I don’t know why I keep torturing myself.
How many poorly written (but historical, so that makes it better, no?) novels will I suffer through before I get rid of my Kindle Unlimited subscription?
Alternatively, how hard is it to subscribe to my blog?
The importance of a good book (or story) title
If my frustration with poorly written books weren’t enough, some of the titles also leave much to be desired. Many do not explain what the book is about, or lack a subtitle to do the heavy lifting. Granted, this is less of a problem in fiction. But take a look below for examples of both poor and outstanding titles, and what you can do to make sure your title will make your book, story, or article as sell-able and readable as possible!
1. A title must be relevant
I just finished reading a wonderful book for all ages, The Journey that Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H. A. Rey, by Louise Borden, illustrations by Allan Drummond. It tells the story of how the Curious George books got written and published, thanks to the authors’ escape from France in 1940 with the manuscripts and original artwork in bags hanging off their bicycles.
In the book, Borden tells us that the original title of the first Curious George book was The Adventures of Fifi.
Now, how many of you would want to buy, not to mention read, a book called The Adventures of Fifi? It sounds like a book about a spoiled French female poodle with those awful fluffy curls in different places on its body. (And they’re even uglier when they’re not coiffed.)
But Curious George? Now that’s a fun name! It makes you want to sit down right away and open the book. Granted, H. A. Rey’s gorgeous illustrations help too, but even if you had just heard the title without seeing the book you’d probably be, well, curious.
So make sure the title of whatever you write is relevant to the book or story itself. Nobody would think that an adorable, lovable, spunky monkey would have a name like Fifi.
2. A title must be written with an eye to marketing
My husband told me about a famous nonfiction book, Ideas Have Consequences, by Richard M. Weaver. Weaver wanted to title the book The Fearful Descent, but his editor (thankfully) nixed that idea. According to an article I read about the book and its title war, “Sensing that this title would not exactly thrill the public, the director of the University of Chicago Press insisted on Ideas Have Consequences…Weaver hated the change and threatened to cancel the book’s publication. But Weaver’s editor had good marketing instincts. “Ideas have consequences”…remains familiar even as Weaver himself has sunk into obscurity. [Emphasis mine.]
To emphasize this even further, take Louise Penny’s outstanding novel, A Rule Against Murder. In the UK, it’s called The Murder Stone. Likewise, the first Harry Potter Book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, is called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the UK. Book titles change according to region as well as what the publishers in each country feel would best sell. (I’ve even encountered books whose title changed a few years after publication, its author and publisher hoping for better sales.)
Whether you’re planning on selling your writing, or merely want to share it with friends and family, you need good “marketing.” By this I mean you need a way to draw your target audience, to make them want to read and/or buy the book.
3. A title must tell you something about the book – succinctly
I was also tooling through the book list of an indie publisher a few weeks ago, and I was struck by how uninformative the titles were. Here are a few:
Excitement in the Air for All!
This is one of a series entitled “Animals Build Character.” The problem here is that we have no idea 1) which animal is being featured, and 2) what the book is about. However, the overarching error is the series title. Are the animals actually doing the building for you? Or is this a statement of fact, like if you look at an ant, you’ll be a more industrious person? Or just a hint that these stories of talking animals will inspire children to have better character traits?
Aging in Wellness and Adversity
What this book needs is a good subtitle: Is it a how-to book or a series of reflections on aging in different circumstances? Another issue is that “wellness” is not necessarily the opposite of “adversity,” so the title is a bit unbalanced.
Being Your Best Self
Well, gee, we all want to be our best selves, but what does this book have to offer me that makes it different from the other 100 million self-help books out there? The problem is not only the lack of a subtitle but also a title that is way too vague.
The Fittest Survivor
Maybe it’s just me, but it took me like 10 minutes to figure out that the title was a nod to Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest theory. Plus, I needed help from the blurb. At first I thought the book might be about someone who was in great physical shape, but the book is about a Holocaust survivor.
Remember: Online or in a bookstore, you only have about 30 seconds to engage a potential reader and sell your book, so make sure the customer knows what it’s about, and if possible, what makes it different from everyone else’s.
What’s doing with NaNoWriMo?
For those of you who are doing National Novel Writing Month, affectionately called NaNoWriMo, you’ve reached the other side of the . This is where we separate the men from the boys.
I recently came across an article about why there’s more than just your novel at stake if you quit now. You can read it here.
Remember: Even if you’re not writing a novel, NaNoWriMo is great for developing a daily writing habit. If you didn’t sign up for NaNo, don’t let that stop you from beginning your very own writing habit TODAY. Here’s one of my posts that will help you with this.
Do you have any classic examples of either fabulous or not-so-fabulous book or story titles? Let all of us know in the Comments below.
And do tell me how you’re doing with your writing ritual and/or NaNo.
Until next time,
(Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, where I get a small fee if you buy – at no extra cost to you.)