Wednesday 6 July 2011

Inspiration for a Title

I have a wip and a new work both in need of a title, and I've been thinking about what it takes to make a good book title.

The biggest question of all is 'what does the title need to convey'? The answer isn't simple. These are the main points I've been considering:

Do you want the title to convey an aspect of the story?

Can you tease the reader with a title which conveys the action of the story without spoiling it? What is it about the story that makes it unique?

A good approach to this is to start with your logline. If you haven't come up with one yet then it's a good idea to do so before attempting to title the book. Coming up with a good logline is an art of its own, so it helped me a lot to research the art before coming up with one. Once you have a logline you have a core statement from which you can key a title.

Is there a message or theme which could be conveyed in the title?

Does your book have an underlying message, moral story or fable? Is there a snappy way this underlying message can be conveyed in the title?

How well will the title convey the genre of the story?

If the title conveys the story genre, all's well and good. It doesn't hurt to do so and in some situations it can be an advantage (such as when your book is listed out of context and without a cover image). What has to be avoided is a title which indicates the wrong genre, or is confusing about the genre. For example a title that sounds historical for a story set in the future.

Will the title reach out to the right kind of reader?

Every title has an effect on a reader, but that effect can be hard to predict, since everyone reacts differently to the next person. This is one of the reasons to get feedback from others on your title choices before making a commitment.

What do you want the reader to think of when they see the title?

Even if everyone reacts differently there is still scope to create an impression with the title. Having answered the question What do you want the reader to think of? the next step is to find ways of conveying that in words. Again, experimentation and feedback are key.

How will the title look on the spine and the front cover?

Once in the shelf the spine is the only visible part of the book. How will the title look when viewed that way?

The title will probably come before cover art, but it is important to consider how it will look on the front of the book. A seventeen word title won't look great on any front cover or spine. Remember, the front cover will often be viewed as a small icon on websites and in catalogues, so whoever designs the cover needs a title they can make readable even at that small size.

Where else will the title be seen?

The title will often be seen without a cover image. This can happen on websites, in lists or catalogues, and the title may even appear without the author's name. These situations need to be considered when answering questions about what the title conveys to the reader.

How does your title compare?

There's a market for your book, and there are other authors writing for that market. Take a look at successful books in your genre that are comparable with your work. Their titles work, or at least don't harm sales, so it's worth considering why to see if there is an approach you can use.

Having considered all these points I try to come up with a small selection of options for the title and begin with my favourite, seeking feedback.

I've been through this process for my wip and here is the logline and title I came up with:

Wishing to free his sweetheart from a government enforced breeding programme, a young man finds himself competing for her with a ruthless underworld boss. - Bolter

This was after a lot of agonising and many options considered. The back cover blurb can be seen at the 'Bolter Baron' tab on this blog.

So, my questions for you...

How do you set about creating a title for your book?

What do you think of Bolter as a title? Do you have a suggestion for me?

Finally, I'd like to say thanks to my followers for sticking with me while I've been a bit sporadic with my posts. You're a great bunch.


  1. I like it--short and snappy and intriguing!

  2. The last time I needed a title I went to Amazon's MP3 store and looked up song titles. I thought of the word "Legacy" but that was too generic, so I just typed that in and looked through the titles until I found one that I liked.

  3. The titles just jump into my head, Tony. I never agonise over them. I like your book title. Its short and catchy.

  4. I read the title you came up with first- Bolter- just on its own without me knowing anything about it, doesn't catch my interest- however if I include that title with the back blurb of the book- it makes more sense and sounds like a good title. Hope that is helpful.

    My titles tend to come to me at random more from some kind of subtext of the book or story.

  5. I like your book title!

    Great questions. I usually think of the theme of the book, or try to find something associated with a physical object in the world of the story; and sometimes titles just come easily. (But that doesn't happen often.)

  6. Alliteration is powerful, though Bolter Baron doesn't immediately tell me what it's about.

    Have you seen this help pdf on titles

    It's an interesting question. Should it be oblique and entising or summative and direct?Often the titles the author chooses are not the ones the publisher runs with! Good luck :O)

  7. Jess; Thanks, that's reassuring.

    Rogue Mutt; Interesting idea to use a song title. I hadn't thought of it but it offers some interesting possibilities.

    Rachna; Glad you find the titles come to you. Maybe that'll start to happen to me eventually.

    Summer; Good feedback, thank you.

    Golden Eagle; Thanks, yes, that sounds like a good approach.

    Madeleine; The proposed title, Bolter, is a contracted version. Ironically I think it tells more than the two word version. The Mslexia workshop is fab, thanks for the link.

  8. I just waited for the name to occur to me when I was figuring out what to call my Beast.

    Bolter feels a bit confusing to me, because of the fact that it feels like the story should be about only one person (the bolter), but I know that it's about two people and their interactions with one certain... *keeping it clean here*. So I actually like your old name more. Or perhaps: The Bolter Baron, to make it a bit more specific.


  9. I'm not so good with titles. Some seem to come fully formed and perfect, others just don't want to present themselves to me. For example, I'm happy with Cosmic Seed: Daughters of Velika, but still think Dreaming of Sleep is a rubbish title.

    I like Bolter, but agree with the others in that it doesn't tell me anything about the genre or what the book is about. The best titles seem to be short and describing an action or specific person/event. For me Bolter Baron was better because it named a person, whereas Bolter could be a name OR someone who keeps running away.

    Hope that helps, and thanks for the great advice in this post.

    Ellie Garratt

  10. Bolter...doesn't work for me. It sounds like a chap would takes off when he should stay. Bolter Baron, Baron of Bolter...three words?
    Good to see your name again!

  11. Thanks so much for all the replies. I'll be taking all the comments and doing the process again with them in mind, so hopefully I'll come up with something that works. I think Bolter isn't going to work, and Bolter Baron is a maybe, but I'll see what other ideas come out of the re-think.

  12. Good points to consider; and I'm sure I've agonized over most of them :) Titles are not my strong suit.

    I sometimes have a title (because it is an inspirational phrase to get the first few paragraphs written), but most often, the title is developed as I'm writing the first draft, or sometime during the revisions. I have lists of potential titles for any novel/short story.

    I like the way you set about forming the title.


  13. Sometimes the titles seem obvious to me, and other times not. I've never been very scientific about it. I always think of my title as a working title, and expect that a publisher/editor will suggest something different (which has occurred with a couple of my short stories) when the time comes. To the point, though, the title must be compelling and pertinent to the story. It usually becomes apparent to me by the end of the first draft.

  14. Donna; I like the idea of an inspirational phrase. That sets my mind ticking...

    Lisa; True, the publisher will probably change the title. Somehow I hate to not come up with a suitable title myself, though. I think when you find the title obvious it's probably a good one.

  15. You brought up some important questions that I didn't think of before. I never considered the look on the spine.

    How about a monosyllabic title, BOLT?

  16. You think about it much more than me! Usually it just pops in my head as soon as i write the last page. Though my manuscript from last year was The Disappearances for over a year, and then became The Mist Chasers.

    I started a new WIP today, but don't have a title yet. So I may need to use this post for ideas soon!

  17. That's a great title. I have a hard time with titles, but you've got a lot of great stuff to think about here, thanks!

    If you get a chance, check out a fellow writer's zombie story and help me make him wear an embarrassing shirt next year! Details are here: