Talking about Titles

In many of my manuscript critiques, I discuss the importance of titles. As a matter of fact, the only part of a story posted for my Picture Book Peek Weeks is a working title. I understand that titles submitted are often not finalized – maybe a first thought or afterthought. Perhaps the writer intends to go back and spruce it up later. But some writers refuse to put much effort into titles. Why waste time when an editor will probably change it?

Remember the old saying? You only get one chance to make a first impression? Well that can apply to titles too. When it’s time for submission, consider brainstorming your best title. It’s not only a nod to your creativity, but more importantly, it’s a promise of the story to come.

Consider books you might pull from a shelf based on the title alone. That’s the first step. A great title, gets readers to take notice. But what about its story promise?

Let’s say you approach a Victorian home with exterior trim and shutters painted in whimsical colors. What might you expect to find inside? What if you knock on the door, because you love all things Victorian and you adore the playful exterior, but when you enter you find stark, modern, white rooms and contemporary furnishings? Would you be disappointed? Would you have to regroup? Would you want to look further?

Here’s an exercise. Think of three or four titles for your story. Then, with your title alone, approach a variety of readers who know nothing about your story and ask them to guess what it’s about. Don’t look for an exact plot match. That might be a little creepy. But look for the first impression your title gives as far as tone and premise. Will it be humorous? Sentimental? Dark? Listen for expectations that stray far from the core of your story. That might be a clue that your reader will have to work too hard to get over their initial expectation and that your story – even if well written – might disappoint.

I’m not saying that a title will make or break a book deal. But in this competitive market, why not put your best writing out there – right from the start?

Jessica at Bookends Literary has a great post about the importance of titles and the September 2009 Writer’s Digest features “The Art of Entitlement.” Need help coming up with that perfect title? Picture book author, Tammi Sauer, tells you how.

Or for feedback on your title, post it here and see what my blog readers have to say.

A final thought: A few editors have tuned into my blog. Could your Picture Book Peek Week title catch an editors eye?

6 Responses to “Talking about Titles”

  1. Anna

    Hm, interesting idea for an exercise. I'm terrible at titles so I try not to worry about them too much until a project is done. But my current WIP is called THE WIELDING.

  2. Jean Reidy

    Tammi, thanks for the link. I'm going to add it to my original post so that readers can link right to it.

  3. allegore

    I love titles! I love reading them, creating them, changing them. ahem. Here are two of mine from (very) different PBs:<br /><br />FAR ABOVE<br /><br />DON&#39;T CALL ME FLUFFY

  4. Jean Reidy

    Ooh! THE WIELDING, I&#39;m guessing, is a dystopian, disturbing YA. I&#39;d be cheating if I guessed on FAR ABOVE because I&#39;ve read the manuscript. DON&#39;T CALL ME FLUFFY sounds like a humorous picture book about a cat or rabbit who&#39;s unhappy with his nickname. Am I close, folks?