Monday, April 12, 2010

Titles Are A Bear -- Or Are They?

Ideally, a title (on anything) should be:
  • unique
  • memorable
  • short (think Twilight, Sanctuary, Black Boy, Rebecca, Rent, Big Love, Lost, Little Women). A big marbly mouthful can work if it's fun to say, such as Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form, or What Narcissism Means to Me.
  • fun to say
  • mellifluous
  • intriguing
  • appealing (that's the sunny version of "intriguing")
  • a summary of the gist of the work
  • accurate
  • informative
  • pleasing to the author
  • indicating contents that many people in many walks of life could be interested in
The correct title often hides out in the manuscript. Scrutinize the work for a phrase of two or three or four words that might sum it up. I like to imagine that I'm naming a song or a CD.

Test potential titles by asking people, "Would you read a book (essay, poem) called....? or would you rather read one titled.... ?"

Google your title finalists. In 2003 there were 4 new books titled Guilty Pleasures. Titles are not copyrightable, so if you want to call your next book Gone With the Wind, no one can stop you, but sharing a title with other books has advantages and disadvantages.

Check to see if there are any other books by that title.

The bigger the project, the more crucial it is to get the right title for it.


  1. One of my favorite titles, when it first came out, was Dave Eggers' "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius." It just seemed so hilarious and ballsy at the time. Now, with all the Eggers-clones, there are copycats in the same vein and it's not quite as funny anymore. But still a great book.

    Titles, for me, are harder to write than the poems or stories.

  2. Thanks, Catherine. Going to bookmark this.

  3. Nice post, something to think about - thanks.