Do you struggle with finding the perfect title for your work? After writing a poem/short story/novella/novel, do you know what you want to label your work? A title is your first opportunity to stand out from the rest. A title should hint at what the piece is about, so don’t name a sci-fi piece set on a spaceship Cooking with Marie. A title is a guarantee, a promise, of what the piece contains. This doesn’t mean you can’t use creative titles, but be cautious and test out your title on others first. How do you know that your piece has the perfect title? Well …
- Is the title common?
A quick way to check if your chosen title is too common is with a Google search. When someone is searching for your title and they need to specify the author of the work, you know you’ve chosen a common title. Nothing is wrong with a well-used title, but it means your work not only becomes difficult to find, but it also becomes comparable to the other pieces of work with the same title. Have a browse at your library, your bookshop, or online to determine if your piece has a title is already well-used, and if you then want to stick with it.
- Is the title easy to remember?
If your title is too long or too complicated, readers won’t remember it. Instead, your piece will be known as “the book with the red cover and long name that has something to do with elephants”. If you desire a long title, consider utilising a combination title. A combination title is a two-part title separated by a colon, for example: Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey. The first part of the title is how the piece is commonly referred to, but the second part is descriptive and tends to add a creative flair.
- Does the title imply the genre?
While your title does not need to blatantly state ‘Action’, make sure the title you choose does not suggest a genre too far from the one you offer. A title does not need to provide a preview of your work, but it should also not mislead potential readers looking for a specific genre. Nothing is more disappointing than picking up a book with a cool title to quickly discover the title does not match the contents.
- Is your title the first one you brainstormed?
Have you brainstormed your title or is your current title the only one you’ve considered? If it’s the second option, it’s time to start brainstorming! Maybe work off other titles you already know you like. Figure out why you like them and try to utilise the techniques in your own. The first title you pick more than likely won’t be the one you choose, for instance, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was first titled Atticus. If Lee’s first title was chosen, would the book be as memorable? Likewise, Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice was first titled First Impressions; a much less memorable title. Start brainstorming and get opinions from those you trust!
- Does your title answer your readers question?
A reader might ponder for only a few pages about why a book has a particular title (such as George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is set in 1984), so is your title’s name choice clear within your piece? A title can answer the questions:
- Who is the protagonist? (e.g. Harry Potter is the protagonist in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling)
- What is the date? (e.g. 1812: The War That Forged a Nation by Walter R Borneman)
- Where does it take place? (e.g. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins)
The title does not need to be as blatant as the examples above, but the correlation between the text and the title is clear and does not cause confusion.
- How is your title received by others?
Before your piece is published, your work will have passed through many hands, so has anyone commented on the title? Although some people won’t bluntly state their dislike for your title, their like or dislike is normally notable. Ask for feedback. Does your title cause confusion? Is it offensive? Is it notable? Remember, opinions can be varied so play around with the ideas thrown at you. You never know what new title the feedback could lead you towards!
A perfect title is like delivering the punch line at the right moment: it takes time and practise. Keep a notebook of possible titles, ask trusted friends for their thoughts, and continue writing! Stumbling on the perfect title is similar to rewriting your work: keep going and going until it feels right. There is no time limit or number of possible ones until you get it right. If you are unsure of your title, compare it to the points on this list and see if it helps!