A Blueprint to Finding a Title for Your Novel

Photo by nist6dh

As many of you know, this autumn Evolved Publishing will be releasing my first novel. The past few months have been a whirlwind of getting to know the Evolved team and editorial work. It’s been an eye-opening experience, and I’m so grateful to have the curtain lifted on this side of the business. But that’s a post for another day.

Parallel to the editorial decisions, there have been discussions about marketing, particularly cover and title considerations. This is a whole new ball game for me. Briefing a cover artist, what?! A title works in tandem with a book cover. They are like a pair of superheroes: Batman and Robin, Superman and Lois Lane, Danger Mouse and Penfold. They work together to attract your ideal reader.

Sometimes a title falls on your lap at the beginning of a project, and you know it is a perfect fit. More often, however, it’s a struggle to do justice to something you have been working on for months or even years. In these cases, a blueprint on how to find a title can be helpful. With the caveat that I’m no expert, I thought I’d tell you about my approach to picking a title.

1. Think first about your ideal reader. Who should your title, together with the cover, appeal to?

I decided my title and cover should appeal to my ideal reader (woman, probably liberal, traveller), hit genre (literary fiction not romance) and mood (dark, thoughtful, exotic), be poetic (suits my style, prefer title to be an idea rather than something concrete)

2. Is there a phrase in your book that you can pluck out to use as a title?

For my novel, we considered Papayas at Dawn or From the Ashes, but ultimately discarded them. Our thought process:

Papayas at Dawn – Papayas are an Indian fruit, the title would attract women, but is it literary enough or clearly literary not romance. Could be a problem that in British English, it reminds me of the phrase ‘handbags at dawn’, which is a play on ‘pistols at dawn’ i.e. men fighting comically, and therefore not the right tone for the book.

From the Ashes – The book’s heroine learns about her husband’s affair at the start of the novel. She lights a match and it all goes wrong. The title fits contextually but for me it didn’t hit the right tone. It would be read as either hopeful or depressing, and I wasn’t sure which.

3. Make a list of nouns, verbs and adjectives that fit your story, then play around with combinations of these that would work well as titles.

For example, for me, for novel 1, mine included:-

Nouns: sacrifice, second chances, selfishness, loss, pilgrim, renewal, shroud, fire, sisterhood, deception, poverty, runaway, freedom, power, truth, tradition, India, sand, justice, cage, stars
Verbs: unravel, undo, redeem, overcome, paint, hide, wash, escape, renew, drift, search, unfurl, barricade
Adjectives: accidental, reluctant, homeless, scarred, spicy, hot, lonely, sacred, bereft, rootless, jagged, heavy

Photo by Cyril Rana

4. Consider whether your title needs to be compatible with other books in a series, or how it might sit alongside future books.

Some series hang so well together, not only through their covers, but through the progression of the titles as the series progresses. Think George R.R. Martin’s books: A Game of Thrones ; A Clash of Kings; A Storm of Swords; A Feast for Crows; A Dance with Dragons; The Winds of Winter; A Dream of Spring. Or my indie author friends Meg Collett and Susan Kaye Quinn. Meg Collett’s The End of Days Trilogy: The Hunted One; The Lost One; The Only One. Susan Kaye Quinn’s Mindjack: Open Minds; Closed Hearts; Free Souls; Locked Tight; Cracked Open.

I write standalone literary fiction. I’d like my titles to sit well together, but they do not need to be connected. We considered The Colour of Love as a title for novel 1 (Jaya paints, title would probably appeal to women and has an innate sense of the changing nature of love), but not only is this title taken on Amazon, but my next standalone novel probably has word ‘colour’ in the title, so it made sense to steer clear of it this time.

5. Check the top 100 Amazon listings for your genre to see what the current fashion is for books like yours, but also a sense of titles which appeal to you personally. This might inspire you, or make you despair about the fact your perfect title is already taken.

The ones that spoke to me: The Art of Hearing Heartbeats; All the Light We Cannot See; The Paying Guests; The Atomic Weight of Love; The Accidental Empress; The Silk Merchant’s Daughter; The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

6. Think about the mood of your book, and listen to songs that match your genre. You may well stumble across phrases that trigger new title ideas.

I found Ford Turrell’s music really spoke to me while I was editing this novel, and I was tempted to play off one of his lyrics for the title of this novel.

Photo by Kathleen Franklin

7. Compile an expansive list of titles that might work for your book, and then compile a long list of options. Don’t forget to include any suggestions by beta readers, your editorial and marketing team.

This is when you go all out and brainstorm (ok, thought shower) all your ideas. Match combinations of your verbs, nouns, adjectives, your favourite titles and lyrics. Be playful. Don’t worry about being wrong or stupid. There will be plenty of time to veto ideas later. Here are my corkers: Labyrinth of Love, Burning for Love (too STD?!), The Weight of Being, Echoes of Time, The Heaviest Stars, Unfurling the Lonely.

8. Always check if your title is taken as you want to avoid confusion amongst readers.

This ruled out a couple of options for me, such as: The Colour of Love; The Reluctant Husband. It’s hard enough finding your way in front of readers. Give yourself the best chance by not competing for attention where you don’t have to. On the other hand, have you noticed how well titles with the word ‘girl’ in it have done recently?: Gone Girl, The Girl on a Train, The Girls, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Trends change, but if you find a way to ride the zeitgeist, hop on board!

9. Transcribe your long list so you end up with 5-10 titles in order of preference and send to a small circle for their comments. If you have time and are brave enough, consider a poll on one of your social media channels. You are looking for gut reactions as well as considered responses.

Here are the considerations I sent to my editors:

Papayas At Dawn – Taken from something Jaya says towards the end of the novel. Papayas are an Indian fruit, the title would attract women, but it is literary enough?
The Love We Keep – something poignant about the love that everyone still holds onto despite partings, the remnants that leave their mark on people, this one is literary, but hints at loss, and would attract women
The Dark Tides of Love – Ganges features a lot in novel, ebb and flow of the relationships within. The Tides of Love is taken
All the Tomorrows – literary in feel, speaks of the passing time, but is it too unspecific?
The Ghost of Goodbye – Referencing the traumas of parting but possibly sounds too chick lit for my novel. Originally a song title I think. Am I allowed to use it?
The Wilderness of Love – let’s be honest, lots of lonely people in this novel. Too romancey?
The Colour of Love – taken on Amazon. Jaya paints, resonates with the changing nature of loves portrayed, but next novel probably has word colour in title
The Vagrant’s Bond – prefer title to be idea rather than something concrete and this makes it about Akash but it is equally Jaya’s story and this is a feminist novel
The Ache of Love – immediately sets the tone as darker than romance, but still pulls in women. Might sound too depressing!

10. Whittle down the long list. Here’s your chance to rule out all the titles which have raised hair or eyebrows. Send a short list to your editor and be open to the responses. This isn’t the time to be precious about your preferred choice. Ideally, there is nothing on the list you hate. Et, voilà, you have your title.

For my novel, it is All the Tomorrows. This was actually the title of my manuscript when I submitted to my publisher. We went through all the steps above, and took a joint decision that it was the title that worked for all of us, and suits the novel more than any of the other options. Your gut instinct is often the best one, but going through the process of widening your choices and refocusing can never be a bad thing.

Time will tell whether All the Tomorrows is a title that resonates with my readers. Selling books is sometimes like the Wild West, in that skill and experience matter, but so does serendipity. Here’s hoping for clarity of thought and a sprinkling of luck.

If you get a chance, let me know your favourite titles: the ones you have read, the ones you picked for your own work, and the ones that have stayed with you.

Onwards, n

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