Tuesday, April 21, 2015

My Endless Quest For a Title That Zings

Maybe a rose by any other name will smell as sweet to the likes of Shakespeare, but a weak title will not sell as well to an agent or publisher. No matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise, our manuscript's title is as important as the story's hook. Unfortunately, sometimes finding just the perfect title can be as elusive as finding gold at the end of the rainbow or chasing fairies.

Now you, my fair reader, may be wondering why I'm moaning about something that to you seems of little consequence. Simple, I am struggling, so far unsuccessfully, to come up with a compelling title for my current YA novel. The story is strong, the writing is solid (according to an external editor I hired, so don't worry, I'm not the one attesting to the writing), the characters compelling (ditto to the external editor's opinion), and the setting just different enough to be interesting. Yet still, I'm not ready to send it out.

"Why?" oh you, ever intrepid reader, may very well ask.

Simple, the lack of a title. Just as the loss of nail can lose a battle so too can a bad title sink your chances at selling your novel. Saying this reminds me of an old nursery rhyme:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

This is exactly where I am right now, a solid book without it's name. Since I'm currently struggling with a title, I decided to share my recent research, both through personal experience, and from articles. 

1. Condense your story's theme into one or two words, like Crank by Ellen Hopkins. Great story and obvious what it's about. 

2. Highlight one of the characters, like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Lisbeth is one of the most compelling characters in modern literature, in my opinion at least. 

3. Highlight the setting, like Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Love this book and its prequels and sequel. Too bad his recent works are not very good. 

4. Tantalize with an obscure reference to the ending, my favorite is I Am the Cheese, Robert Cormier. I felt like I solved the hardest puzzle ever when I got to the end of the book and, bammo, understood the title. Love that. Would love to do the same if only I could. 

An excellent title seems so easy one's it's given. Unfortunately for now, such perfection remains elusive to me. For those struggling with similar title dilemmas, I've included links to some helpful articles and a fun, although not particularly useful title generator site.


January Bain said...

Do I hear you! An excellent blog about the dreaded title worries. Seems that this can take up way too much of a writer's time and yet is so important. My title can change numerous times as I try to come up with the best one I can. Good luck!!! Hugs, January

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Your approach is correct. A title is like poetry. It's an image, a theme and an overview in metaphoric words, punchy and poignant.