Titles

by Marissa

Question: How do you come up with a title? Can a title be long or are they usually short? How do you know if a title works for that book? Most trilogies or series they have a name which is usually part of the title or the firs title for the first book and that name usually works with the rest of the books. How do you do that? How do you create a title? I can come up with an entire story but can never come up with a good title that works for that book and goes with the rest of the series. I like the calm before the storm as a title for a few of my books but I also just don't think it sounds right. For one of my books I came up with for the first one "the rising tide", the second one "the darkest hour", and the third one "the new age". Do those all go together? Do they sound like good titles for a dystopian trilogy? This is the only series that I've written that I really like the titles for. Every one of my other ideas I can't come up with a good title that works. What can I do to come up with titles?


Answer: One question at a time...

How do you come up with a title?

It can be an agonizing process, because a title has to do a lot in just a few words.

Usually, publishers have the final say regarding titles. They will insist on a title they feel will help with sales. As a writer, you just need a working title (hopefully one that will sound good in a cover letter).

You want a title that will 1) catch your reader's attention and 2) convey something of the essence of the book. Of these two, the first is more important.

Titles can come from...

* A major character's name.
* The setting.
* A major theme.
* The plot.
* A significant and unique phrase that appears in the book.

Titles often (but not necessarily) give clues regarding the book's genre, to attract the attention of people who like that genre. For instance, you can often guess from a title whether a book is a Western, romance, science fiction, paranormal, or mystery because of certain key words. Take a look at some random titles and you'll see what I mean.

Again, this is done to draw the attention of readers who are most likely to buy the book.

You should probably brainstorm a lengthy list of titles before choosing one.

How do you know if a title works for that book?

You can't know for certain. But you can show people who resemble your typical readers a list of possible titles and ask them which one they would likely pick up off a shelf. If they all point to the same title, that's a good sign.

Can a title be long or are they usually short?

A title has to fit on the cover and spine of a book in large enough print to be easily read by bookstore patrons, which is why titles are usually short. The longest title I've ever seen was for a play. This may be because posters have more room than book covers, but even then it was a case of getting attention by breaking the rules--something that only works once because it is exceptional.

(The play is called, "The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade," by Peter Weiss.)

Most trilogies or series have a name which is usually part of the title or the first title for the first book and that name usually works with the rest of the books. How do you do that?

If you plan on writing a series from the outset, you can pick a title system that will let readers know that all the books belong together, because if they like one you want to help them find the others. There are lots of ways of doing this.

* You can incorporate the main character's name, as in the Harry Potter or Percy Jackson books.

* You can do the same with settings, as in the Vampire Academy books.

* You can have one title for the entire series and a separate title for each book and put both on the cover. For example, the Bartimaeus series.

* If the first book is popular, it's title may become the series title. For example, the "Game of Thrones" series. Although that isn't the actual series title, it now appears on every book in the series because it's the name of the popular TV series which everyone knows.

* You can make the titles follow a similar pattern. For instance, Sue Grafton's murder mysteries follow an alphabet pattern (A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, etc.) In Kelly Armstrong's The Darkest Powers series, the series title doesn't appear on the cover, but each book has a two-word title consisting of "The" followed by a gerund.

Sometimes writers will write a first book with no thought of making it a series, but if it sells well the publisher will ask for sequels. In that case, the publisher and author may work together to come up with titles that let readers know the subsequent books are sequels. For instance, giving them a subtitle like "Book 2 of the X Saga."

For one of my books I came up with for the first one "the rising tide", the second one "the darkest hour", and the third one "the new age". Do those all go together? Do they sound like good titles for a dystopian trilogy?

Your titles follow a similar construction, and I assume they fit with the theme your books, so that's a good start. Some thoughts...

"The New Age" might confuse readers, since New Age is a subgenre of inspirational books. ("The New Dawn" might work better as a follow up to "The Darkest Hour.")

One drawback: the titles are somewhat cliched phrases. You might try to make them more unique--titles that could only fit your books and no others. For example, a title like The Hunger Games can only apply to that book because hunger games are a unique feature of that story world.

You might also consider finding an overall title for the series.

Best of luck.

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