Friday, April 1, 2011

Trapeze Babies*: Crafting the Killer Title

*not a real book, thank goodness
Titles are tough for me - either they come in a flash of inspiration with the first glimmer of story idea, or I struggle endlessly to come up with just the right words.

The title for my current WiP (Sekrit Middle Grade Fantasy project) was looking like a struggle. My working title, present since the first glimmer, was banal. Like naming a story about a rare pink elephant rescued from the rainforest and brought to the Bronx Zoo, Pink Elephant.

Just...meh.

So what makes for a killer title?

Blake Snyder, in Save the Cat (a fantastic title), comes to the rescue:

  • A great title must have irony (Illegally Blonde)
  • A great title must tell the tale, nail the concept (Hunger Games)
  • A great title is not too "on the nose" 
  • A great title has a touch of brilliance, artful and elegant ... and not generic (Ex: For Love or Money)

With Snyder's guide, it was easy to see that my working title was too "on the nose." So I cobbled together a myriad of options and could see that the ironic ones were the best. I dug deeper into my story to ferret out more ironic pieces and crafted more titles. Still nothing good.

In the end, I read my log line (a single sentence that describes your story) to Worm Burner, challenged him to come up with a title, and his first choice was better than any of mine. So Sekrit WiP now has a new working title. Since I can't tell you what it is, I'll test the title of my paranormal YA novel:

Open Minds: ironic (not obviously, but it is ironic in combination with the log line), tells concept (sort of), not on the nose (yes), not generic (yes, and double meaning). So...okay enough to pass for now.

Of course, a title is easy to change, and an agent or publisher may suggest exactly that, depending on how they market your book. Your novel will succeed based on its story, not the title. But the title can entice agents, editors, and readers to take a closer look, which is never a bad thing.

Once you have your killer title, put it to the test with the Lulu Titlescorer.

The title Hunger Games has a 31.7% chance of being a bestselling title!


Just don't take it too seriously. 

31 comments:

  1. oooh! my working title beat the hunger games at 35.9%! hee hee hee! :P

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  2. Cool post and will check out the Lulu link! I had a nightmare trying to find a title for my debut but it finally came from an event that happens in the last chapter of the book and sums up the whole book perfectly.

    Funnily enough, as soon as I had titled that one, I had titles for my next five books. Was well chuffed! Finding the right title can be so hard.

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  3. Hey! That title of my new book has 59.3% chance of becoming a bestsellar! WHOOT!!!!!!!!!!!

    ~JD

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  4. That's great you came up with a title. And I agree, a good title and a great cover are crucial!

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  5. Great post! I've been trying for oh,maybe a year now to get the right title for Novel #4. Maybe this will help.

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  6. My own working title is clearly "on the nose" as well, but I'm leaving it there, and hoping that writing a great story will convince someone much smarter than me to give it a great title.

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  7. Lulu says my ms has a 44.7 percent chance of being a best seller. WOOT!! Thanks for sharing. Fun post!

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  8. @aspiring I wish you as much success as Hunger Games too!!

    @DU I know, right? It does seem a little magical when it happens.

    @Justine Hey there! And you must have a rockin' title! Awesome.

    @Laura At least the title is (somewhat) in our control, unlike the cover!

    @Andrea Good luck!!

    @Matthew Maybe when you're done, like DU, it will come to you. :)

    @Becky Yay - silly, but fun! :)

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  9. I'm a sucker for a great title.

    And that titlescorer thing is addictive.

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  10. @Bryan I wish I could capture the essence of great-title-making, but I think it's an art.

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  11. hi miss susan! wow this is cool stuff for picking a neat title. im gonna save it. i did the title for the one im doing revising on and for my wip and both got 72 %. on my revise one my cp said i could need a better title and i did a new you. hooray for cps! your title sounds way cool for sure.
    ...hugs from lenny

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  12. I keep hearing agents say that titles are important, not just for their clients but as they are browsing bookshelves too.

    I was amazed by the change from Elana's "Control Issues" to "Possession" - it changed from a women's fiction kind of feeling to something dark and exciting.

    I only have one title out of three so far I'm happy with.

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  13. @Lenny Thanks! Yay for cp's! They are SO helpful.

    @Margo Wow, that's a huge shift. It is amazing what the "just right" word can do.

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  14. I knew my title was bad, but 24%? Ugh, my back-up title did even worse. Blah, I have to work on this. Seriously, I need a title doctor.

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  15. @LG Don't worry about the RoboTitler! I think a better test is to pitch it to a bunch of people and say "What kind of book do you think this title goes with?" and see what they say.

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  16. p.s. Or we could share titles and commiserate! :)

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  17. Love the Lulu link. If I can't pin I title I throw it at my hubby. Then we argue it out and settle on one that works. I love one word titles.

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  18. @Crystal I've noticed the preponderance of one-word titles in YA. Which I actually really like. But I'm still trying to figure out how one word can be ironic (by itself-I think it can easily be ironic in combination with the story).

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  19. Wow! That is so true. I have Save the Cat, just haven't finished it yet. I'll have to find that part. For me, titles seem to come easy. Not sure why.

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  20. Titles draw me in to a book first. So I agree getting the right one is very important. My titles seem to come when the ideas for a story comes.

    Have a great weekend, Sue!

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  21. @Sheri I know who to come to for title-emergency-repair. :)

    @Sharon It does make a difference to me as a reader, too! Happy Weekend!

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  22. Wow, fun! I struggle horrible with titles so I'm curious to find out what percentage my current MS gets!

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  23. @Lindsay If you get a 100%, share with the rest of us!! :)

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  24. Hello fellow friends, i am inviting you all to follow my blog so i can also follow. i do appreciate this blogs. hope to see around. :)

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  25. @Richard Welcome! And best of luck in your blogging endeavors! :)

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  26. I had a blast playing around with Lulu. Hmmm, my titles appear to need a rethink.

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  27. @Leslie - I ended up rethinking my Open Minds title too! :)

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  28. I was just discussing titles with a friend. I find it exceedingly hard to change my title even when necessary. Tricky stuff titles.

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  29. @Lisa I can see being attached, especially if the idea came early in the process, so you've lived with it for a long time. But then, after looking at my Open Minds title, I suddenly came up with a better one. I think. Sigh. This is where I need an agent for advice (someday...).

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  30. I've used this before. It's fun to play with.

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  31. Wow, I forgot about the advice in the book. I'm going to have to reread that section. I suck at titles. :P

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Erudite comments from thoughtful readers