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What Makes a Title Great?


I can understand changing slang and spellings in British novels published in the states, because slang is different across the pond and many Americans may not understand it, or may have the same word for a different thing. The obvious examples are the use of the word "***" to mean cigarette and "tramp" to mean homeless person. Other differences include pavement/sidewalk, motorway/highway, rubbish/trash, nappies/daipers. Changing those is logical. However, it is often one-directional. Many American novels published in the UK don't bother to change such words and sometimes even spellings of words like colour/color, etc for the British audience.

Changing titles for a different audience seems kinda odd. Northern Lights became Golden Compass in the USA and in the film version, though Pullman changed the title of the series from the Golden Compasses (on which the US title was based) to His Dark Materials; now it just seems like a misinterpretation of the device Lyra uses, the alethiometer, and makes the publishers look kinda stupid (imho). It also means that if a reader in the UK recommends a book to a friend or relative in the US (or vice versa), they may never find it because of the different title.


Don't forget fanny. That's a classic.
And yeah, I don't much understand why they only "translate" UK books for American audiences, and not the other way around. In spite of all stereotypes, we generally understand British slang enough to get our way through things like pavement and rubbish. Tramp and the other unfortunate word, though, I get. But only if we're changing fanny for the UK.

Changing the name in a different country can definitely be a pain. About half of the books I owned as a kid were British, because most of my family was British (my dad immigrated to America for his career), so my nonna would send copies of books she liked that were the UK editions, and it could be a bit confusing, although for the most part, by the time I was old enough to read, the internet was catching on and it wasn't so hard to figure out that "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" is called "Sorcerer's Stone" in America, or even anything as difficult as the His Dark Materials back and forth. Google (or AOL, if we're a bit earlier) is your friend, after all.
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Luckily, being Australian, we see both worlds almost equally. True, we stick mostly to UK things (thankfully, as I do prefer the spelling for starters), but we see enough of the US to understand the differences.

I do find it a bit annoying though, seeing things changed to suit the US, but hardly ever the other way 'round.

Ahh well. It's where the money lies, really. But when words are changed to something utterly different, so it'll sell easier... sheesh. I wonder if we as authors, have any power in saying we simply don't want that change?


Title is always the first thing that catches my eye.(But never sells it) This is mostly due to the fact that in a bookstore, the one I've worked at and others I have been to, major retailers, spine the bulk of their stock. I tend to agree with the notion of naming it based upon events, themes, attributes inherent in the novel. I will never chance a book with the name of a character, a pun, or a common romance title like Sins of a Wicked Duke. Okay. So the latter is actually self-defeating, but the problem is I know what the sins are and it's not a blatant disregard for his people.

A locale, an item central to the story, metaphors, etc with slightly more descript titles are more likely to draw me in.
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I can understand changing slang and spellings in British novels published in the states, because slang is different across the pond and many Americans may not understand it, or may have the same word for a different thing.

You think that's bad? There was a movie called "Mad Max" in Australia staring Mel Gibson. It was in English, clear as crystal, but when it went to America, they dubbed it. Yes. They dubbed a movie that was already in English, because they thought Americans wouldn't understand the language.


What I hate is when they remake a British TV show in America and it's identical word for word, shot for shot, just with the actors changed. They did a pilot of the IT Crowd, one of the funniest shows on British TV, which even had Richard Ayoade as Moss (like the original), but with different actors for the other parts. Less funny actors. The woman playing Jen was awful, the guy playing Denholm was Director Vance from NCIS and completely wrong for the role, and the guy playing Roy wasn't even Irish, not even a hint of it, but claimed to be. I don't even know how they planned to deal with Douglas. Only Matt Berry could fill that role. But they never got further than the pilot, which just goes to show how unfunny it was - the British version has had 4 seasons according to Wikipedia, though I've not seen season 4. Have to fix that.


I hate that with any remake, even if it wasn't English in the original version (Ju-On and The Grudge are all but identical - even to the point of some of the original Japanese actors being in the film, and some of the lines of dialogue being in Japanese in the American version; Quarantine is also a shot-for-shot remake of [REC], save for the fact that it is in English). Honestly, I don't understand that at all. Can't we dub these things anymore, or god forbid, read the subtitles?

Anyway, titles. I tend to pick a title relating to a theme in the novel, that is from a poem or quote vaguely relevant to the novel. My working title is The Dust of Dead Desire which comes from a Swinburne poem ("Anactoria"). It works, given the themes of the novel, but I don't know if it is what I'll settle on in the end. I just hate picking titles so, so much. The only title I've ever used an really liked was "Moonglade", but I never ended up finishing that novel, so...


I'm a bit late here, was reading the thread cause I'm having trouble coming up with a title for my book. Still working on that, but I really like the idea of having a quest in the title, something to make the reader think. I'm seeing what I can come up with.

Yes, I would. ;)
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.

They might not really use alchemy themselves, but it's related because the Philosopher's Stone was created using alchemy. It says in the book that the Philosopher's Stone they're after was created by Nicholas Flamel, who is a famous alchemist who has been rumoured to have made it (outside of the Harry Potter series even, this is an old story). And that it can be used to give you eternal life, which is what the Philosopher's stone does. Alchemy might not be a big thing in the book, but it's called that cause Voldemort wants the stone so he can be immortal, and the stone's powers are consistent with how it works in alchemy.

Alchemy itself has two levels. One is the transmutation of base metals into gold, so it was a practical pursuit and an early form of chemistry, but on the second level it is a whole philosophy, and the gold represented eternal life and wisdom. So the creation of the elixir of life, or the philosopher's stone, was meant to achieve this. It's not too closely related to how magic works in Harry Potter, but it's a human art after all, and there's nothing really stopping the two from overlapping. Would be similar to potion making in a way.

As Starconstant pointed out to me though, calling it the Sorcerer's Stone is a bit misleading (and that name has always annoyed me even before the book) because sorcery is a vague term and alchemy is its own thing. And honestly if I were American I'd be a bit offended about the changes - and I know American's who are actually. I didn't know the British slang when I was young either, but I learned because movies and books in Australia don't take them out. Most of it you can pick up via context, and what you can't you look up. And I always liked doing that, cause I like learning about other cultures. It's a shame not only that the US is denied that, but also that publishers assume they're incapable of figuring things out so it has to be localised or dumbed down. Seems a tad insulting.
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Also, think about words that have multiple meanings. I was talking to my sister once about the tentative title for a book I was working on, in which a culture's fate is determined.

"I'm thinking 'The Seal of Doom'", I said.
She burst out laughing. "What, does it take place at a zoo?"
"No," I answered indignantly. "A seal--like you know, a seal on an envelope?"
But it was a lost cause. She started clapping her hands together and going, "Oart, oart, oart!"

Yeah. Words with multiple denotations--not a good idea. :)


This is a good topic.

Generally I like it when a title comes from lines of dialogue within the book itself. Something poignant or a point that is at first confused by characters and means something else entirely.

I wish I could think of examples but I'm drawing a blank at the moment.....


Myth Weaver
I quite like the title of my vampire novel WIP, Low Road. It's a reference to a Scottish folk song, Loch Lomond, which you might recognize ("Ye'll take the high road, and I'll take the low road, and I'll be in Scotland afore ye..."). Though Loch Lomond itself doesn't feature in the novel at all, it is set in Scotland, and the protagonist does walk a metaphorical "low road" a well as a literal one -- the low road in the song signifies death, and the protagonist, being a vampire, walks that path in the first chapter when he is killed and rises from the grave. The literal road he walks on during the course of the plot leads him to a very literal low place, an underground city full of other vampires.

I hope to possibly write a sequel or a prequel with the punny title of High Stakes -- stakes being a common method of vampire killing in Western folklore, and also referring to the metaphorical gambling the protagonist will have to do to preserve what's left of his humanity: when surrounded by vampires who feed from humans, how can he work to preserve what's left of his human soul while trying to live peacefully among them? When faced with temptation to drink human blood himself, will he succumb or resist? That kind of idea.

Agran Velion

I've always felt the Title's main purpose should be for me to pick up the book. I've always liked Titles that make me go "What the hell?" when I'm looking in a bookstore. There are countless books there and most only have their spines seen, so a good title is really what makes me investigate the book. I like short, snappy titles, usually that either leaves a question in my mind, or (even better) makes me have NO IDEA what the book's about.

"The Duke's War" Okay I'm guessing there's a Duke and a war somewhere in there.
"Deafening Silence" -Wait, what? How is that possible! *Picks up book*

Although I feel that the cover art is far more important to selling the book than the title. I remember glancing at a "A Game of Thrones" COUNTLESS times, but never bothered picking it up because the cover-art (A simple sword) did not interest me.

So to me, the title (and art)'s main purpose should be to sell the book. I can discover the symbolism and theme once I actually read the book.

Sorry for random jumble, I haven't had my coffee yet.