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February 08, 2016

The Art of Naming a Book



Naming a book is a big task. It has to reflect the story and interest the reader in some way. It could be funny (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) or dark (The Queen of the Damned). It could be named after the main event or plot line of the story (The Hunger Games, Under the Dome) or cleverly hint at something that only someone who reads the story would understand (The Color Purple).

Sometimes a title can come right away. Other times it comes while in the middle of the first draft or even after the book is complete.

It’s best not to rush trying to find the perfect title. It’ll come when it comes. You could even have a title picked out and then come up with something better. Or an agent/publisher will suggest a new one.

But let’s forget that for now. First let’s discuss a few things that could make naming a book easier.



1. What’s the tone/mood/theme?

My published books are dark and suspenseful. Death and crimes are common so it’s no wonder that they are titled Hurricane Crimes, 30 Seconds, Ghost of Death, and Witch of Death. Immediately when you read those titles you know what kind of ride you’re in for.

2. Think about the main character.

For a paranormal story, it’s clever to add the type of supernatural being that your MC is to the title. Or to at least hint at it. For example: Despite the Fangs by Dylan Newton is about a woman who is the Alpha of a werewolf pack. Another example is Divergent by Veronica Roth. The MC, Tris, is a Divergent.

3. What happens in the story? (What’s the plot/purpose?)

In The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Katniss Everdeen has to fight in a deadly competition called the Hunger Games. What happens in your story? What does your character have to do? Consider your answers and see if a title pops out at you.

4. Be sneaky.

30 Seconds is named that way for multiple reasons. One is because of all of the action and how everything happens to fast…as in every thirty seconds. Though that is a bit of an exaggeration. There’s also a hidden romantic meaning behind the title. Can you come up with something cryptic that could get a reader guessing?


Here are some of my favorite titles:

Moonless (Crystal Collier)
Despite the Fangs (Dylan Newton)
52 Likes (Medeia Shariff)
Butterman (Time) Travel, Inc (PK Hrezo)
How to Date a Nerd (Cassie Mae)
So You Want to be a Wizard (Diane Duane)
The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson)
A Child Called “It” (Dave Pelzer)
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (Rebecca Wells)
The Devil Wears Prada (Lauren Weisberger)




SHARE: Your favorite book titles.

QUESTION: How did you come up with your book titles?




94 comments:

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Chrys - we need to hook the reader in - even just to look. Being original is quite difficult ... and just waiting til the title pops out and resonates makes sense.

Blog posts similarly ... cheers Hilary

S.A. Larsenッ said...

Great discussion! I tend to lean towards theme when I think of book covers, something that clues me into the mood, story, and main character's plight.

Lidy said...

My epic fantasy (on hiatus) went through dozens of title changes. Even saved the list, three pages long of alternative titles, in case I want to change it again. But for now the title remains :Harbingers of El Tinor" but I might rename it just "Harbingers." My other WIP title features the name of my MC and her supernatural power.
My favorite titles are The Giver, A Stranger in the Kingdom, The Chocolate War, the Harry Potter series, and although it's not a book but I love the title Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Titles are difficult. My first book was already named and coming up with the names of the sequels was difficult. My publisher actually named them.
Dragon's title was easier - I just modified the title of the song that inspired the story.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I love titles for books and stories that have more than one meaning, that have layers and complexities.

For long WiPs, I usually just refer to it as the protagonist's name. For stories, I don't come up with a title until I'm finished then I go back and see if anything in particular strikes me in the story itself.

L.G. Keltner said...

Title are tricky things. I've written an entire rough draft of a novel before without knowing what the title was going to be. I've changed titles after months of my WIP being known as something else. I've also envisioned a great title in my mind and dreamed up a story to fit it.

Christine Rains said...

Great tips! Most of the time, titles don't come to me until after I've written the first draft. Sometimes not until after I go to my writer's group and ask for their help!

Sarah Foster said...

Great tips! It took me forever to come up with a title for my book, and was actually the third one I came up with. It was sort of inspired by a particular scene but fits a more overall look of the story as well.

M.J. Fifield said...

I usually go through two or three titles for a WIP before I hit on one that fits best. I usually start off with a song lyric that fits the overall mood of the story, and then I free associate from there.

I have one WIP right now whose title is just the names of the MCs, because I just haven't been able to brainstorm a new one yet.

betty said...

Great information about naming a book; I know it is usually the name of the book (or blog) that gets my attention to check it out, so one does have to be clever and crafty to come up with a great name for their writings!

betty

L. Diane Wolfe said...

There's so much to consider when naming a book. Like making sure there aren't a bunch of other books with that title.

Chrys Fey said...

My blog post titles tend to be normal and bland. But easier to find on Google...hopefully. :)

Chrys Fey said...

Themes are my obvious favorite choice for my titles as well. :)

Chrys Fey said...

That list would be neat to share with your readers after you publish this epic fantasy. "Harbingers" has a nice ring to it. I like that it's simpler.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a great title. TV Shows and movie titles qualify as they have to be named through the creative process too.

Chrys Fey said...

A song inspired your story? I love that because music inspires me all the time. :)

Chrys Fey said...

So do I. It makes me want to dig through the story to find out what it means. To pull out any clues.

There are WIPs that I have named after the MC or the general idea like this one "Wrestling Book." Although that one now has an official title.

Nicola said...

Great post, Chrys. I changed my novel title so many times during its creation. And now I'm nearing total completion, I have a block on what to call it. The title I've been working with over the past 12 months has lost my interest. I don't like it anymore. So my mind is battling with titles. During this process, I'm imagining what the cover would look like. That has helped to narrow it down to two or three that I like. Have a great week.

Chrys Fey said...

I've changed titles for one work several times. I've never thought of a title first though. INTERESTING!

Chrys Fey said...

Yay for writer's groups to help us pick out titles!

Chrys Fey said...

Naming a title for a specific scene is great. I love reaching the scene in a book where the title originates from. :)

Jacqueline Howett said...

I love it when a new title comes to me. I've just named a series I'm working on. The titles may change as the series progresses.
It's quite interesting how we come up with titles. And yes, you do have to double check to see no one else has that title, and if you still want it bad enough. Especially, if you have already created the book cover and discover this.

Carrie-Anne said...

Some of the earliest drafts of my Atlantic City books desperately need new titles, as the titles I planned for them as a preteen are so generic, corny, cliché, after school special-worthy, boring, sappy. They also don't really accurately describe what ended up happening in those books, as well as a direction I didn't follow through with for them.

My first Russian historical originally had the insipid, anachronistic title Amy and the Boys. Sometime in late '96, maybe early '97, I hit upon the title You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan. The symbolism of the swan mating for life and representing other types of love is used throughout the book, and I later discovered the swan is a big symbol of romantic love in Russia as well. When I participated in an agent-judged contest some years back, the agent found the need to tell me the symbolism of the swan mating for life is overused. Yeah, because that's totally the reason I do anything, wanting to be unoriginal and just like the crowd!

Chrys Fey said...

I love that you also use music. Alex said one of his books was inspired by a song so he put a twist on the song title to name his book.

Chrys Fey said...

My blog post titles are usually boring...so I thank you for being a frequent visitor. :D

Chrys Fey said...

Yes! I've Googled quite a few of my titles before and were disappointed to find similar titles.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I try to craft a title before I write the novel, so that I can incorporate into the book as I go in as many different shadings as I can or do a last chapter reveal of it as I did in THE STARS BLEED AT MIDNIGHT. FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE has always been one of my favorite personal titles. Great post as always.

Chrys Fey said...

If you get beta readers to look it over, they can offer you whatever titles they come up with. I've helped to think up titles for a couple of people who needed it when I beta read for them. :)

Chrys Fey said...

I love naming books in a series and making them sound cohesive. Like my Disaster Crimes series. Each one has a disaster in the title and the word "Crimes." Ex: Hurricane Crimes and Seismic Crimes.

Chrys Fey said...

LOL! I know what you mean. I had named a series when I was a pre-teen and teenager. But I actually kept two of the titles when I rewrote the series and just renamed the first book.

"You cannot Kill a Swan" is a lovely title. I love swans and I'm always attracted to books with the words "kill" or "death" in the title. You did a great job with that one. :D

Chrys Fey said...

That's smart. I usually come up with a decent title halfway through and can get the title into the end. Or when I finish I find a common theme, thread, or saying and use that for the title.

"The Stars Bleed at Midnight" is an awesome title. As I mentioned in my reply above...I love titles that incorporate a dark theme but pair it with something beautiful such as stars.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

My publisher helps me with titles sometimes. She has a good handle on what sells and attracts readers to at least check out the book.

Hart Johnson said...

I'm a huge fan of Plays on Words. I like titles with double meanings that don't give too much away, but at the end the reader knows exactly what it's getting at. My current WiP is Medium Wrong... about a con job to act as a medium that goes very wrong... of course it is wrong to con, so there is that, too...

Chrys Fey said...

You're lucky! I need a title before I submit anything. And my editor/publisher never comment on the titles I have, which I guess means they like them. :)

Chrys Fey said...

So do I! Those titles are the best. Oh, Medium Wrong. I love that. Very intruiging.

Yolanda Renée said...

I'm the worst with titles. I think my first book had around ten, the following books were easier because I wanted to stick to the first idea, but I've always regretted that the first title choice. :)

Botanist said...

Like character names, I find it important to have a title that feels right. Ghosts of Innocence didn't come until the first draft was almost done. Yet its sequel, The Ashes of Home, popped into my head along with the first scene.

T. Powell Coltrin said...

I am HORRIBLE with titles, but your article will be helpful. This brings to mind when my dad and I were taking writing classes in the 80's. I wrote my story and would read it later in front of the class. I loved doing that. As I was driving us there, I told my dad that I did not have a title for it. He asked me what the story was about and then said, "The title should be The Color Red". I couldn't believe he had just whipped out the best title ever.

Teresa C.

Anonymous said...

Great suggestions! I always have the HARDEST time with titles. A lot of mine are one-word titles, but I really want to change them because those sort of titles don't grab me like they use to, so I imagine it's the same for other readers too.

My high fantasy series, The Artifacts, has working titles right now of 'Dreams of Fear,' 'Forlorn Skies,' 'Gray Matter,' 'Dead Memories,' and 'Uncomprimising'. I'm feeling like I need to adjust those as I've been adjusting the plot, especially because the last two don't have anything written beyond plot so I have plenty of time to switch it up. *sigh*

Recently, my favorite title of a book I've read was 'A Monster Calls'. Cool title, but also that book is REALLY good.

Chrys Fey said...

Know I won't to know,what that first title is...I may have to go snooping. ;)

Chrys Fey said...

It is very important for the title to feel right. It has to convey the right thoughts and themes. Both of those titles are great!

Chrys Fey said...

See? Figuring out what the story is about can lead to the title. Good for your dad with being so quick.

Pat Hatt said...

Most times they come to me at the start, but the odd time I end up changing them when I'm done.

Chrys Fey said...

I love one-word titles! So far I am liking the titles for your high fantasy series.

"A Monster Calls" is an intruiging title.

Chrys Fey said...

I can see coming up with a title first for a rhyming story. You can go from there. :)

Kelly Hashway said...

I hate coming up with titles. It takes me forever! I'm seriously bad at it. I'm always happy with the end result, but I usually have help. ;)

Birgit said...

Naming a book would be the most difficult for me. When I used to write in my creative writing class I always sucked at the title. When I write my mom's story I have no idea what to name it so it grabs the public's interest

Chrys Fey said...

Since titles are so hard to come up with, it's always great to have help.

Chrys Fey said...

You could ask beta readers, your critique partners, or editor for title ideas. :)

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Great tips. Many times my titles change from what I start with, either by the publisher or by me when one of the characters says something and I think, Oh, that's a great title.

Liz A. said...

Titling things is one of the hardest things for me. Which is why most of my WIPs are just named after the main character on my drives. I hope I find a publisher who'll name them for me.

Tamara Narayan said...

Usually my titles come in a flash or I have to think and think and think again. There's not much of a middle ground. I like the title "Grapes of Wrath". What is that? An example of juxtaposition? Love those.

Chrys Fey said...

How great that your characters help you! :)

Chrys Fey said...

Most of the time, you need a good or decent title to attract a publisher. Then if they love the story but don't love the title, they'll change it.

Chrys Fey said...

Grapes of Wrath is an interesting title.

Kristin Smith said...

I used to hate choosing titles for my novels until I learned a few tricks of my own. Now, I love it! I have a whole slew of titles I hope to use for later books. Lol. Those are all great titles you shared!

Jeffrey Scott said...

Flowers For Algernon is a great title. It also forshadows what's to come later in the story. It's a title that has little meaning till later in the book. Other than than, almost any book named by Douglas Adams has always interested me.
'Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy'
'The Restaurant at the End of the Universe'
'Life, the Universe and Everything'
'So Long and Thanks For All the Fish'
and 'Mostly Harmless'. With those titles, you KNOW you are in for a wild ride.

Currently, each of short YA stories I name does incorporate something happening in the story. Each story utilizes the series name in the title. 'Writer's Block', because the main character is a writer. Then I add the one word which I feel defines the story.
1. Writer's Block: Jenni
2. Writer's Block: Revenge
3. Writer's Block: Missing
Again, I'm only at the editing stage so the title(s) are strictly working titles. Subject to change.

sage said...

I was trying to think of a few titles that I really liked the name. Terry Kay's novel, "The Year the Lights Came On" writes about the south right after World War 2, when rural electrification was bring electricity to rural areas. Michael Malone's novel, "Handling Sin" is very funny and an interesting (and entertaining) way to take off on a Lenten journey. Rick Bragg's biography of his Grandparents (Ava's Man) refers to his grandfather whom he didn't know. But he knew Ava, his grandmother. As for my book, I had another blogger once come up with titles and also covers for my autobiography: http://sagecoveredhills.blogspot.com/2007/05/my-autobiography.html

Chrys Fey said...

Pre-planned titles? I love that!

Chrys Fey said...

Those are all great examples of good titles. And I like what you're doing with the titles in your series. Super clever. I especially like Writer's Block: Revenge.

Chrys Fey said...

"The year the Lights Came On" is not interesting title for a story about the South. Thinking of a title for a memoir or autobiography would be the trickiest.

Sandra Cox said...

I occasionally come up with the title, then find the story:)

diedre Knight said...

Often, the title comes first with me. But since it's always subject to change (half a dozen times!) I call it a 'working title' until it goes to the publisher.
Favorite titles? The Velvet Room, The scent of water, Holes, Misery, and Needful Things. A great title is like having the reader "at hello" ;-)

Chrys Fey said...

I've never done that before. :)

Chrys Fey said...

A few have mentioned the same thing. I find that interesting. I've always received the story idea first.

Holes! I love that one too. So simple with with a lot of meaning when you read the book. I had started reading it to my nephews a little while ago. :)

J.H. Moncrieff said...

I really struggle with book titles. I loved my original title for The Bear Who Wouldn't Leave (It Bears Repeating), but the editor made me change it.

Favorite titles? I love the titles of Stephen King short stories: Sometimes They Come Back; You Know They Have a Hell of a Band. And The Stand is a great title.

Also, Not Wanted on the Voyage, Headhunter, The God of Small Things, Flowers in the Attic, She's Come Undone, Good in Bed, The Poisonwood Bible, Great Expectations, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

So many good ones!

Lisa Thomson said...

Those are good things to consider before choosing a title, especially for fiction. My non-fiction title came to me one day. Popped into my head and wouldn't leave. I hadn't even begun writing it but I knew what it was going to be. I'm not sure about my short story collection title but I guess I'll let the editor have some feedback on it after reading the whole collection. The Icing On The Cake... why I chose that one was because it's a common saying that we can all relate to.

It's hard to pick favorite titles but you've mentioned some awesome ones. "A Room With a View" pops into my head. Again, it's something we covet and has a romantic connotation. Great topic, Chrys!

Mary Kirkland said...

I've wondered sometimes how an author came up with a particular name for their book.

Chrys Fey said...

You listed a lot of my favorite titles. :)

Chrys Fey said...

Sometimes it comes to you, other times it takes a lot of creative thinking.

Chrys Fey said...

Nonfiction is a bit of a different ball game when it comes to thinking of a title. I think it's tougher to come up with a good nonfiction title.

The Icing on the Cake is a brilliant title. I love that. It brings so many things, good and bad, to mind.

Shannon Lawrence said...

Titles can be so hard. As a reader, I love that ah-ha moment when I figure out what the title was alluding to.

Anonymous said...

UUUUUGH! I suck at titles and I have THREE stories that need titles. And while you're tips are good, they haven't given me any ideas. *sobs* I'm going to have to blog about it and get ideas from people.

Chrys Fey said...

I love that moment too as a reader.

Chrys Fey said...

Maybe reading your stories will help you.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Silver Linings Playbook- I know it's a movie, but that title is just awesome. It encapsulates the theme of the movie in its title.

Sheena-kay Graham said...

Mainly off my pretty little head. Titles are pretty easy for me. Recent favorites include TruthWitch, Red Queen and Talon. Old favorites include Harry Potter titles, Hunger Games, Number the Stars and The Giver.

Anonymous said...

Some titles come to me right away, while with others I have to look for key words in the manuscript or synopsis. Your titles are always great.

nashvillecats2 said...

I have just sent my manuscript to the publishers.
Alex came up with a good idea how I should choose a title for the book. Loved the post Chrys.
Yvonne.

Lidy said...

Actually shared a list of the titles on an old blog post. I once wanted to name it "Tryptych" and or "Legend of the Trines."

Chrys Fey said...

I like that title too. And I think it was originally a book. :)

Chrys Fey said...

Number the Stars is one of my favorite books. The title is great too.

Chrys Fey said...

Thank you! Your titles are always clever. Like Vitamins and Death.

Chrys Fey said...

Good you you! Congrats! And yay for Alex's help. :)

Chrys Fey said...

Tryptych would've been difficult but Legend of the Trines is pretty neat.

emaginette said...

Thanks for the advice. Instead of letting them pop into my head, maybe I should be giving more thought to what the reader will think. :-)

Anna from elements of emaginette

Karen Jones Gowen said...

This is a really helpful overview! I've noticed in my effort at coming up with titles that when it's right, it's right and you just know it.

Chrys Fey said...

When it's right, you do just know it. :)

Chrys Fey said...

If they pop into your head though they could be fate. :)

Sherry Ellis said...

Coming up with a title can be a good trick. I like the examples you came up with - especially the ones our blogger friends used.

Chrys Fey said...

Glad you liked my examples. :)

Murees Dupè said...

I find naming a book quite hard. I tend to overthink things. Thank you for the great post and advice.

Chrys Fey said...

Over-thinking can happen and is quite common.

Denise Covey said...

Thanks Chrys. Now I have to think how to get vampires into my title.

Chrys Fey said...

Oh, I love vampires. ;)