How To Write A Novel: Step by Step,  Reading,  The Writing Life,  Writing

What’s in a Title?

In my work-in-progress, I seem to be hesitant to give my manuscript even a working title. Why is that?

I always thought that the title needed to say something significant about he story. The essence of the plot in a few words. Anne of Green Gables, follows the life of the orphan, Anne, from the time she arrived at Green Gables, for example. I picked Winds of L’Acadie, for my first novel because, through the magic of the porcupine quill box Sarah found at her Grandparent’s house, winds transported her to Nova Scotia at the time when the Acadians were about to be deported from their homes. Not the most imaginative title, but not bad. In my second novel, Kami slips through time via a journal she finds in her grandparent’s historic home in Edmonton, Alberta, so… you guessed it. I called that story The Journal, which, sadly, is a most uninspired title. I wish I had given the title more thought before submitting it for publication. As a working title, The Journal, is fine. For attracting interest on a bookstore shelf? Well, I’ll let you be the judge!

In studying recent popular teen novels, I’ve realized that the title need not be closely connected to the story. It appears to be more of a teaser–something to grab the reader’s attention. The title is a marketing tool. Emma Lord’s Tweet Cute, has the advantage of relating closely to the plot (the story revolves around a tweeting war), but also hints at a meet-cute and piques the reader’s interest. In Emma Lord’s novel, You Have a Match, the story was not quite what I was expecting based on the title, but there is a pun at play here, and the title does its job of getting you wondering who is looking for a match. Today, Tonight, Tomorrow is literally how long the story takes. If I had written the story, I’d probably lean toward using the name of the end-of-high school game the two main characters were playing during the course of the story. The fact that this, more literal choice, is not the title, has me analyzing what kind of titles sell books–at least contemporary teen books. Instant Karma, of course, is a great title. It doesn’t matter whether it is the main plot or a subplot, everyone loves the idea of being able to dish out some instant karma on occasion! But that definitely won’t fit my WIP!

The working title can be anything. For a while, I was calling my work-in-progress, IMAGE, which is the name of the school where much of the story takes place. It is bothering me a lot, however, that I don’t have a marketing angle for my story. I know I should be spending my time writing the best book I can write. That, I have been told, is the most important. At the same time, in the back of my mind, I feel that having a marketing angle to the story is also important.

A recent best-seller in the Young Adult contemporary genre, Love and Gelato, underscores the significance of the marketing angle. The story takes place in Italy, thus the gelato reference. And it is a romance. My daughter wanted this book based purely on her love of gelato and the adorable cover that would look super-cute on the shelf in her bedroom. Do I believe that’s why many teens bought this book? Absolutely. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a cute story. But if it had a different title and a different cover, would it still make the New York Times bestseller list? I guess we’ll never know.

Still, in answer to, what’s in a title, I’d say a lot.

What do you think? Do you choose a book based on its title? How much does the title influence what you are willing to try? You can leave your thoughts in the comment section or send me an e-mail. In the meantime…

Happy reading! Happy writing!

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