Thursday, July 28, 2011

What's in a title?

by Maria Geraci

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Everyone recognizes Shakespeare's famous line from Romeo and Juliet. And in theory, I have to agree with the Bard. What truly matters is what something is, not what it's called. The fact that we've been programmed to think of a rose as beautiful and sweet smelling and a weed as ugly and nasty is part of our own life experiences. The reality of what something is, is mixed with the name we know it by.

Being in the business of writing books that I hope will sell (and sell big) however, I have to give a lot of credence to titles. Titles are a reader's (consumer's) first perception of what a book is and what it's about and can install either a negative or a positive reaction in the reader. If the reaction is positive, then the reader might pick up your book (or scroll down the screen) to find out more about your novel. But if it's negative, your novel might not even get that chance. In this highly competitive market, your book needs all the chances it can to connect with readers. This is why I spend a lot of time thinking about my titles. I admit, most times, I think of my title even before I really know what my book is about. Titles come to me in my sleep or in both my conscious and subconscious thinking in much the same way story ideas do. Even if I don't get to keep my title (this happened to me only once, with my debut book) the title still forms the basis of the story and the story builds on that title. Which might seem kind of backward to some people, but not to me.

So what makes a good title?

First off, it should reflect the story. I really hate when a title seems disjointed from the story it's attached to. A title should also reflect the genre you write in. Big Bad Mother from Outer Space wouldn't be a typical women's fiction title (although on second thought, it does have a certain appeal, but you get my drift.) Titles should be catchy. They should be original yet also have some hint of familiarity that resonates with us. Here are a few novels that over the years have caught my eye based on the title alone:

When Dashing Met Danger   Historical regency romance. It sounds sexy and fun, and it is.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding   Okay, so this was a film, but really. How brilliant is this title?
Good in Bed  One of the best titles ever. Jennifer Weiner, I hate you :)
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet  I've already got a tear in my eye just from the cover and title on this book.
Little Women  I had to put this in here because I love this book so much.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Love in the Time of Cholera   You have no idea how much I want to do a rip off version of this title. Still working on it...
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies  So not everyone loved it, but I did.
The Devil Wears Prada   Great book, but better movie.

I could go on... but you get my drift. What are some of your favorite titles? Have you ever bought a book based solely on the title?


  1. I also have trouble titling my books. When I was particularly stumped with one, I told my editor that I wanted to call it "The Da Vinci Code." Funny joke the first time, but now that's she heard about ten times, not so funny.

    My favorite book, and title, is "The World According to Garp." Don't know why. Just love it. Great post, as always, Maria! Maggie

  2. Hi Maggie,

    Yes! The World According to Garp is a fantastic title. It has all the elements: intriguing, familiar yet different.

    This another one of those titles that I hope to do a rip off of one of these days:)

  3. Oh, Maria, so true! Titles can turn people off as easily as on. I found that out with THE COUGAR CLUB. It was meant tongue-in-cheek, as the ladies in the book aren't stereotypical Cougars (and there's really not that much sex in it either, which probably disappointed some!). People who hadn't even read the book were calling it "filth" and "trash." It really boggled my brain. I know you can't judge a book by its title, but lots of people do (probably the same people who judge other people by how they look). Anyway, titles are SO much fun to come up with. I have to say I love THE UGLY GIRLFRIEND. Made me want to read your book right away (though I guess you have to finish writing it first, eh?). GONE WITH THE WIND, of course, so perfect for the book and so classic. HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET, for sure, and I loved the book as much as the title. GARDEN SPELLS, which was my introduction to Sarah Addison Allen and absolutely captures in two words what the book is about. Ah, so many I'd be listing them all day! Wonderful post as usual, m'dear!!! :-)

  4. So enjoyed Hotel on The Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Can't think of a better title.

  5. "The Guy Not Taken" by Jennifer Weiner... again.

    "How to lose a guy in ten days" - brilliant

    "He's just not that into you" double brilliant.

    And these two deserve kudos simply because they tell you exactly what you are in for "Snakes on a Plane" and "Cowboys vs. Aliens". By both of those titles, I knew right away I was not interested in seeing the movie, BUT I at no point had to ask someone what the movie was about.


  6. Susan,

    Loved The Cougar Club! But I know what you mean;) I got some flak for Bunco Babes Gone Wild and honestly, I loved that title!

  7. Liz,

    I agree :) I hope Jamie Ford writes another book soon!

  8. Nina,

    All fantastic titles. I especially love "The Guy Not Taken." Wish I had thought of that one myself :)

    BTW, I agree about Snakes on a Plane, but I'm totally going to see Cowboys and Aliens!

  9. I just saw this link to a piece at HuffPo about "ridiculous book titles" and couldn't resist sharing:

  10. Oh my. I definitely think "The Joy of Uncircumcising" is my favorite:)

  11. Titles are my downfall. Why else would I have written a book called, What's in a Name?

    Most of my WIPs are called things like, "Book 3" or "Dalton's book."

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  12. Maria,
    Jamie Ford is at work on another book.
    Sadly, a picture deal for Hotel fell through but maybe someday . . . .

  13. The catchier the title, the more hands that reach for the book, I believe that's very true. But I think the cover art is even more important. I always thought GOOD GRIEF was a great title, on the other hand THE HELP didn't do a whole lot for me, though it was a great book.

    I'm impressed that titles come to you before you write the book, it's always the last thing that comes to mind for me!!

    They (powers that be) did want to change BEAUTIFUL DISASTER'S title...came back a few weeks later and said, "We can't come up with anything better..." I'm still not sure how I should take that!?! (-;

  14. Laura, I kept thinking of Kelly Clarkson's "Beautiful Disaster" as I read your book. It's the perfect soundtrack! ;-)

  15. Ah, you have to hear the "live" version to really make it fit. Interestingly, AFTER i came up w/ the title(&wrote the book), my daughter pointed out the song. I was blown away by how the lyrics actually match the story!! Maybe I was channeling Kelly all along!!

  16. I love coming up with titles. It's easier for me to write the book if I know what the titles is when I begin. Doesn't always happen.

    Dispel the Mist came from an old Indian saying and fit the story.

    Angel Lost has a double meaning--and I thought it worked perfectly.

    Invisible Path is another title that came from an Indian quote.


  17. Hi Maria It's the cover of the book that will catch my eye before the title.


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