What’s in a Name

Diane asked me to do a post on titles, so I shall do my best to help. Although, I must admit there is an article over at Vast Imaginations which covers it quite well. So check it out.

When it comes to titles, my first response is ‘don’t worry about it, they aren’t important’. If you’re hoping to be picked up with a publisher, they’ll probably change the title anyway. Usually the author titles the book, then the publisher offers suggestions if they find it unmarketable or boring. It’s quite well known that F. Scott Fitzgerald wanted to call his novel Trimalchio in West Egg but his editor, Max Perkins, talked him into calling it The Great Gatsby. Publishers have years of experience knowing what works, so if you get to that stage listen to them.

This doesn’t mean that your work shouldn’t be titled when you submit to agents and publishers (in fact, don’t ever submit anything that’s untitled), I just wouldn’t get too stressed about it.

If you’re looking for a title to self-publish or for a short story, there are three rules by which to adhere:

1)    Try not to use the title of a popular novel or work of classic fiction. For example, naming your novel The Da Vinci Code will do you no favours with Random House’s legal team, and naming you book Jane Eyre will not only aggravate anyone who buys your book thinking it’s the Bronte classic, but it might put them off reading anything of yours in the future. If you’re worried about it, Google your title and see what other works come up. If a title does come up in your search, and it’s not a major work of fiction (for the purposes of this discussion ‘major work’ will be defined as ‘sold a shed-load of copies’), go ahead and use it. Titles cannot be copyrighted, so, once again, don’t get too stressed about it.

2)    Use general themes from your story. For example, if your novel is a romance about a bored househusband, the title could be Love, DIY and Nappies. By the way, listing in threes seems to be popular, for example: Eat, Pray, Love.

3)    Much like character names, keep it simple. Overly complex titles with too many words, or long GRE/PhD words, will be difficult for people to remember. It’s not just about people picking up your book, it’s also about recommending it to friends (verbally and online). A title like The Husband Who Loved to Clean but was Neglected by his Wife so He Shagged the Neighbour with the Haberdashery Fetish doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. Where as The Husband and Haberdasher might be a good title for romance fiction. (With this said, I do have some overly complicated titles for some of my pieces, such as a published short story called, ‘Autoerotic Defenestration’. But, as always, do as I say, not as I do.)

My biggest piece of advice is to not stress about it and keep it simple. Then again, that’s good advice for life.

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2 Responses to What’s in a Name

  1. Diane says:

    Thanks Rachel. I guess a rule of thumb then would be to go with your instincts when you’re writing. Diane


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