Some authors find titling their book easy. Others struggle with the process. I’m definitely an “other.” Recently, I went through the surprisingly drawn out process of coming up with a title for my manuscript. Over the past four years, my manuscript has changed names three times; a book syndrome known as, Ye Old Identity Crisis. For two years it was called, Ghost Book, because that was literally the best I could do. Later, I realised all my characters were Haunted by mistakes made in their respective pasts. Get it? Haunted + ghosts = title that works on two levels? Yeah okay, I know, I know. You don’t have to tell me twice. That’s why I changed it.
In brainstorming a new title, I came up with the following method. Maybe it will be help for you too.
- Themes, keywords and symbols
I know this step may seem obvious, but have you actually tried it? If not, you’ll be surprised how quickly that mental road block in your head tumbles down once you jot down all the themes, keywords and symbols that appear in your novel. When I was just thinking about my themes, keywords, and symbols, I came up with about five words. When I answered these three categories in writing, I came up with thirty.
Writers write, right? So, make the stupid list.
Now, if you don’t know what a theme, keyword or symbol is, here’s the break down:
A theme is your book’s topic. It’s what your book is about. What issues are you exploring in this work? Gender, racism, grief, loyalty, family, privilege? You get the idea.
Keywords refers to the words you use repeatedly throughout your novel. They may be characters’ name, locations, important objects (“one ring to rule them all“) or organisation names. If there is a power/poetic phrase in your prose that sums up the heart of the book, consider that too.
Symbols refers to the repeated imagery used throughout your novel. Do a lot of your metaphors or similes compare a character or a circumstance to animals, machinery, elements or an emotional state of being? Are the symbols trying to create a particular mood? If you still can’t recognise any symbols in your work, here’s a list to get you thinking: blood, birds, fire, water, crowns, famous paintings, significant buildings, crosses, colours (red, white, blue etc), repeated or significant numbers, seasons—gees, I need a drink of water…
- Make another list
Now that you’ve got a gigantic list of words, it’s time to start sticky tapping that shit together. Join words, build unique phrases or snappy sentences. Though, I’d recommend going for coherent combinations—it’s important that you do you. The main thing is to come up with as many titles as you can. It’s important that you treat this like a brainstorming exercise; don’t sit there agonising over whether every title sounds good, you’re not going to make this list public! If you censor this process, you’re gonna end up with an uncomfortable case of creation constipation. Keep the pen flowing and jot down every title you can think of, because your gonna need them for step three.
According to my highly educated/totally un-researched estimation, there is approximately one billion, trillion, ka-zillion (??) books in existence. So, chances are some of the titles on your list have already been taken. Once you start Googling your list of names, you might be surprised how many have been snagged by other books, movies, bands or even organisations. If you aren’t reading between the lines here, the reason you don’t want to name your novel The Hunger Game or The Lord of the Rings is because when people Google this name, guess what? Your novel isn’t going to come up.
If your book clashes with a lesser known book, you’re going to have to make a judgement call. Are you willing to risk losing a potential reader because they accidentally bought the wrong book (ie: not your book) online? Just think about it.
- Get a second opinion
If your Googling exercise has reduced your list to a handful of potential titles and you still can’t make a decision, it’s time to get a second opinion. Now, you can ask your family and friends for their suggestions—if they’ve read your book!—but don’t forget about your beta-readers! In many way, your beta-readers’ opinions may be more useful, after all, they’ve read your novel with a critical eye, they’ve engaged with your material in a way that Ma and Pa may not have. Alternatively, if your fortunate enough to have a strong online following, you can always post a pole through one of your online platforms. Ask your readers, who are also your target audience, which title they prefer.
- Speaking of target audience…
If you still can’t pick a title, it’s time to take into consideration your target audience. Don’t know who your target audience is? No need to fret my friend, all you have to do is answer these two questions:
What Genre is your novel?
Or is it a hybrid (a combination of two genres)
If you’re not sure which genre your book fit into, ask your beta-readers or do some Googling. Read through the description of each genre until you find the one that best describes your novel.
What category does it fall into?
Once you’ve figured out your target audience and genre, you may be able to intuitively select the most appropriate title. If not, return to Google and look at other books that are targeting the same audience as you. Checking out the titles other authors have used may help clarify which title would work best for you.
If you still can’t decide, the only suggestion I have left is to sleep on it. Give yourself a day or two and then return to the list with fresh eyes. The perfect title is there. I promise.
Image: Old Books by Moi of Ra