Choose the Perfect Title for Your Novel

From Jane Friedman:

Your book title, along with the cover, is a key marketing tool: it must prompt potential readers to pick up the book in a bookstore or click on it online because they want to know more.

General nonfiction often makes its purpose explicit in the title or subtitle, but memoirs and novels are more ethereal; they explore themes, characters and situations, and their titles can go in a thousand directions. This richness of choice can sometimes stump a writer.

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Don’t get overly invested in your working title

Heather Young, author of literary murder mysteries, loved her initial titles, but her publisher asked her to change them—a very common experience.

“I pitched my first novel with the title White Earth, but the marketing department said it sounded like an alien invasion novel,” explained Young. “My agent recommended that I go through the book and find a phrase that leaped out at me. I found ‘once we were light’ and I pitched it, but they said it sounded like a weight loss book. Finally, the publisher suggested The Lost Girl. My contribution was, ‘Let’s make it plural,’ so the title The Lost Girls came by committee, between me, my publisher and the marketers.”

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Respect your contract with the reader

You may have a great title, but if it doesn’t fit the tone of your book, it’s not going to work. Jeannine Ouellette, author of The Part That Burns, faced this dilemma. Her book is a memoir in fragments. When it came time to choose the title, she hesitated between the title of two of the fragments, Four Dogs, Maybe Five and The Part That Burns.

“Both captured something essential to the book,” explained Ouellette. “Four Dogs, Maybe Five pointed to the way trauma destabilizes memory. It was also playful, but what concerned me is that it established a false contract with the reader. I wouldn’t want a dog lover to think this is a happy story about dogs because it’s not, so I wasn’t completely comfortable with this title, even though it had more light.”

The Part That Burns also contained some of the essential meaning of the book. “In this fragment the narrator is integrating the memories of her stepfather’s abuse, her sexuality, motherhood, and the power of giving birth; she understands that she can only live a full life by accepting the fullness of who she is and that includes the trauma of what happened to her. That’s what the title represented for me, and it didn’t have the disadvantage of being misleading. It’s a little intense, but I felt that was okay for this book.”

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman