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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Creating Compelling Titles

Please welcome guest blogger Anne Marsh

Titles were originally an afterthought for me—a handful of words that got slapped on my book right before I shipped it off. At best, the title was a convenient shorthand for picking out my current WIP from its fellow computer files. I wrote the Cat book. Next, I wrote the Goblin book. And the Amazon book. When, as an unpublished author, I decided to send a handful of manuscripts off on the RWA contest circuit, I simply had to give the blasted manuscripts better titles, so I sat down and considered the key elements in the book: my Cat book was sexy, with a big, shapeshifting hero. Plus, an erotic hunt figured prominently in the book. I came up with ”Caught by the Cat” and patted myself on the back. As titles went, it was marginally better than “The Cat Book” (which sounded like it should be coffee table fare filled with pictures of the African savannah). And, alliteration had to count for something—right? Since “everyone” knows that New York always changes your title, I figured the title didn’t really matter (besides, I had this fabulous midnight epiphany that I’d call the next books in the series “Claimed by the Cat” and “Charmed by Cat,” although, after that, I’d probably have to end the series as I’d already run out of words that began with the letter “C”).

I was wrong.

I didn’t know squat about titles.

“Caught by the Cat” sold to an editor juding the Orange Rose contest. Soon after I sold, however, my editor gently asked how I would feel about changing the title. She wanted to find something edgier, something that packed an erotic punch. That sounded great to me—right up until she asked me to brainstorm a list of possible new titles. Fortunately, I was able to brainstorm with both my agent and my editor—and we ended up going with one of my editor’s ideas.

Why do titles matter? First and foremost, a title makes the reader look. A good title conveys the flavor of a book in just a few words. My agent said that “The Hunt” jumped out at her and would make her pick the book up from the shelf (score!). It also shrieked “Alpha male!,” which was our goal. Strong. Forceful. Sexy. Just like my hero.

A successful title also connects the books in a series. Repeated words, elements, or themes work well. For example, we could have called a trio of shapeshifter books: The Hunt, The Game, and The Breakpoint. Instead, we decided to play with variations on a hunt: “The Hunt,” “The Pursuit,” “The Capture. Always think ahead: how would you pitch the next book in the series? How will you tie them together.

Things to consider when you’re coming up with a title for you book:
  • The title needs to be short and to the point—it has to fit on the cover of a book and the graphic designer creating your cover doesn’t need the challenge of a five-line, polysyllabic tongue twister.
  • The title should hint at the tone of your book. Is the book dark and sexy? Sweet? Hero-centric or focused on the heroine?
  • The title of the book should also serve as a hook for the series (unless you’re truly planning just one standalone book). You may also want to brainstorm a series name -- especially for FF&P-ers, this is a fabulous place to introduce your world-building.
  • Keep an open mind and get feedback from as many folks as possible. A truly successful title is marketable and hooks in as many readers as possible… so you want to get impressions from as many people as possible. What do they think of when you say your title? What kind of book would they guess the book is? What adjectives come to mind? If your beta readers are thinking “Oooh! Dark and sexy!” but you’re writing light paranormal—or vice versa—you need to rethink the title.
  • Search (Amazon is a great tool). Has anyone else used that title? It may not be a deal-breaker if someone else has used “your” title (the title I proposed for my forthcoming sexy contemporary, for example, was apparently used by an anthology a few years ago, but my editor wasn’t too concerned as the other book was an anthology).
There are lots of great titles out there, titles that make me go “Wow. Wish I’d thought of that!” The titles for Jacquelyn Frank’s Nightwalkers series, for example, let you know loud and clear that, when you crack those covers, you’re going to read about strong, forceful alphas. Jacob, Gideon, Elijah, Damien—these are forceful, honorable, no-nonsense Biblical names. Kathy Love, on the other hand, writes fabulously funny, sexy paranormal and her titles convey that message clearly– “Truth or Demon”, “What a Demon Wants”, “Fangs for the Memories.” Rebecca Zanetti’s two books—“Fated” and “Claimed”—use strong adjectives describing the relationship between the hero and the heroine in some very sexy terms. And, Karen Kelly’s books (“The Jaguar Prince,” “The Falcon Prince”) are tied together by the fact that her heroes are princes and shapeshifters.

Each title reflects the different stories we’re going to find between the covers and draws us in, hinting and promising at what we’ll find. I’ve picked up more than one book based on the title alone because I love the kind of story line the title hints at (cough—Karen Kelly—cough). The next time you’re naming your book, think about what kind of story you’re promising your reader—and what message you want to convey.

A professional technical writer, Anne discovered that getting laid off was actually A Very Good Thing. While looking for her next writing gig, she picked up her pen (well, okay, she used her writing as an excuse to buy a new Apple laptop) and started writing. She soon discovered that writing was uncomfortably similar to sit-ups: add a few more crunches each day, wake up sore, but, by God, you will fit into that bikini. Or finish the book (she’s still working on the bikini). Now she cranks out software manuals during the daylight hours– and writes about alpha shapeshifters the rest of the time.

Bond with Me

Fallen angels… They rule Moscow’s seedy underworld, promising untold pleasure to the females who dare to mate them. That promise – and Brends Duranov’s own raw sexual power – has hopefuls mobbing the velvet rope outside his elite club G2’s.

But Mischka Baran has no intention of hooking up with one of the Fallen. Not even after Brends gives her an unforgettable taste of the sin and seduction he can deliver with those wicked lips. She’s after information, not a stint as some Goblin’s toy of the month. What she doesn’t know is that with a sadistic killer carving up his brethren, Brends is playing for keeps, hunting the one woman whose bloodline can end the mayhem, whose bond can restore his lost wings.


Marilyn Muñiz said...

Great post! I'm waiting until I finish the first book in my series to create the title. I created a code name in the meanwhile to hold me over until then.

Lynda K. Scott said...

Creating a title is probably the hardest part of writing a book. I often claim the title of World's Worst Title Queen but that isn't necessarily something to be proud of, lol. Thanks for the great tips!

Alexis Morgan said...

I hit about 50/50 with my working title for my books being used. It gets harder the further into a series. As you said, you want the title to go with the rest of the series. On the other hand, you don't want them to sound too much alike.

When I'm trying to come up with a title, I make a list of words that a strong emotional reaction for me and fit the underlying theme in the book. Redemption is always big with me in stories, so one of my favorite titles I came up with this way was Redeemed in Darkness.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

Great article--lots to think about

One of m many favorite authors CAUGHT me with the first in her series, made me laugh, made me curious and made me buy the book

Dead Witch Walking

Mona Karel said...

I wrote my first sale as "Into the Woods" and used that as a working title and to pitch. My wonderful editor told me, quite gently, that the title was as exciting as "Into the Blue Frying Pan" and suggested I come up with something new. After first going through some x-rated files, I started brainstorm writing, and let my fingers decide. When I wrote "My Killer My Love" I felt a quick jolt, YES.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this great post. I'm always able to think of the title for the first book in a series - but then the 2nd and a possible series title? I struggle. These are great points to consider as I try to be creative w/titles.

Karin Shah said...

Great post! I never sold my manuscript, BY LOVE TRANSFORMED until I changed the name to STARJACKED. :-)