What’s in a title?

No two ways about it, book titles are important. They always have been and that won’t change any time soon. I’ve forgotten the names of my friends, the university I attended, and my own birthday, but I have never forgotten my favourite book titles:

The Forever War
The Hydrogen Sonata

And though I’m not a huge fan of Fifty Shades of Grey, I love the title for being both poetic, evocative and memorable. (Admittedly, that was before discovering that the male lead was called Grey, then it somehow seemed a little less clever.)

In ancient times when people bought books from shops, the book’s title had to capture someone with little more than a passing glance, and the title had to fit on the spine because only the best sellers could be seen face on. Each book competing with thousands of others just to be noticed. Now, most buyers use Amazon where a book will be competing with hundreds of thousands of others just to be found. And so the book title has taken on an even greater significance, along with the keywords and tags that you can attach to the book to help guide potential readers towards it. I’ve seen some clever tricks used to elicit the attention of the Amazon search engine: dropping the name of a similar, more popular book in the keywords, using another author’s name or book title in the tags. The thing about Amazon is that it’s not really a bookshop you pop into for a quick browse during your lunch break; chances are that if you are on the Amazon site looking for a book then you have a pretty good idea what you’re looking for, even if you don’t have a specific title in mind. In this case, a simple, straightforward title that leaves nothing to chance might be your best option:

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The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories

Okay, that’s a little extreme, and yes, I’ve been looking for excuse to drop that cover on the blog for quite some time, but it does illustrate a point: that title is no-nonsense and the cover design tells you immediately that you’re looking at a pastiche/parody of fifties erotica. You’re not expecting a literary tour-de-force (though it might be), but you might be in for a decent read and a bit of a laugh.

In my own writing, I don’t usually have a title until the first draft is completed. I usually pick an idea, or a notion or an image from the book and settle on that. Now, I’m wondering if I should have a title before that, perhaps before I’ve even started writing on the book. The title is the draw, and if I don’t have a good title from the outset then do I have a marketable book later on?

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