Four tips to choosing a book title
Choosing the right title is an art. Sometimes, titles come in a brilliant flash of insight. Sometimes, not. I write poetry so I’ve had years of practice with titles. With most poems, I can usually find an intriguing title fairly quickly. Not so with my memoir. I’ve spent hours and hours and hours trying to come up with just the right title. In the process, I’ve discovered a few things to think about when choosing a title. But first, I’ll share some of my title failures and why they failed (no laughing out loud!)
My memoir is the story of how, as a child, I used the intuitive gifts inherited from my Norwegian great-grandmothers to transcend my father’s dark legacy. Below are the titles I’ve used along the way, in order of appearance. (I’m sharing the bad first so you can see how I learned from my mistakes).
The Language of Thorns. Okay, yes, I’m a poet. This shows it by being too literary and dramatic.
The Lost Boy of Lemolo. I grew up in Lemolo and the lost boy refers to my father and to his foster sons. The title sounds too much like a poster for a missing child. Also, after several drafts, the main theme in my memoir shifted focus. My title needed to change with the story.
Born into Shadows. Here I was trying to reference the epigraph of my book and the theme of other worlds. The title is too dark (literally).
Runner Between Worlds, a memoir. Finally! A title that isn’t too dramatic, dark, or literary and fits perfectly with my main theme.
Some of the things I learned along the way:
1. Make a list of your favorite titles by other authors. This will help you see what you like. Now, examine them. Do they contain nouns, verbs, adjectives, other parts of speech? Some of my favorites are: The Secret Life of Bees, The Lovely Bones, The Memory of Running. I seem to like unusual juxtapositions.
2. Make a list of strong or unusual nouns and verbs that reflect the themes in your work. See if there’s a way to combine them to make a unique title. Try this experiment: write each word on a small slip of paper or type your list, then cut it up. Place your nouns in one pile. Verbs in another. Now mix and match the words.
3. Name your piece as soon as possible. But be prepared to change the title. Giving your piece a name will give you a direction and a shooting off point. Each bad title I chose gave me more grist for my memoir: the power of words to harm, the theme of lost boys, etc. Most importantly, I was willing to change the title to make it fit my story.
4. Ask for help. I brought title ideas to my writing group one night. Instead of reading my work and having it critiqued, I asked them to help me brainstorm titles. Even though this didn’t ultimately lead me to my best title, the brainstorming was a great experience.
For more tips on choosing just the right title, read Carly’s post here.