What’s in a name? – Titles for your novel.

So you’re finally finished writing it – the thing that has taken up all of your free time for the past two years (or more), the monkey on your back that wouldn’t let you sleep, that had you pulling out your pen and paper while on vacation with your family because The Idea came to you…

Well, you’re finished. You want to print it out, slap on a title, and send it off.

Hold up, there partner! Pause, breathe, put the the manuscript down. Easy! There you go….

What’s the big deal with a title?

Everything! It’s the first thing that a potential reader will see, the line that will either catch an editor’s attention or send it straight to the trash can. Just as your name represents you, the title of your book must be representative and catchy for your novel.

The good, the bad, and the ugly…

There are three distinct groups of titles.

The first is the good: the ones that catch attention, make a reader pick the book up, scan the front, turn it over and read the back, and then on to the checkout stand. Examples: Empress, Boiling Point, Crown of Thorns, Slaughterhouse-Five, A Feast for Crows.

The bad: have a hit and miss chance of grabbing a reader, with good enough cover art and some fantastic quotes from the New York Times or Publisher’s Weekly, they may be read. They probably won’t be the first book a reader picks up, but it’s possible. Examples: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, War of the Gods, Secrets of Droon: The Hidden Stairs and the Magic Carpet, Maximum Ride: the Angel Experiment.

Then the ugly: get the response “how did this ever get onto this shelf?” “What was the editor/author thinking?” Examples: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl…

So how do you name it?

Unfortunately, while there is a plethora of baby-name books flooding the market and internet, there is no “novel-name book” for authors. So, you must be creative. Which really shouldn’t be that hard – hell, you wrote a book, didn’t you?

Coming up with the name of your novel should be a process started at the same time you write the firs paragraph, and honestly, will and should go on until you’re done with your final edit. It’s not an easy task – parents may argue and pine over it for nine months – why should your naming process be any different?

Following are several tips to help you come up witht the ideal name for your “baby.” These are merely brainstorming techniques to hopefully help something click in that creative cavity you have sitting between your shoulders:

Make a list

1. the names of your main characters
2. the major places in your book
3. any special talismans/objects that play a specific/important role (ie. The Sword of Shanara)
4. creatures, animals, aliens, names

Your plot

1. what is the point of your book?
2. is there a journey? To where? For why?
3. are you writing about a deeper meaning?
4. can you tie in your book with current events or popular topics? (ie the Davinci Code)
5. what are your characters trying to do?

Google is your best friend

1. search for pictures of a theme, character, creature, place, etc. that you feel represents your book. You’ll come across some cool (and weird) things, and may give you direction.
2. see what others writing about similar topics are using for titles. Make sure your title isn’t too close to another’s.
3. get some more backstory on an item, relic, place, or animal in your story. Again, think muse…

Have fun

1. play up on words and items in your book (ie One of our newest books due out next summer is “Of Quills and Kings,” in which the villan is a demonic and sadistic hedgehog that overthrows the crown…)
2. be witty. You are trying to grab science fiction/fantasy/horror/etc fans, not collegiate professors that enjoy spending all of their waking hours with their pet rock. Uh…
3. be original. You want to stand out, but don’t be too off-beat that you scare people away.

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35 Responses

  1. I’m starting to feel like a stalker but then I figured what the hell I’ve commented on everything else and I really did enjoy this post. You have a lot of good suggestions here and I’ve got it bookmarked. I tend to suck at naming things so believe me I’ll be referring back to your hints.

  2. Haha,

    Well I’m glad you’re enjoying the site, JT. Thanks.

  3. This is really helpful. I have trouble with titles too. When I named my book, I used an observation the main character had which summed up a thread running throughout the book. Is that okay to do?

  4. As long as the “observation” is short and sweet, then it could be fine. The main thing you want to consider is immediate attention and whether the title is memorable. You want readers to go to the bookstore and be able to ask for help finding your title, rather than “it’s something about something, but I don’t remember the name of it…”

    Keep it short, that’s the biggest thing.

  5. Great, thank you, think it’ll work.

  6. This is some really good advice. But it’s still not helping. The thing is: I have a four part series in the works and I have all of the books named…except the first one, the one I’ve actually started. It’s so frustrating! Hopefully your tips will help eventually. thanks so much!!!!

  7. Good article. Very helpfull, thanks alot.

  8. […] brainstorming list of information to gather when you’re trying to dream up that just-right novel […]

  9. […] What’s in a name? – Titles for your novel. « Take that book and… […]

  10. i usually try to do short one- or two-word titles that sum up the book, or a recurrent theme of the book. is that a good formula?

  11. It does–but it also depends on the novel. You want something that will attract attention, but isn’t cliche or too formulaic. One or two word titles can be hard to pull off sometimes, but in my book shorter is definitely better…

  12. […] Apache/1.3.33 Server at http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com Port 80 Sites you may be interested in What’s in a name? – Titles for your novel. Take that book and…The Maybe Flower – What Maybe Does to Your Writingromance novel blogsAn Excerpt from Through Bended […]

  13. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

  14. […] But novels need titles, as mentioned in a post I found today over at the news blog of Leucrota Press Take That Book And… […]

  15. If you ever want to hear a reader’s feedback 🙂 , I rate this post for 4/5. Decent info, but I have to go to that damn google to find the missed bits. Thanks, anyway!

  16. Patrick McLeod is stepping into the face of danger as he journeys across the country of Canada in the year 2751 as a competitor in the annual Competition held each year since 2501. He knows that he could die but will do everything he can to get him and his twin brother, Asher, back home alive. However as he is paired with a quiet, strange boy with a mysterious secret he is tested on his loyalty to this boy, a promise he had made, and his own strength. When Patrick is suddenly presumed dead his teammate must make a decision to tell Patrick of his brother’s fate and of his gift. The journey becomes a frantic one as they hide from their enemies, trek across this barren country, and plot to bring down the cruel government known as the Division. Patrick discovers many things on his journey, he forgets the one he perhaps should have remembered the most. Will Patrick and this strange boy ever fulfill what was asked of them, or will Patrick’s story come to a sudden stop?

  17. this was a small summary for my book if any ideas come up on what I should title it please let me know

  18. hello everyone
    I am from australia,melbourne.
    This is in regards to my idea that have come through my mind to write a novel,based on overseas student life.Just wondering what to name it and how does the procedure works if i start writing and who should i refer once it finish.please let me know in detail about this process.
    i would be glad with your suggestion which might help me to start with my carrier.

    thanks and regards.

  19. Hi, loved your post. Was just wondering how a novel would sell if it was set in Ireland? I’ve tried writing stories set in other places, but I don’t know their cultures well enough to write about them- especally their school systems- our shcools are way different to english or american ones.
    I was also wondering if I could name a book in Irish- would it be a total flop? I just think the word Síog fits perfectly- it means fairy, and suits the book perfectly; I know lots of people wouldn’t understand it, but I was thinking a pale overlay that looked like a dictionary entry would look cool, and iron out any unsureness…
    Sorry, I tend to blabber on.
    Maeve http://bookheaven.wordpress.com

  20. Very good article. I’ve found your blog via Google and I’m really glad about the information you provide in your posts. Btw your sites layout is really broken on the Chrome browser. Would be great if you could fix that. Anyhow keep up the great work!

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  22. I’m halfway through my first book, and I had no trouble naming it. I have had no trouble naming my second book, either. But my third and fourth are only named because of this article 😀

  23. I love this note!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Now I will conquer my novel and publish it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Tankwa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  24. […] I found a good blog post about Naming a Novel. […]

  25. This is the best article on naming a novel I’ve ever read. Most of the time, I come up with a title right away, but my latest project has been nameless for two months.

    I must disagree on one teeny detail…I love the name “World War Z!” 😀

    This is going straight to my bookmarks. Thank you so much for the info!

  26. […] I brainstormed a few ideas yesterday (with the help of Leucrota Press), and while I’m only marginally closer to the truth, I think I’m on the right […]

  27. I truly enjoyed this post. It helped me, it really did! I usually don’t have problems with titles, they come to my mind very quickly, but I still could use some help, so thank you very much, thanks a lot.

  28. I LIKE THIS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  29. I do not like the title of this posting in particular 😉

  30. hi helo any body here which tell me a nice nolve name

  31. I still don’t know what to name my book. Do I wait ’till I’m finished with my book b4 getting a title or what? And do you know how I can publish and edit my book 4 free? I’m not rich and this is the first time I’ve written. Oh, and they have to be comfortable with publishing teens, since I’m only 12. Thanks for any help. Katelyn (Katie)

  32. How is Boiling Point a better title than The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? I’m biased because I’m a major Hitchhiker’s fan anyway, but I certainly think it’s a more interesting and intriguing title than something that sounds like a generic thriller (I’m not familiar with the book). Your article is useful but I almost wrote you off right there.

    I do love the title A Feast for Crows, though. (Along with A Game of Thrones, for that matter.)

  33. Hi, you post interesting posts on your page, you can get much more visits, just
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