If you are anything like me, then you dread having to give your book or short story a title. I’m awful at giving things titles but I have good reasons for it. After spending a great deal of time browsing the bookstore shelves (or sometimes window shopping online), I’ve noticed some patterns that come up when it comes to book titles. Here I present to you my observations about the do’s and don’t’s of book titles. Note: This is my personal opinion. I don’t mean to hate on any books but sometimes, the titles could use improvement. Also, I don’t mean to hate if your stories have titles like the ones I’m about to complain about.
Edgy Buzzwords: Darkness, shadow, smoke, death, ash, night…these are all words that pop up when you’re browsing the sic-fi or fantasy section. YA lit tends to use these “edgy” words in their titles more because the authors realize that teenagers want to feel rebellious in how they choose their literature. Adult books are guilty of this too. So, if you want to refer to darkness or fire in your title, just know that the market is currently saturated with these “gothic” book titles. Sometimes, it just feels as though the authors are trying too hard to be dark.
Avoid “And The…”: Ever since Harry Potter debuted, it’s been common to see titles that sound something like “So-and-so and the Thing of the Thing” or whatever. This typically only works for series, though. I suggest avoiding “and the” titles for standalone novels. If I read a “and the” title my mind immediately assumes that this is part of a series. Think carefully using the “and the” title.
Make the Title Relevant to the Whole Book: A big pet peeve of mine is when the title of the book only refers to once specific scene in the book in one part of the book. For example, in Twilight there is only once scene that is set at twilight and that’s it. Stephanie Meyer thought she was being really clever with her metaphorical titles but they hold no real relevance to the story itself. Think of an ongoing motif in your story or an event that your novel is set around. Example, The Hunger Games is obviously set around the titular event or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is set around them finding the Deathly Hallows. You don’t always have to make your titles a stretch.
Titles Based on Quotes Work: For years, authors have been using parts of quotes from other books in order to titles their books. You know what? This works. I’m a big fan of quotes so if I see a book title that refers back to another story I like then I’m tempted to read it. This mostly works with references to plays or poetry. A few good examples are: Of Mice and Men, The Fault in Our Stars, The Sound and the Fury, A Raisin in the Sun, As I Lay Dying, No Country for Old Men
Be Careful with Long Titles: Some of you out there might be fans of Panic! At The Disco or Fall Out Boy. Do you remember when they had those super long and ridiculous song titles that made you laugh and love the song more for its quirky title? Well, it works with books too. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them all own their long and weird titles. Just make sure these titles are still attention grabbing and not tedious to read. Especially be careful with subtitles.
Make it Meta: Meta titles are some of the best. By this, I mean that I like titles that refer to stories within the stories. Self-aware stories are fun so make the title self-aware. Examples: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith refers to the title of a book of a murdered author that helps Cormoran Strike solve the murder. Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman centers around the prophecies predicted by the witch and how they come true throughout the novel.
Bonus: I found some links of examples of really bad book titles and covers (sometimes a combination of the two). If you’re bored then check these out.
Bored Panda: 40 Worst Book Covers and Titles
eBaum’s World: 35 Hilariously Bad Book Titles and Covers
Buzzfeed: 26 Hilariously Bad Book Covers
2 thoughts on “The Trouble with Titles”
Couldn’t agree more! What’s worse is that I can’t start writing until I’ve given it a title. I’ve learned to give my WIP a simple (usually crappy) title, so I can give on with the work, and change it later on.
I love this post!