One of the most important parts of your completed novel is the title. Not only does it need to be catchy and creative, but in a handful of words it also has to get at the core of what your entire book is about. Not an easy task, but an enormously important one.
So when, in the process of writing the book, should the writer lock the title down? The short answer? Whenever!
Which came first―the chicken or the egg? It’s debatable. The same is true of books and their titles. Seriously―have you ever come up with a brilliant title to a book out of the blue, and then sat down and created a story based on that title alone? Or did you ever write a book that had no title until you were finished writing the story? I would speculate that the latter is true for most writers, especially given how maddening it can be to find that perfect title. If you came up with the title first, then wrote the book, your title work is done. Congratulations! But if, like most of us, you started to write your book or―GASP!―finished your book and still haven’t titled it yet, read on!
Working It Out
It isn’t necessary to labor over finding just the right title to your book when you first start writing. But what I would recommend early on is coming up with a working title. The benefit to a working title is that it makes your novel-in-progress a reality. It also helps you tuck your work away on your computer into a readily identifiable folder. When I wrote Sunshine’s Darkness, my working title was simply The Orange Goo. It was a silly title, and I realized that, but it also summed up what I was working on well enough for the time; it was more important to me to focus on writing the text than to rack my brain coming up with something better. In fact, my working title changed several times throughout the writing process―at one point it was Scorp; at another it was Agent O: A Matter of Life and Death. It wasn’t until I was nearly 75% done with the book that Sunshine’s Darkness jumped out at me, grabbed me by the collar, and shook me like a rag doll until I screamed out “Aha!”
As I mentioned, I didn’t come up with my official title until I was three-fourths of the way into my book. That’s not to say that an author shouldn’t sit down and create a title at the beginning, or 25% of the way into the book, or even midway through the writing process. But at some point, you should take an afternoon―or a week!―and sit down to brainstorm possible ideas. Write down a synopsis to your book, then find some key words and themes that come from your novel and start playing around with them. Before this brainstorming session is done, push yourself to come up with five to ten possible titles to your novel. Then run your title ideas by a friend, a mate or a colleague to see if any of them gets an ”Aha!” from anybody other than you.
Even if you sit down and brainstorm, there is no guarantee that you’ll come up with that best-selling title by the time you’re done. Don’t stress out about it. In fact, sometimes the author NEVER finds the title. Instead, the title finds the author. It could happen in a dream, or while watching TV or reading a book. That “Eureka!” moment might even come from someone other than you. Recently, when a friend of mine was having writer’s block, there was a moment in the conversation when he referred to an item in one of his scenes that I thought would make a perfect title to his novel. He agreed. And from that day forward, not only did he have a title, but he had a way through his writer’s block, allowing him to finish the novel.
Not So Fast!
OK―you’ve found the perfect title? Not so fast—you still have some homework to do. Even after you get oohs and ahhs from your colleagues, you still need to get online and search to make sure the title hasn’t already been taken. Even a simple Google search may be enough. If your title has been taken, you’ll want to play around with the words some more until your title is wholly your own. You don’t want to ride the coattails of another author, after all. And you certainly don’t want to be on the wrong end of a cease-and-desist order or lawsuit! But more importantly, you want to make sure that YOUR name comes up when someone else Google’s the title once your book is published.
Remember, WHEN you title book is not as important as WHAT you title your book. A well-thought-out, witty and creative title will stand out among the other titles on the shelves of Barnes & Noble and on the Top-Sellers list at Amazon. As the saying goes, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” In the world of book selling, the ‘first impression’ of your book almost always comes from its title. When your goal is to get your book noticed, let’s face it: There’s nothing like a great title. So take the time to choose your title wisely.
This article is archived from the original Edits Made Easy website and is re-posted here to our new blog under a new date.