Thursday, 12 April 2018

The problem of titles

Do you have problems choosing titles for your books or stories? Or problems remembering the titles of books you've read? I've recently had problems with both. Two of my novels have recently had to have new titles (the old titles were too misleading), and this has proved problematic to say the least, one at least being a compromise. I have just read a brilliant novel,  wonderfully written, and for the life of me I cannot remember its title. It just isn't memorable, and  I can't believe I'm the only reader who's had this problem with this particular title. On the other hand, some titles stay in the mind for ever. Who can forget "The hundred year old man who jumped out of the window and disappeared"? A long title, certainly, but not one that's easily forgotten.

 Choosing short story titles doesn't seem to matter so much as the reader will probably read the story once, and then move on, especially if it's a magazine story. But a novel takes its name on a long journey (you hope!), so it has to be a title that stays in the mind of the reader. Otherwise how can he recommend it to anyone else?

Do you have trouble thinking up or remembering titles? I'd love to know.

13 comments:

  1. I agree titles are important and I'd like to add another question: If you see or hear a title, does it make you remember the book? I keep a list of books I read, and when at the end of a year I look back on it, some titles don't ring a bell at all.

    Seeing the new covers of your books here, I have to say I feel the old titles were better. If I saw the new covers without your name on them, I wouldn't have a clue. Whereas with Dead Ernest, I would. And the same applies, I think, to the abandoned titles of your other two books. - But who knows, maybe for some other readers it will be other way round? Wish you luck!

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  2. DT, I too keep a list of books I've read, and like you, have no idea what some of them were about.

    As for my books, Basic Theology for Fallen Women attracted people who were interested in...theology. And The Birds, the Bees and Other Secrets attracted people wanting to learn/teach about sex - not my idea at all! I preferred the old titles, but understood that they had to go. Sad. I now have a fourth novel to name, and haven't a clue what to call it (working title: The Virgin of the Hen House. Don't ask!)

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  3. Like Monica, I liked the old titles (and cover illustrations) better. But I can understand how some readers would have expected something entirely different from the former titles; they didn't have the benefit of knowing your blog or reading the blurbs, probably (I wonder at this, honestly - does anyone really buy books just because of their title, without trying to find out more about it first?).

    It truly is funny how sometimes we remember a title much better than another one without really knowing why. The human mind is certainly fascinating!

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    1. Meike, I Liked the old titles too, but they were ambiguous. As for the covers, it was decided that all my books should have similar designs. But I loved the old covers, too.

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  4. I have to admit I haven't read any of your books (yet), but I don't understand why you had to change the titles. Surely the fact that they were bought by people who were stupid enough to mistake them for something completely different can only have been good for your sales?

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    1. Tim, it wasn't only that the titles were attracting the wrong readers; I think they were also putting off the right ones. My very religious brother in law nearly bought Basic Theology for Fallen Women (now Women Behaving Badly), and he would have been terribly shocked!

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  5. I've never had to think up a title which, given my total lack of imagination, is a Good Thing (Apologies to Sellars and Yeatman, 1066 And All That - very memorable). Titles are obviously very important but what the recipe for a good title is I have no idea. Brevity? (Dead Ernest, Anna Karenina, The Idiot), Length? (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time), Description (A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian - which, of course has nothing to do with the history of tractors in Ukraine or in Ukranian). I could go on but I suspect that, by now, no one is reading.

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    1. All the titles you mention are memorable, Graham. I think they need either to be very short, or in memorable/intriguing phrases (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is another good example). My publisher has opted for short!

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  6. Glad Dead Ernest hasn’t had a name change. It’s the best title ever!

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    1. Thanks, Wendy! How do you decide on your titles?

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  7. Maybe it's just who-dunnit fans, but sometimes people do recommend writers rather than just one of their books.

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