Saturday, April 23, 2016

Self Publishing A to Z: Titles

Welcome to the Trogloblog--for April, I'm participating in the epic A to Z Blogging Challenge, where Monday through Saturday, I'll be posting a letter-themed article about Self-Publishing...


A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the title of your book may be just as important, if not more. 

At first glance, this may seem a rather odd subject to bring up. It's related more to the craft of writing, rather than the business of self-publishing, right? Wrong. Effective titling is marketing, as much as the Cover of your book is. It conveys to a potential reader what the book is about, even more than the cover image itself. 

What makes a good title? That's a pretty bold question. There are a variety of opinions and discussions on this subject.

First off, what should a title do? It should tell the reader what the book is about.  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a pretty clear book title. It's got Zombies. And, if you know what Pride and Prejudice is, you know it's a period piece. Throw in the quirky factor of this odd mashup, and you have a damned effective Title, sure to grab a reader's attention. 

In the old, pre-paperback days of publishing, books didn't have cover images. The title was it. A Tale of Two Cities is intriguing. Two Cities? Treasure Island--that sounds mysterious. Trapping Wild Animals in Malaysian Jungles--okay, one of my favorites, but that's a pretty boring title. A little too specific. 

This brings us to the next factor in a book title: Intrigue. Readers need to be intrigued. The first time I saw Jurassic Park in a bookstore, it had a white cover with  a single red logo on the cover. 

It caught my eye and compelled me to pick the book up and read the back cover. Jurassic meant dinosaurs--reinforced by the image--but a park? Since when do dinosaurs go to parks? Was this a new time travel book? A remake of one of my favorites, Deathbeast, by David Gerrold?

A good title should interest a reader. Yes, a half-naked woman or man on the cover is an industry standard, but really, those one to six words making up your cover are your main hook. Like a menu. You skim over a menu, reading all sorts of dish names. Do you read the description of each dish on that first pass? Or do you only stop on the interesting-sounding ones?

Words--let's talk about that. As in how many words. While I love the autobiography of Charles Mayer in Trapping Wild Animals in Malaysian Jungles, it's more than a mouthful and is overly boring. A Tale of Two Cities has a lot of words, but manages to com across much shorter. Jaws used jut one word, but it conveys a lot and is now ingrained in our language and popculture mentality. So how many words are appropriate?

A lot of folks swear by two word titles. And if you look at the bulk of fiction titles, you're probably going to see a majority of one or two word titles. They're especially great for contrasts, like Dark Light, Walking Dead, or even Cold Heat. Two words can also modify each other and imply a unique twist on something. Like Jurassic Park, a park with a Jurassic, or dinosaur theme. Two words are also easy for a reader to remember. 

What about one word titles? Well, they can be great too, like the aforementioned Jaws. But they can be a little two mysterious. Take the James Bond classic Thunderball. What the hell is a thunderball? Is this a storm book? Nothing about this title conveys the story's plot (theft of nuclear weapons by an evil organization bent on world domination).

What about phrases? Going back to James Bond again, there's On Her Majesty's Secret Service. That's easy to remember, and it tells you what the book is about even if you've never heard of Bond, James Bond. A Spell for a Chameleon is a great title. It's mysterious--why does a lizard need a magic spell? But it also hints at the real plot--the changing character, camouflaged from detection, and their desire to end their regular metamorphosis.

With all these titling factors to consider, when do you pick your title? It's a lot of pressure to have just the right one, you don't want to mess this up, do you? Relax, good titles reveal themselves. When you hear a good title, you know it's a good title. For me, I like to go title first, either before or after basic concept. But that doesn't mean you should put off writing your work because you don't have a title. That's what Working Titles are for. 

Write that book and maybe in the course of writing it, a great title will reveal itself. Maybe something someone said. Or the way you describe a scene. Or maybe how you just describe the book when writing that all-important description. 

What if you have a book that you just aren't happy with the title? The beauty of self-publishing electronically is you can change things. Easily. Go ahead and publish. Then change the title later if you want. It's your book. Movies do it all the time. 


1 comment:

Pam Lazos said...

I think having a good title actually helps you finish the work. I don't know if I could change it at the end of the piece, but kudos to you for being versatile. Also, love your cave photos!