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Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Writing tips – Book titles

Many writers struggle with finding a suitable title for their book. Just browse the book shelves and you’ll see the variety. Some stick in the mind, while others don’t. You might be contemplating writing a series, so immediately it would be a fine idea to have the titles linked for the series.

Nora Roberts, writing as J.D. Robb has the word ‘Death’ in her near-future series.

John D. MacDonald used a colour in his Travis McGee titles.

And Simon Brett uses alliteration in his Fethering crime series, viz:

The Body on the Beach, Death on the Downs, The Torso in the Town, Murder in the Museum, The Hanging in the Hotel etc.

The following is an extract from Chapter 6 of Write a Western in 30 Days.
The title of your book should attract the reader’s attention and even provide sufficient intrigue so that the cover will be turned over and the first page will be read. If the cover and title do that, it’s done the job. Of course, it helps if the title is memorable!

The title should be one or all of these:
Phrased concisely

Expressed in concrete terms – not abstract ones

Able to arouse curiosity concerning the main character’s predicament

Often, the ideal method to conjure up a suitable title is to fasten on an aspect of the book’s conflict.
A turn of phrase that sums up the underlying theme might work, too.

Or play on the words: Blind Justice at Wedlock was about the hero being blinded and seeking justice. I couldn’t simply use Blind Justice, as that title was already over-used. There is no copyright for a book title, but it pays to check that your title hasn’t just been released into the marketplace. If it was used several years ago, then that’s not a big problem, but if the title is recent, then it can cause confusion. It might also suggest that it’s not particularly original.

Sometimes, a phrase from a quotation might serve. Beware of using quotations from individuals who have not been dead for at least seventy years – they’re probably still in copyright and you might need to get permission to use the quotation. Prolific author E.V. Thompson’s story about early Texas, Cry Once Alone (1984) used this title from a lengthy quotation of Comanche Chief Ten Bears.    

Generally, one-word titles rarely work in the memorability stakes. If there hadn’t been a film featuring Paul Newman, would Elmore Leonard’s book title Hombre be as memorable? Probably not. One-word titles don’t evoke any image in the mind’s eye, particularly if they’re abstract – hence, the recommendation to use concrete terms.

Yet, to contradict that observation, they’ve always been popular with western writers – not least, Louis L’Amour: Brionne, Callaghen, Catlow, Chancy, Conagher, Fallon, Flint, Hondo, Matagorda, Shalako, Sitka, and Sackett, among others, so perhaps it’s the exception that proves the rule? If the title is a character’s name or the town’s name, it might work.

In the end, maybe it comes down to personal preference. But don’t always go for the simplest option – the character’s or the town’s name.

Sometimes, the theme is significant and can be used for the title, as long as it isn’t too abstract.

Indeed, the title might depend on whether or not you’ve decided to write about a series character. That may dictate a slightly different approach to selecting a title. Oliver Strange’s character Sudden, for example, started out with the book The Range Robbers (1930) but was followed by Sudden (1933) and six more with the Sudden name in the title.

Don’t get bogged down thinking about a title. Quite a number of authors simply use a ‘working title’ just to get started, feeling sure that by the time the book’s finished, a title will come to mind.

E-book from Amazon com bought from here

E-book from Amazon co uk bought from here

or paperback post-free world-wide from here

On this book has eight 5-star reviews and two 4-star reviews; on it has an additional three 5-star reviews.

This book is a very useful guide for anyone wanting to write genre fiction – that is, any genre, not only westerns. Those aren’t my words, but the opinion of reviewers on Amazon.


Nancy curteman said...

Good suggestions for determining an appropriate title. I'll be ready for one in a few months.

G. B. Miller said...

In hindsight, I probably should've came up with a different title for my erotic novel than what it currently has.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), I'll have a chance later this year to rectify that particular problem.

Nik said...

Good to hear, Nancy. I think your 'Murder' titles work well, particularly the latest, 'Murder Casts a Spell'.

Nik said...

George, if you're going to another publisher it's always a good idea to change the title (though let readers know it was previously published under its original title, of course). I didn't do that for Spanish Eye, but would do it for any other title...