You’ve just written your masterpiece and can’t wait to get it out there. The only thing missing is a snappy title. A title can sell or doom a story. It doesn’t matter how good the book is, if the title is flat, boring, dull, or sounds like every book out there, readers won’t even bother. There’s plenty to read, so why should they read your book?
So what do you do? Not these….
Character Title Names
You name your book after your character. No, wrong. DON’T DO THAT. Naming your book after your lead character is lazy and bland. I know Carrie is a classic book and all but maybe if it were called Pig Blood Prom ….who knows? As a teen, if I were unfamiliar with an author like Stephen King, I’d probably just keep browsing and go for Books of Blood instead. But if I saw Pig Blood Prom, as a 14-year-old, yeah, I’d be all over it. Stephen King is an author that often uses title characters like Billy Summers and Dolores Claiborne. But guess what? He’s a best-selling author. So I guess by this point he and his publisher can do whatever the hell they want. It’s his name and reputation that sells the books, not the titles. Indie or small-time authors don’t have that luxury. So if your character is called “Frank” please do not name your book Frank.
Also, having your book titled Edward Dickerson and then having your author name “Kimmy Stall” on the cover makes it confusing. Which is which? Is the book about a girl named Kimmy or about a guy named Edward?
Just avoid putting the names of your characters in the titles if you can.
When Can I Put A Character’s Name In My Title?
It works for original names or for a series. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a fine example. It’s a series of 6 books that include Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, but each book also has its own title like Hollow City or A Map of Days. However make note, the series isn’t just called Miss Peregrine.
In the past, I have written books with the title character’s name incorporated in them, Lucy the Satanist, but it's the character AND something else. It’s not just Lucy, which is boring. If you’re going to use your character’s name use it to link a series or add something to their name to make it stand out.
There is nothing I hate more than seeing a book like The Taxidermist that is followed by An Extreme Horror Novella. How lazy is that? If your title, artwork, and blurb don’t cue people into the fact that your book is a horror story, then you’re missing something.
However, I find it’s okay to have Blah Blah: A Novel or Yadda Yadda: A Short Story. Because sometimes people don’t check page counts and think they are buying a novel that turns out to be a short story, or vice versa. But if your book is called Pig Blood Prom and the reader can’t figure out it’s a horror story, you’re doing it wrong.
If you do decide to add “a novel” or “a novella” or whatever to your book's subtitle MAKE SURE your book is the right length. Often times I see short stories marketed as novellas and novellas as novels. This is frustrating for readers who think they are spending $4.99 on a novel only to get a 30k story that they finish in a few hours. LAME.
For future reference:
Short story: over 1,000 words, but usually less than 10,000 words
Novelette: 7,500 to 19,000 words
Novella: 10,000 to 40,000 words.
Novel: Anything over 40,000 words but try to shoot for 50k.
Subtitles or the Case of the Overly Specific Title
Don’t put in subtitles unless you really, really, really need to. Or if you’re on the fence about two titles don’t take the easy route and call it Adventures Of Susan Pipes Or The Curious Haunting On Bagpipe Street. It's long, it doesn’t roll off the tongue, and it’ll take up a large spot on your cover. Which means overcrowding, small type, and just a mess. And everyone will just end up calling it Adventures Of Susan Pipes anyway.
A title can be weird or subtle. It does not have to be apparent to the reader right away. Having a mysterious title makes people wonder what it’s all about. But do try to avoid the cliche of naming your book after one significant line. Like when a character utters a phrase before they die, and they say “Here comes the sun” or something. Sure it might be cool, and sometimes it works (The Shining for example), but most of the time it comes off as lazy or flat.
Your title should clue people into the type of book it is, but it doesn’t have to reveal everything. It should be a nudge that draws them in, catches their attention, makes them laugh, etc…
Research Your Title
Make sure you look up your title before you name your grand work. If you have a book that has the same name as fifty other books, chances are yours will be near the bottom or lost somewhere in the middle. Get an original name. Sometimes you can’t help it and there’s a book or two that has the same name, but just do your best to be original. Your book is unique so give it a unique name.
Don’t Rip Off Popular Titles
This seems to be the advice of numerous indie publishing blogs. They suggest you research the most popular book in your genre and then rip off the cover and the title so that readers of the super popular series will also read your book. I HATE THIS. It is sleazy.
In the last few years, I’ve seen SO MANY books ripping off book series like A Song of Fire and Ice because it was a popular TV show (Game of Thrones) that I want to vomit in my mouth every time I see yet another one. From the Court of Bull and Shit to the Song Of Ass And Hole, I HATE these titles. Do not listen to people who tell you to rip off someone else’s work. It’s lazy and gross.
Your Book Deserves Better
You had the imagination and will to write a whole book. Why give it a shit title? Your book deserves better. Take the time to make sure you give your paper child a name it can be proud of. One that will help it stand out from the crowd without embarrassing it. One that you didn’t steal from the best-seller list and just changed around a little bit to confuse readers. And Christ, certainly not one named
after the lead character, be it Tim, Jill, or Patrick. However, naming a book Jezus or Schizophrenic Firestarter might be interesting or funny, so I guess there is an exception to every rule.