Friday, June 21, 2013

My Kingdom for a Title

Posted by: Nicole Luiken

I admit it, I obsess a little about the titles of my novels.

Why?  Because they are so dang important.  Titles are an author’s first chance to hook the reader--or before the reader, to hook an editor or agent.  (Yes, there’s also the cover art, but in many cases the author had absolutely NO control over the cover of their book.)

In addition to hooking the reader, a title should indicate the book’s genre (or even subgenre).  That’s a lot to cram into a single phrase or word.  Is it any wonder we authors angst about it?

Each genre had its own cadre of power words.  Murder mysteries often contain words like Murder, Death, Die, Kill.  Like Wendy Roberts’ Grounds to Kill.

Fantasy loves words like King, Sword, and Magic.  Think A Game of Thrones or Angela Highland’s Valor of the Healer.

Romance favors titles with words like Heart, Love, and Kiss.  Paranormal romance tends to mix words from the romance pool with those from the horror pool resulting in titles like Loribelle Hunt’s Kiss of Twilight.

A good title can also indicate mood.  Consider J.R. Ward’s Dark Lover and MaryJanice Davidson’s Undead and Unwed.  Both paranormal romances featuring vampires, but they are VERY different in tone, one intense, one light-hearted and the titles reflect that.  R.L. Naquin’s Monster in My Closet indicates a light-hearted urban fantasy.

And then, as if that isn’t enough, we’re expected to come up with titles that match with the next title in your series.  That way your audience can tell at a glance if your new novel belongs to the series or is something new.  This can simply mean using the same word in each subsequent title like Natasha Hoar’s Lost Souls series (The Stubborn Dead, The Ravenous Dead) or it can be a more complicated pattern like Glen Cook’s Adjective Metal Noun—sorry, Garrett P.I.--series (Sweet Silver Blues, Red Iron Nights, Petty Pewter Gods…) or Cindy Spencer Pape’s Gaslight Chronicles (Steam & Sorcery, Photograph  Phantoms, Moonlight & Mechanicals, Cards & Caravans)

Once upon a time I used to be good at titles.  My early books were all published under my own titles: Unlocking the Doors, The Catalyst, Escape to the Overworld, Violet Eyes, Running on Instinct, Silver Eyes, Frost.  When writer friends were angsting over a title, I was often able to suggest a title, often a phrase from the story that I particularly liked.

Alas, I seem to have lost my Title Mojo. *sob*.

My two latest YA novels, When Dreams Come True and its sequel Walpurgisnacht were published as Dreamfire and Dreamline.  My fantasy romance novels, Sacrifice and its sequel Soulless were published as Gate to Kandrith and Soul of Kandrith.

Although it took me a little while to come around—having a publisher rename your book feels a little like having your child suddenly campaign to be called Bobby Joe—I now like the new titles better than the old ones.

My current title-wrestling dilemma is for an alternate history series based on the question What if aliens invaded in 1200 AD?  My first title was Dark Reflection (because one of the characters, Mirror considered herself the dark reflection of her twin Owl).  It then became Razor House (named after a level of the Mayan Underworld) until someone pointed out the title was more fitting for a horror novel.  It’s most recent incarnation is Besieged by Demons, but I’m having difficulty with the title for book two, tentatively Ruled by Gods.  It may change yet again.

Anyone else wrestling with titles?  What are your favourite titles?


  1. I feel your pain! Monster in My Closet was submitted under the name Red Velvet Death. The Carina team changed it, and I absolutely HATED Monster in My Closet. After a few days, I realized how much fun the new, required pattern would be for naming the rest of the series, and I ran with it. But those first few days I was not a happy girl. Can't imagine it titled anything else, now.

    For what it's worth, I totally would have grabbed a book titled Walpurgisnacht. I wouldn't even care what it was about.

  2. Love this post. I like to think I'm pretty good with titles, but I guess we'll have to see what a publisher thinks first!

    Love the 1200 AD idea, good luck naming it!

  3. Rachel, I love the pattern for your series: Monster in My Closet, Pooka in my Pantry, etc. Red Velvet Death is a good title, but I might have assumed it was a mystery.

    Charlie, good luck with your title!

  4. That's exactly what they said, Nicole. It sounded like a cozy mystery. Glad I didn't make a fuss. It all worked out, and now I get to be all weird with my titles. :-D

  5. I hate titles so much that I'm not even going to comment here, because I could go on and on and on about how painful naming a book is...

    Oh. Sorry. I think I just almost did, anyway.

  6. My post for the Carina blog next week is about titling books! It makes me feel better to know I'm not the only one filling out the retitle worksheets:)

  7. I knew my original title for The Fallen Queen wasn't going to fly: The House of Arkhangel'sk. Books 2 and 3, however, were named The Fallen Queen and The Midnight Court. When my editor suggested making those the names of Books 1 and 2 respectively, I was like "Ohhhhh, duh. That works." LOL. Then we just had to rename 3, and The Armies of Heaven just popped out of my head. Meanwhile, the editor liked The House of Arkhangel'sk so much she made it the series title, which I originally had as Queen of Heaven. The only problem is keeping my old files (that I still refer to when working on other books) straight in my head, since 2 is now 1 and 3 is 2 and...yeah. ;)

    1. Oh, boy, that does sound confusing, but at least you got to keep most of your titles.

  8. Titles always give me stress. I've borrowed inspiration from songs for some things but it depends on the tone of the story if that works. Trancehack was originally titled Freaktown, which I thought worked well but I had to do the retitle worksheet thing. I actually didn't mind since I thought, ooh, professional help with an area that always gives me stress! So it worked out for me.

  9. Great post!
    Isn't it crazy how much a single phrase or word can tie our stomachs into knots? How much power such a seemingly innocent sentence can contain? If I were a betting man (and I am ;) I'd put my money on you coming up with another great title. Mojo always seems to come back around...;)
    Thanks for sharing!

  10. You should try to work backward from your titles. Like somebody needs to write a novel set in an alternate history where the Roman Empire lasted into modern times, told from the point of view of a lowly messenger who rises through the ranks...Courier Bold, Times New, Helvetica Italic?


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