I recently read a writer friend's manuscript, and while I though it was a wonderful story, I was honest with her about the fact that I thought she needed a better title. The one she had chosen felt a bit generic to me and didn't really capture the exciting nature of the book.
Titles can be a tricky business. You only get a handful of words to represent the entirety of your story, and these words will be the first impression many readers get of your work, whether they encounter it online, in a catalog, or on a spine on a bookstore shelf. It could pique their interest, make them take a closer look, or turn them off altogether. It's so important to choose your title carefully.
Some tips I think are helpful:
- The title should reflect the tone of the book. You obviously wouldn't want to slap a humorous title on a book with a dark, serious tone. The title should hint to readers what they can expect inside. I think Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events titles (The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window, The Austere Academy, etc.) do this perfectly. Not only do you get a sense of the rather bleak tone of the books from both the series title and the individual book titles, but these also hint at the dark humor and playfulness of the stories themselves.
- Specific is better general. The title of one of my favorite childhood books, The Pokey Little Puppy, wouldn't have nearly the same charm if the author had just called it The Puppy. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a highly specific title, making use of both the main character's name and the object forming the main storyline. It's much more personal, exciting, and appealing than a generic title. Can you imagine if it had been called something like The Wizard School? Not nearly as catchy, or, to segue into the next bulletpoint, unique.
- Unique is important. If someone googles your book title or searches it on Amazon or types it into a library catalog, you want it to come up. Something like Little Lamb is going to bring up a gazillion hits. Something like From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is going to hit home--not to mention it really makes the book stand out.
- Titles that create suspense or intrigue are doing their job. If it piques the reader's interest, arouses curiosity, or creates suspense, a reader will pick up the book or read its description to find out more. One of my childhood favorites was The Secret Garden. The word "secret" gives that title a wonderful air of suspense. Why is the garden secret? Who would make a secret garden? It is secret because it's dangerous or hidden in some way? Perhaps I should pick up the book to find out more...
- A lot of middle grade books seem to include the main character's name in the title. The Tale of Desperaux, the Harry Potter books, the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary. This seems especially true when the character is particularly colorful and distinctive, perhaps hinting that the character is going to be driving force behind the story. This might be a good technique if you have a real stand-out main character--or a character with a really interesting or unique name.
What are your favorite tips on titles?