pick a brilliant title out of thin air and stick with it, because as you can appreciate it’s not something I’ve ever achieved.

Some of the best stories in literature have amazing titles. Jane Austen, for example, is someone who was incredible at titling her works; the Bronte sisters likewise seemed to have a talent for it. More recently people like Jodi Picoult or Neil Gaiman have impressed me, among others. Or, really, just about anyone who has a book out there – chances are, if it’s published (via a publishing house or by yourself), then it’s got a better title than I could come up with.

Now, I know there are tricks to it. Some people use song titles or lyrics, or variations thereof. Some use lines from well known literature, such as the quote that comprises my title today. Some can just grab a phrase from the book itself that really lends itself to that purpose, like Lee Fullbright did with The Angry Woman Suite, which I reviewed on Friday. But the thing is, when it comes down to it, I can just never seem to get it right. Am I too fussy? Perhaps. Maybe I’m just a perfectionist. But it’s something I wish I could do. Because let’s face it, people judge books on their titles. Without a snappy title, many otherwise excellent books just get put aside or ignored for their flashier rivals. And without an edge to get people to check out my work in the crowded marketplace, what chance do I have?

So here I am, asking for advice. How do you choose your titles? Are you enough of a masochist to title your chapters as well as your books, or do you leave it at the main heading and just number any segments? What tricks or ideas do you use? Because really, I’m getting a bit sick of changing my working titles over and over again until I find something that I don’t necessarily like, but just hate less than the last one. To be honest, I have quite enough on my plate just at the moment, so if I can get the hang of titling, then that’s one less thing I have to think about.


Filed under writing

14 responses to “What’s in a name?

  1. I hope you feel better! I have no answers for you though because titles are TOO HARD!

  2. I know no tricks. I do use chapter headings, and I quite enjoy coming up with them. I use word-plays based on the chapter’s main theme. That’s probably dumb because they won’t make sense before the chapter has been read, and nobody reads the headings later!

    Book titles are trickier, perhaps because they’re more important. I realised that the working title for my previous book totally gave away the ending!

    • It’s tough when that happens, isn’t it? I know that Tolkein wanted to change the title of “The Return of the King” because it gave away the ending, but his publishers wouldn’t let him. And, you know, I never really thought about it giving things away, but it really does. So titles have to be a little bit cagey so there’s still an element of surprise with how it ends up. As for chapter headings, well I’m envious that you enjoy them. Sometimes I come up with really good ones, and I have been known to give all chapters in a story headings because I had two (out of sixty!!) that I really liked. Of course, the other 58 weren’t too impressive, but that’s the price you pay. I like the word play idea though – might try that out one day.:) Thanks!

  3. I usually come up with the title after I write the story outline, unless I already have one in mind and write the story around it. If all else fails, whatever the overall concept of the story is likely going to be helpful with the actual title.

  4. My Water’s Doctor’s Daughters was a really easy one but my second book had all manner of working titles including Walk a Crooked Mile and Blood on My Boots. Then I included some regional recipes and it became A Taste of the Thames. I thought this was quite good but at the last minute the marketing division at my publishers decided it should change to All Along The River; Tales From the Thames. Just have to trust their judgement I guess.

    • Well, when your publisher lays down the law like that we have to comply, don’t we? Then again, they could well have a better idea of what will work as a title. At least, I’m sure they’d have more idea than I would! I’m glad I’m not the only one who changes working titles all the time, though – it’s quite heartening to know that you’ve struggled with them too. By the way, I love all the working titles you listed: they sound like fascinating books!:)

  5. As Peter may remember, I had to do chapter headings for the WDD and found his advice really helpful. Was also asked to do them for the Thames book, which was harder really. Picture captions are very difficult too, and I had to come up with 30 for the WDD and 60 for the Thames book!

    • Oh dear. Picture captions? I never even thought of those! Sigh. That just makes it worse. It’s nice when you can call on someone you trust to help out with these things, though, isn’t it? Thanks for the comments, Pauline, you have made me feel much better.:)

  6. That was an excellent post today. Thanks so much for sharing it. I
    really enjoyed reading it very much. You have a wonderful day!

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