Tayari Jones reminds you that the title of your book is a first impression, so make it a good one.
One of the challenges of writing a book or story is figuring out what to call the darn thing. The title often is the first impression that you will make with readers. I think we’ve all bought books just for the title, and sadly, we’ve all been turned off by a title too. Titling is very serious business. So here are some tips to help you get it right.
Don’t fall in love with a title until you see it printed on the book. Ah vanity! It’s very easy to become infatuated with a title and this can affect your process. I have heard writers say that knowing the title helps them to stay focused, but staying focused could actually undermine your efforts to write the your best story. Let’s take my forthcoming novel. (It has been through five different titles, by the way.) When I started I called it “Our Mutual Sister.” I just loved the idea of two women who have a sister in common but are not blood kin themselves. I wrote about 150 pages trying to make the title work even though the book really wanted to be about two girls who actually are sisters. (The deal is that their dad is a bigamist. More on that TK.) If I had stayed committed to that title, I would have spent the last five years forcing the novel to fit it. It’s like planning an entire outfit around a belt you want to wear. Everyone knows it’s best to get dressed, and THEN pick a belt.
Then there’s the flip side-- you are halfway though the book and don’t have a title yet. Do not worry about it. Come up with a working title so you will have something to say when people ask you, but think of it as a placeholder.
But once you are done with the novel or short story and you need a title help.
I like to brainstorm with a friend who has already read the manuscript in full. This is best done in person, but you can do it over email, or over the phone. I like to write a list of everything in the book that is important to me.Throw out themes, ideas, significant objects, etc. The key to this is to be absolutely free. Don’t worry about what sounds stupid, derivative, or vague. As you and your friend call out words and phrases, jot down the ones you like. Have your friend do the same thing because she may have a better ear than you do.
It’s possible that this brainstorming may be enough to get you a title. But if not, keep on pushing.
Be clear on the sort of mood you want your title to evoke. Do you want to the title to make it clear that your book is a comedy? Or do you need something darker. Romantic? With this in mind, revisit your list. Is there something there that has the right mood?
Still don’t have a title? Okay, this next step is going to take a while, but this should do it. Again, you are going to need a buddy. And this is going to take some time—like a couple days-- so be prepared to buy her dinner or something afterward.
Each of you takes a highlighter. Go through each chapter and mark the best sentences or images. Maybe take three chapters in a sitting. Don’t do too much at a time because you’ll get tired and miss the good stuff. Talk to each other about what resonated and why. I promise by the time you make your way through the entire manuscript you will have a title.
How do you know if a title works? Some of it is intuitive. You just sort of know. But just to make sure, say the title to some random person in your life and let tell you what comes to mind. If she says things that match well with the vibe of your book and your vision for it.. then well done.
Before I wrap it up, take a close look at the graphic
. Some of the titles are so catchy, that they made me want to learn how to do computer code.
You know I have to ask.. SheWriters, how do you find your perfect title? I know we are all too sophisticated to just a book by it’s cover, but I suspect that we all love a good title. What’s your favorite title?