1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

What Makes a Title Great?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Greybeard, Mar 23, 2011.

  1. Greybeard

    Greybeard Minstrel

    50
    2
    6
    When browsing through a book store, how often do you look at a book because of its title?

    While most titles are mundane, periodically one stands out and captures the attention of readers. In your estimation, what makes a title great?
     
    CelestialGrace likes this.
  2. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

    2,049
    634
    113
    I guess for me, it needs to be intriguing. To be intriguing, for me at least, there should be a question which immediately springs to mind upon seeing the title. The Name of the Wind is a good one for that - the obvious question being "what is the name of the wind?" but then also "who decided what that name was?" and "why does the wind have a name now?" Another example is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - "Who is this girl? Why does she have a tattoo? What about the tattoo? What is special about it?"

    I was in the library yesterday having a little browse, and I noticed a book called "Fire". Just Fire. I don't recall the author, and I didn't pick the book up to find out more. It was enough to halt my eyes, because I like fire and it's pretty and two of the stories I have written involve a character associated with fire. I didn't pick it up partly because my next thought was "So? What about it?" - the wrong kind of question. It simply didn't intrigue me enough.

    I know in many cases short, snappy titles are recommended, but where they fail to intrigue, short snappiness can't make up for it, whereas longer titles like those I gave as examples, do have that element of intrigue.
     
    Androxine Vortex likes this.
  3. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

    714
    105
    43
    For me, it's about certain keywords. Words that (might) indicate that the book is about something that interests me. If the title contains one of them I'm likely to pick up the book. Some of these are "poison", "gift", "apprentice/novice/master" etc, "secret", "prison(er)". There are also keywords that make leave the book in the shelf, such as "chosen one", "sword" or "prophecy".
    "Wind" is a word that wouldn't really influence me one way or the other because it isn't clear enough what it has to do with the story. Unlike Chilari I wouldn't really get interested in the title "The Name of the Wind" because it's way to abstact and I don't get any idea what the story is acutally about.

    I have to admit that the "word-approach" doesn't always lead me to the right books though, and I pick up many books just to put them back after a few seconds because they feature something that doesn't interest me such as vampires.
     
  4. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

    2,049
    634
    113
    My NaNoWriMo novel in 2009, which I am in the process of reworking, is called The General's Secret. I assume you'd at least read the blurb with a title like that then?
     
  5. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

    714
    105
    43
    Yes, I would. ;)

    By they way, what do you think about books with the main character's name in the title? I own a really good book that does this but I don't like it too much, once again because it doesn't give any information about the story itself. And the "Person X and..." title was okay for Harry Potter, but it would be sort of weird to see it in another book.
    Actually, "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" is one of those extremely misleading titles as well because the series contains nothing alchemy-related at all.
     
  6. I think I shop for the books almost the same way I shop for food. I shop by color...:) If the cover art looks interesting and the title doesn't seem too "out there", I'll at least read the back.

    I ended up reading the entire Twlight saga based primarily on the cover art from Breaking Dawn. At the time, I had no idea what Twilight was or that it was even up to book 4 of a series. The cover art was of a chess board with a White Queen being stalked by a Red Pawn. As I like playing chess (though I get my ass handed to me more often than not), the cover intrigued me enough to ask about the book as did the title Breaking Dawn. It was then that I picked up the series when the clerk handed me book 1. The cover - a pair of arms holding an apple titled Twilight.

    Though I'm sure Amanita won't read my stuff becuase it has "Prophecy" in it. The title series is called The Last Prophecy, but each book that I'm writing has a separate title. Child of Light, Demon's Dance, and Unchained and I was very careful about how I picked the names.
     
  7. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

    1,228
    248
    63
    I suppose the idea is that most children would have no idea what a philosopher's stone was, anyway. I'm pretty sure I first encountered it in Harry Potter - might not have even made the connection to alchemy until that anime (Fullmetal Alchemist) came out. I started reading the books when I was seven, though. If you started later, then yeah, that would be a bit misleading.

    I like books with very poetic titles. I like to see a metaphor, or some alliteration, right off the bat. As Chilari said, what the title means, what questions it evokes from me that make me want to read more for the answers. I also like big words. Loricate, Anathema, etc. My current project is titled, "The Dust of Dead Desire", for a poem by Algernon Swinburne, so I do appreciate a good literary allusion.

    Oh, and I am indifferent to books with a character's name in the title. They won't attract my attention, but then again, I don't think titles really tend to. A good title helps. I'll pick up 'Name of the Wind' before 'Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief' or whatever it was called. But I'm more attracted to the typography and cover image (or, better yet, lack thereof - I like a book with a simple, single image, often something with one color and very minimalistic), if we're just picking books up to skim a chapter of and read the blurb.
     
  8. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

    714
    105
    43
    If I know from other sources that the book is interesting I don't care about that. ;) It's only when I'm standing in front of a hundred books and need to decide which ones I'll look at.

    Actually, I don't really care about the cover image much at all. As long as it doesn't have naked women with big breasts on it, or something else that clearly shows me that I'm wrong with this book. Usually I look for an interesting title, take the book out, look at the blurb and start to read a few pages later.

    Edit: Everyone posting at the same time. ;) I didn't know much about the Philosopher's Stone when I first read Harry Potter either, I was thirteen. It was one of those books I didn't read because of the title but it's already been extremely popular back then. I still spent a lot of thought on the series later when I did know and I think that Harry Potter-Magic and Alchemy don't really mix well at all.
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2011
  9. Kelise

    Kelise Maester

    683
    42
    28
    I don't really read titles at all, unfortunately.

    I know that if a title has something in it that reminds me of something I dislike - for example, twilight something - I'll be more likely to pass it over without even reading the back.

    Unfortunate, but when I have a few hundred books to choose from, it's just what happens these days.
     
  10. DavidP

    DavidP Dreamer

    13
    0
    1
    A title must be created on more than a whim.

    People will Google for it, and search for it in bookshops, so it must have keywords in it. It should be like an SEO exercise.

    If you are writing about dragons that live in a cave, you want the dragon enthusiasts and the cave people who are Googling to find you. That means you don't call it "Mythical Creatures Underground" -- you call it "Dragons and Caves". OK, that is an over-simplistic example but you get the gist.
     
  11. I don't know - they've made a movie called Cowboys and Aliens.....because that's what it's about....can't get really more simplistic than that. :)
     
  12. For me... it's cover art... The cover has to catch my eye.. if it's not the cover then the author. I'm a stickler for keeping to what I know LOL I'll look at a title last. Most of the time to make sure it's not in the middle of a series and is the first in the series or in a series at all o_O I'm an odd ball what can I say x.x!
     
  13. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

    714
    105
    43
    By the way, is it true that in fact the publishing company decides on a novel's title and not the author? (I'm quite afraid that they might call my Lenima a "chosen one.";))
     
  14. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    5,997
    1,660
    213
    Honestly, I don't care about titles that much. I agree with the idea that cover art or name value draw me in first. If I don't know the author, but an author I like wrote a blurb for them, I'll take a look at it. Amazon has also become a great place to find new books because they give recommendations (although those are pretty sketchy sometimes.) I guess what interests me in buying a book the most is the back cover synopsis. If it is vague and doesn't offer much information, I generally pass on it.

    So the title helps sometimes, but even if a book is called something stupid like "Dreams of a Summer Dreaming Winter" or some crap like that, I'll still check it out if those other things I mentioned seem up to snuff.

    Also, I don't trust blurbs from Stephen King anymore. He'll write a blurb for gerbil.
     
  15. Donny Bruso

    Donny Bruso Sage

    297
    12
    18
    My method for picking books seems to be a bit different from everyone else here. If the title or cover art are interesting enough, or if it's an unread book by an author I've previously enjoyed, I'll read the synopsis on the back cover or dust jacket. If that doesn't make me roll my eyes and put it back on the shelf, I crack the book open to about the middle, and start reading a random page or two. If it pulls me in, I'll buy the book. If it doesn't I'll flip to one or two more places and retry. If it doesn't pull me in after three shots, or if the writing turns me off, it goes back on the shelf and I move on.

    I do it this way because the middle of a book is more 'average' to the author's writing than the beginning or the end. first chapters are designed to hook you, if properly written, but the rest of the book might suck. Best to just take the bull by the horns and see what there is in the center in my eyes.
     
  16. Kelise

    Kelise Maester

    683
    42
    28
    I quite like the title to be taken from the book somewhere. Be the final few words at the end of a chapter, or something similar.

    I don't often read the synopsis on the back of the book these days... looking at them for some of my favourite books, they're quite ridiculous, and although they're meant to pull you in... well, these days they're often awful.

    That's a good idea to read the middle rather than the start though. The first few chapters will always be overworked, to impress their agent/publisher/us. Hrrrm...

    And no, the agent/publisher don't choose the title for you - but they will suggest you change it if you've chosen something too similar to another famous work - like Patrick Rothfuss' Name of the Wind was originally called 'The Song of Flame and Thunder' - which they felt was too close to 'A Song of Fire and Ice' by George R. R. Martin.
    Looking back, I can see why he would have called it that, since Flame and Thunder - and songs - are crucial to his story... but I also wouldn't have taken much notice of it. 'Name of the Wind' is a fantastic name, and quite singular.
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2011
  17. No the publisher doesn't title your book for you.. If you have a publisher that tells you they will name YOUR work.... Walk away very quickly LOL. Bry (Mdnight Rising) he got jacked by his publisher. His cover title is his but the art they did and the font they used made it look like a romance novel... Here look for yourself... Now if I'd been there when he was getting published (I still love you Baby >^.^<) This mistake would not have been made -.-
    Amazon.com: Winter Night Falling (9781424191970): Bryan R. South: Books This looks the cover to a cheesy romance novel if you ask me not a good fantasy novel.. Do not let your publisher pick your title, fonts, cover art.. Those should all be a reflection of you and your work not your publishers
     
  18. kjjcarpenter

    kjjcarpenter Minstrel

    82
    0
    6
    Hmm. I've heard of cases where the title is changed by the publisher. And unless it's stated in a contract, they have every right to do so, would they not? Of course, they'd be more than willing to accept your title, I mean, you know what the story is, but I can guarantee J.K. Rowling had no intention for "Philosopher's Stone" to become "Sorcerer's Stone" in America. And Peter V. Brett's novel "The Warded Man" is also known as "The Painted Man". I think it's a matter of "Would your title sell?"
    I do know "The Kingkiller Chronicle" by Patrick Rothfuss was originally titled "The Song of Flame and Thunder". What would you think is the better title? I personally hate the new one, however, it was done as to not confuse the book with "A Song of Ice and Fire" by George R. R. Martin. So it could also be a matter of your title is too similar to another book to be published under that title, remember, the publisher wants your book to be found easily.
     
  19. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

    1,228
    248
    63
    Yes, I've read many instances of the publishers changing the title of a book for the sake of marketing, although they do generally take your title since, you know, why not? Saves them trouble. I don't care much for Kingkiller Chronicle, but I'd side with the publishers on the Song of Flame and Thunder issue. I'd pick a different title entirely (Kvothe Chronicle, even), or just not name the series and just each book individually. Regardless, I get the intention.

    I don't think I would care much if they changed the title of my novel. I'm not in love with any of my working titles (Silent Sempiternity, Underbreath, and The Dust of Dead Desire), and if it'll help sell my novel, go forth.
     
  20. I've read the UK version of the Harry Potter books... The title wasn't all that changed... Most Americans aren't.. Sophisticated enough o_O Or maybe worldly enough to understand the common Brittish tongue o_O I adore foreign to me cultures and dear God if it wasn't for England I'd never had the Spice Girls which I still torture people with e.e But yeah like my cousins... for instance,.... Typical average American... Grade 4 reading level.. And I can say this about my own country cause look at the statistics people >.< Most americans wouldn't have understood the books if they'd been kept in their entire Brittish writing format... I swear my 20 year old cousin only knows what Snogging is cause it was SHOWN before it was SAID in the movies LOL. So I doubt Rawling WANTED it changed, but a simpled change like that.. though THAT title change I don't understand why they changed... Everyone's heard the legend of the Philosopher's Stone -.-, but anyway the Brittish common, to american Common was more then likely accepted simply cause Rawling knew she'd love the americans without the changes. As to publishers, they should discuss with you before changes to any part of your novel are made, THAT is common fact, while they have the authority to change it, YOU have the authority to walk away.. Read your contracts before you sign anything... And Bry.. This is for you too cause if you ever sign another contract like the one you did with those gumball machine morons again I'll disown you >.<
     
Loading...

Share This Page