What’s In a Name? – Why Your Title Matters and 3 Things It Should Do

With NaNoWriMo around the corner, I’m gonna start doing a few more writing articles per week to help people gear up. We’ll start where your eventual readers will start—the title!


Is your e-book startup not getting readers like you expected it to? Have you already made sure the cover art, writing, and summary are up to snuff?
Maybe you need to pick a better title.
Join me as I teach you a bit about how to choose the right type of title to work for your book and not simply name it.

You’ve written a masterpiece. All you’ve left to do is share with the world. But how do you introduce your manuscript to said unforgiving populace? The Title—the name by which this work will be known—is to be the verbal embodiment of your work. If you had to boil your entire 150k word manuscript down to a handful of words this would be it.
Your title, like your own name, is the world’s very first impression of your novel you make on the readers.  It has to be succinct, memorable, and informative as to your novel’s content.

“But!” you ask, “do titles really matter that much? Shakespeare himself said, ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’”
Well he’s wrong (and if he was so smart, then how come he’s dead?). Names matter. You bet your ass they do.

And there’s a lot of information packed into those few little words.

A human given name—your first name, for instance.
“Joe” doesn’t tell you much at first glance, one might think—kind of average, short, nondescript. But wait! Those three things are bits of information that tell us a bit about you. Joe is classically short for Joseph—which means that Joe, for whatever reason, chose not to use the longer form of his name—which reinforces the ‘average’ observation we made; Joe might be a down to earth guy. It’s also a name which appears in the bible–a tradition for hundreds of years in western civilations—which could mean two things: That Joe is likely descended of a western civilization, and that he likely is descended from Christians. That’s four bits of info from a first name alone.

A brief example, but it illustrates my point. Now to apply it to literary Titles

A title serves three functions:

Reference—by what do we call this work?

Information—what kind of book is it?

Engagement—why do I want to read it?

Also, for bonus points, the best titles link back to themes in the story, tying the work together as a whole. And this is a sign of true competence in authorship.

The first point is easy. The title is the book’s name—this is the language equivalent of a handle on a suitcase—when someone wants to speak about your novel, the title is what they call it. For that reason it needs to be easily remembered, pronounced, and distinguished from other works–breif, simple, and original.

The second is equally about content as it is tone; Is your book a gritty drama, or an absurdist comedy? If “Crime and Punishment” was a romantic comedy, it might be called “Murder Your Darling!” or something. It’s important to make that distinction for your readers by using language that is indicative of your tone.

The third point is a little trickier. Because there’s no accounting for tastes, a person who is drawn to one title might be repulsed by another, but this is why your title should tie back in to the themes of your novel. If you know your audience, you have a better chance of choosing a title which will engage them. What do you think the book “Crime and Punishment” is about and who is it written for? Probably not horny teenagers who are full of themselves.

As you can see, a title is a lot more than a throwaway couple of words. Search for any title on Goodreads. How many entries under the same name do you find? How many thrillers have names like, “Beyond The LAw” or “Flashpoint.” What do those titles tell you about those books based on their synopses. My guess is NOTHING.

So list some of your favorite titles of all time in the comments! Let’s see if we can tell why they’re great!
And watch out for the second part of this article next week!


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