Sheesh! That’s the trouble with rules. No one can decide what the rule should be!
(Giveaway Alert: This post offers a giveaway.)
Readers will tell you that a great title attracts them. So how can an author come up with a really great titles? Some authors have a knack for this, and some struggle endlessly. Some authors have editors at publishing houses who decide what the title will be based on various factors.
Some of those factors might be previous use of the same title, some words in the title that the editor or someone in the editorial department doesn’t like, something in the title that was trendy or not trendy, etc. In other words, an author’s chance of using his own title at a traditional publishing house is very small.
My first published book, Summer’s Fortune, which I’ll bring out as an indie published title next year, carried my title. No change. That was highly unusual, but I didn't know that at the time.
Just One Look was my second traditionally published book. (Available at most ebook sellers; audio edition at Audible and iTunes.) That book’s title was changed 3 times.
(1) What's Up, Doc?
(2) Sweet Revenge
(3) The third time proved the charm when the editor decided on Just One Look. (By the way, the French edition of this novel is Un Seul Regard which is translated into English as Only A Glance.)
By the time my 6th—or was it 7th?—traditionally published novel went to contract, I'd learned that the author's opinion on titles is usually the one that gets the least input.
Imagine how surprised I was when the publisher let me keep the long, but very descriptive title of Jane (I’m Still Single) Jones.
I'd hoped I could keep the title because it's actually the initiating hook for the story. Plus, there was no other book with that title nor were there likely to be. Another plus was that the editor liked the title a lot.
When that book went to contract with my French publisher, the title they chose was Jane (Cœur à prendre) Jones. That translates to Jane (Taking Heart) Jones.
The original cover is shown here on the right. I love that cover. It's a bit kooky but says fun.
This year, Bragelonne, my publisher, did another printing of the Jane and used new cover art too. I like the new cover too which features some "pretty people" in the foreground and buildings which I suppose suggest the French version of the high school where the book's reunion takes place.
The general opinion is that short titles are best — the shorter the better. Short titles can be memorable. Dean Koontz — or his editor — chose well with Phantoms, Lightning, Watchers, and so many other titles in his booklist. If you’ve read those books, you know those titles fit the books perfectly.
Most of Mr. Koontz’s books bear short titles. It’s hard to find an evocative 1 to 3 word title that gives a glimpse of even one of the important elements of a novel: the premise, plot, characters, theme, setting, etc. This is especially true now when thousands of ebooks hit the pavement every few months.
That’s when you start playing around with words.
Long Titles Can Be Glorious
Forget short titles. Sometimes long titles just resonate with readers. Some authors gravitate to long titles over and over. Long, evocative titles that just sing like lyrics in a song. Who doesn’t love these titles?
Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke
Snow Falling On Cedars by David Guterson
Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Ecco
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain
Through a Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen
and my friend Cynthia Wicklund’s In the Garden of Temptation which began her Garden series.
Let’s not forget the thrillers by Stieg Larsson that made such a splash a few years ago:
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
The Girl Who Played With Fire.
None of the books above could possibly have a short title as evocative and memorable as the name they ended up carrying.
The Short & Long Of It
For the most part, I’ve had success with the titles I’ve chosen. They all say what the book is about, and they’re “catchy” and attract attention. I know that I leave no word unturned in my search for the perfect title.
As a reader--or a writer--do you remember a title that "speaks" to you? Leave a comment with your email address and be entered in my September Giveaway for a Gift Basket of Home Office Supplies (Ebook Gift if randomly chosen winner is outside continental U.S.
Joan Reeves writes sassy, sexy Contemporary Romance. Her books are available at all major ebook sellers with audio editions available at Amazon, Audible.com, and iTunes. Joan publishes Writing Hacks, a free subscription newsletter for writers, and WordPlay, an email list/newsletter for readers. Find Joan online: Blog, Website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube.