In Search Of A Title

“It isn’t easy, coming up with book titles. A lot of the really good ones are taken. Thin Thighs in 30 Days, for example, also The Bible.” – Dave Barry

I agree with Dave. Coming up with a great title is a challenge, and it’s a challenge that I’m currently facing with my latest book, which I’ll get to in a minute.

There are a few different camps when it comes to titling a book. Some writers feel they need that title before they can begin the work. To paraphrase a well-worn cliché, it’s the hook they need to put their hat on. There’s another cohort that doesn’t care about having a title. They plow ahead and let the title present itself later. That’s not to assume they believe a title is an afterthought. They just don’t let the lack of one get in their way.

A lot of writers, I suspect, are like me and fall somewhere in between. For example, when I started my latest work, I chose the title The Right Side of the River, which I felt reflected the book’s theme of the rift between the have and have-nots in a small town. This was the perfect title since the book is loosely based on the town where I grew up, which, coincidently, has a river flowing through its middle.

This was the title that powered me through the writing and revision. But when I turned it over to an editor friend of mine for his first read, he liked the title yet felt it didn’t really do justice to the dark undertones of the book and strongly suggested I search for a new title that more effectively positioned the story with the reader.

We tossed potential titles back and forth a bit before we finally settled on The Shadows Beneath, which more accurately reflects the spirit and mystery of the book.

The Shadows Beneath is the title that led me through subsequent revisions and to the point where I’m ready to submit the manuscript. Now that I’ve run the revision process marathon, I’m totally focused on the title and whether it will effectively sell the book. A great title is one of the best marketing tools, apart from authoring a terrific book, of course. It positions your work with potential agents, publishers, and eventually, your readers.

Another essential group you need to win over with your title is your publisher’s sales and marketing staff. They’re the folks who will either enthusiastically promote your novel to their clients—bookstore buyers and staff—or bury it at the back of the catalogue. They’re looking for a title that sells itself.

Think of the suspense and mystery bestsellers over the past few years. How can we not be intrigued with titles like Gone Girl, State of Terror, or The Midnight Library?  So, while a title is not essential when you’re starting the long road toward that final draft, it’s critical in getting your book into the hands of the reader.

A final thought about titles comes from bestselling author Darren Shan. “Many people think that it is important to have a title before you begin writing the book, but I think you should never sit around waiting for the right title to strike before you start writing. Crack on with the story, put in the hard work, and the title will come eventually.”