Thursday, March 10, 2011

Good book, bad title

I've been reading a fun little non-fiction book I will be reviewing soon. It is insightful, quirky and worthwhile, but the title is horrible. Seriously, horrible.

This got me thinking about book titles. A Google search of crappy book titles nets some of these:
You Are Worthless: Depressing Nuggets of Wisdom Sure to Ruin Your Day
Book by Whoopi Goldberg
Fart Proudly: Writings of Benjamin Franklin You Never Read in School
The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories
Fancy Coffins To Make Yourself

Okay, now those are really bad. I can honestly say I have no desire to read any of those books. Their titles shot them in the foot for me. Okay, except maybe the lesbian horse thing... I'll admit that pricks my curiosity.

But a bad title can crush a book. Did you know, for instance, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was originally called Trimalchio in West Egg. Do you think this classic would have had the success it did with that title? I doubt it.

The importance of titles to me dates back to my newspaper days when we weren't working with "titles" but "headlines." In newspaper, reporters don't pick their headlines. Instead, layout and design people select the headlines based on what fits. Not necessarily what fits with the story, mind you, but what literally fits in the column widths available on the page. Nothing is more discouraging to a reporter than writing an awesome story and having a clueless layout fella put a lame headline on it.

In the publishing industry, most authors do not pick the title for their novel but have a "working title" they submit with their manuscript. In some cases, as was true with Growing Up Gracie, the publisher keeps the working title.

Because it just might end up on the cover, an author's working title should be good. No, really good. Here are a few books that I have a great desire to read, simply because their titles rock.

Hotel On The Corner of Bitter And Sweet
I've Heard The Vultures Sing
Where The Sidewalk Ends
Winning Mr. Wrong

So, what are some do's and don'ts for title writing. Here is a small list.

1. It must capture attention. For instance, Book by Whoppi Goldberg does zilch to capture my attention.
2. It must match the feel of your book. If I write a serious romance set in the 1920s and then name it, Funny Fredrick Finds Fantastic Friendship, I've seriously shot myself in the foot. Growing Up Gracie, uses alliteration, but still matches the feel and subject of the novel.
3. It must not make readers feel dumb saying it. Now this might not be a criteria for everyone, but for me, it's a serious one. I'll tell you why. At IHOP there is a delicious looking dish called Rooty Tooty Fresh And Fruity. I've salivated over it many a time. Have I ever ordered it? NO! It may be prideful, but I just can't bring myself to repeat it to the waitress. If I'm on the fence about referring a book to my friend, and repeating the title makes me feel like a clown, I'll probably pass.

If you're really stuck, I would suggest finding a good list of current books similar to your genre. See what works. Which titles spark your interest? Which are only ho-hum for you. Also, look for strong scenes, phrases or characters in your novel that would make for a great title.

Good luck title writers. Now it's your turn:

What book titles do you love? What titles do you hate? Any other title writing suggestions?


Bonnie R. Paulson said...

The mood of the story. If it's a funny story don't give it a dramatic title. or vice versus. And make it age appropriate.

How fun! Book, what a stupid title.

Deborah A. said...

I thought "Book by Whoopi Goldberg" was a typo! :)

Sometimes I have to have the title before the rest of the story comes.

I love your new profile picture. For a split second I wondered where I was, and then I remembered you said you weren't blonde anymore.

Diane said...

I must admit the title and cover art are a huge reason I pick a book. Gotta love it even before I open it. :O)

Jolene Perry said...

There's this really, really fun book called Happiness Sold Separately - and as I read, and as I finished - the title wasn't BAD, it just had NOTHING to do with the book. Neither did the cover. Funny.

veiledwings said...

I love the title "Corner of Bitter and Sweet." But that wasn't how it started off. It's working title was "Panama Hotel." Sometimes the publishers/agents get it right :)