What’s in a Name?

Ask 100 different authors what the most difficult part of writing is and you’ll probably get 100 different answers. Ask me that question, and I’ll tell you:

Picking a damn title.

I mean, the title is that first big impression; you can’t afford to blow it! It has to entice the reader, but not be over the top. It needs to convey some kind of feeling or message, but only in a few syllables. It must give the potential reader an idea of what they’re in for while still hiding something interesting behind the veil. That’s a lot of pressure.

His Name Was Zach, the title of my debut novel, was originally just a placeholder, the first thing I could think of. And honestly, I don’t even remember how exactly it came to me. But after the story was written and I returned to the title, I couldn’t think of anything more fitting. His Name Was Zach contained the name of the protagonist, gave a little clue about the tone of the story, but left something to be imagined.

If you’re a writer, and you’re struggling picking a title for your book, here’s some advice. First, start with a placeholder. Just as I did, whatever comes to mind first, jot that down and move on. Come back later and play with it a little, you might twist it just enough that it becomes workable.

Or maybe your placeholder doesn’t work out, that’s okay! At least now you know what you don’t want the title to be. As Thomas Edison famously said about his repeated failures: I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

Second, and be careful with this one, but look to other books in your genre for ideas. I say be careful because you obviously don’t want to go plagiarizing. However, skimming some titles of other books in your genre can be a big help. You’ll see formats that inspire you, and titles that give you a clear indication of what not to do, as well.

Now, I know some of my readers are also authors, so I must ask you: how did you pick the title of your book? Share your titles in the comments below!

Published by Peter Martuneac

Marine, Boilermaker, husband and father. I'm here to share my thoughts on all things political or philosophical.

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8 Comments

  1. Picking titles is the worst. I’m terrible at it. Probably my favorite title of my own books is “Vespasian Moon’s Fabulous Autumn Carnival”. I was lucky, because that one just flowed organically out of the story.

    For “The Directorate” until very, very late in the writing process, I just called the document “SFN”, for “Science Fiction Novel” because I had no idea what else to do.

    Great titles are memorable, but I’m not sure if that even helps with getting people to read your book. I’m reminded of a scene from the movie “Knives Out” where Daniel Craig references the book “Gravity’s Rainbow” and someone else says they haven’t read it. Craig’s character responds, “Neither have I. No one has. But I like the title!” 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Haha, now that’s funny! And you know, that’s actually how Toy Story got it’s title, because during the screenwriting process the placeholder title was literally just The Toy Story, all they did was chop off “The”.

      And you’re right, titles won’t make people read a book but a good one will usually at least get your book that extra five seconds of attention, make a person stop scrolling and maybe look at the cover art closer or read the description.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Below will be an unnecessary rant.

    For the novel that I still consider my best (unpublished, but whatever), I called it “the vermin story” for its first and second drafts. When I decided to get it out to a couple betas/alphas, I had to name it something better, and I landed on “The Mercury Dimension.” I love it because it sounds badass, fits thematically, and works very well with the book’s feel. Several beta readers, however, have asked, “Why did you name your book after an incidental piece of the story?”

    And that sucks. It’s perfect from my artistic standpoint, but I 100% get their question. Realizing the title is all about duality and two sides of the same coin is ridiculously hard. “The Mercury Dimension” contains the words “Mercury Dime”, and hints at the main character’s mercurial nature. The two main human factions are the Fasces and the Olive Branch, which are on the tails face of the Mercury dime. The book is going for a futuristic art deco feel which was, once again, inspired into the story by the Mercury dime. I have no idea what I was thinking when I basically designed a story by combining a fucking coin with imposter syndrome. The actual Mercury Dimension in the book, however, is a system of sending messages. It’s mentioned almost flippantly throughout – even if its mechanisms are essential to the final events of the book. So I get it, and it sucks that the name is so perfect and yet so, so terribly wrong for pretty much everyone other than me. In fact, I doubt you can glean anything from this rant because it seems so ridiculous in hindsight.

    Liked by 2 people

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