Thursday, May 19, 2011

Does Your Title Raise Expectations?

"Ask your friends what they think (about your title), and then watch their eyes. If their eyes fill with light, it means you've raised their expectations, and they're returning this joy with a tough assignment for you: Write a book as good as that title." --Steven Taylor Goldsberry

I'm excited about being in the querying stage of my middle-grade children's book. I'm excited for the character sketches, journaling, and--yes--daydreaming that I'm entering into for the second book. But I have a nagging question that keeps tugging at the back of my mind. Have I done the best I can on the title of the book now making the rounds?

Does my title convey the essence of the book? Will it help catch an agent's attention, stand out? Is it unique enough? Will it raise expectations for what's between the book's cover?

Knowing that any title goes through many revisions, and most likely will change once it's in a publisher's hands, still--can I make it better now? And if so, how?

From notes I took this week:

Steven Taylor Goldsberry, author of The Writer's Book of Wisdom: "Collect good titles (like good first lines, collecting good titles helps us better recognize what we're aiming for). Practice (writing your own). Stay away from abstractions."
Emma Walton Hamilton, in the blog post, What's in a Title?: "Titles should be catchy, short, appropriate to the material, imply what the story's about, be specific to your book, and be memorable." Some of her ideas include--
           Hidden meaning (revealed in the story).
           Character names.
           Possessive (e.g. Charlotte's Web).
           Memorable line from story itself.
           Something intriguing (e.g. A Wrinkle in Time).

Writers Digest's Jacob Appel's Tips to Land the Perfect Title for your Novel: "Maximize your choices by making a list of at least five different titles before deciding upon one." Also, "don't forget voice and point of view."

Carol Benedict at the Writing Place, How to Choose a Good Title for your Story: "Brainstorm using a key word or phrase that runs through your story...a popular expression related to your subject...a play on words." She also notes, "An effective title should be interesting, convey the tone or central idea of the story, and be easy to remember."

I'm going to take some time here in the next few days to re-evaluate my title along these lines. How about you--any tips for choosing a good title?

p.s. for fun, you might want to put your title to the test. Lulu Titlescorer will analyze it, and rate its chances at becoming a bestselling title. You might be surprised at the results!


  1. The title of my Middle Grade fiction does raise expectations. Hopefully the story will live upto its name.

  2. Titles are hard! I always have a "codename" until I'm finished.

    Thanks for the links, I'll have to check them out. :)

  3. Great post! This is definitely something that's been weighing on my mind lately! Can't wait to try out some samples on the title score link :)

  4. Very nice post! My first two titles were easy and clear. They intrigue without giving away two much, yet get right to the heart of the story. Unfortunately, the WIP I'm simmering right now has two great titles, and I have no experience with that. I'm going to have to sit down with your list and see if I can figure out which is stronger.



  5. Glad I stumbled upon your blog! I've been thinking about this very question.

  6. Hi, everyone :-) Thanks for stopping in...

    Rachna, with all the great tips you share on your blog, I bet your writing will live up to the title!

    Karen, I like the idea of calling the working title a "code name." Takes the pressure off at the beginning of the project :-)

    Jess, hope you got a high score on your title. Wouldn't that be a shot in the arm?!

    Martina, what a great dilemma, to have two good titles. Hope the info' helps you in your decision :-)

    And Kristen, glad to meet you! Thanks for your comment.

    Have a great rest of the weekend, all...

  7. My titles always stink--so this post was one of the most helpful ones I've read. Thank you! I hope you come up with a good one!