Sunday, July 22, 2012

What's In a Name ... or a Title For That Matter!

Photo by Andrzej Gdula

Choosing names of places and characters has always been a challenge for me. Some I admit will resonate only with my family, a family name became the name of a local manor in my first book and the condo where my parents lived was another manor name. They both sounded so … English.
Character names are a challenge too. My kids, well my daughters, rolled their eyes at my hero’s name in Knight of Runes, Arik. Their brother is Ari. They accuse him of being the prince anyway so they were not surprised. If they look close at the heroine of the story, Rebeka, they may be surprised to see some essences of themselves. (Only the good things I assure you!).
Sometimes I can agonize for days over a name. I research lists of common and not so common names. What I find the most helpful is a deep understanding each character. When I came up with a name for my villain in my new story he stopped me cold with a glare and an acerbic, “Really!” He looked down his nose at me. After thinking about it I had to agree with him. I continued my search and was happy with the result.   
The book title is a totally different story. My working title is Mine Forever. The words are significant to the story but for a medieval fantasy it just doesn’t work. I sent the story under this name into my editor. Carina Press will be publishing it but it needs a title change. This story is part of a five book series, The Stelton Legacy. That part of the title I got. Once again I struggle with the book title. I remembered reading a post of the Futuristic, Fantasy and Paranormal (an online chapter of RWA) blog about book titles, Creating Compelling Titles. Once again I was in the same boat as Anne Marsh. I’m re-reading her post.  It’s a good read. I’ve included it below.
My editor sent me a worksheet to help me and the Carina team develop a more compelling title. Aside from the obvious genre, timeframe, and setting other questions included:
  •       Key hooks, themes, and concepts
  •       Key actions and conflicts with corresponding key words
  •       Keywords
  •       Objects and symbols
  •       Favorite line and/or description
No, I haven’t come up with the new title yet but I’m working on it. I’ll definitely keep you informed. Here is the short story concept. Feel free to suggest a title.
In thirteenth century England, Alex Stelton finds his life in jeopardy after the king awards him Lisbeth’s cursed castle. Someone, or something, wants him dead. The knight’s trusted friend, Bryce Mitchell, secretly wants it all, the castle and the woman. He’ll stop at nothing to get them. Even set up the King’s favorite as a traitor. In order to save the man she loves and prevent being married off to Bryce, Lisbeth must make a crucial decision. Dare she rely on her knight to find a way to save them both or does she trust her magick and risk exposure and persecution as a witch?
Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at the FFnP Blog
Guest blogger Anne Marsh

Titles were originally an afterthought for me—a handful of words that got slapped on my book right before I shipped it off. At best, the title was a convenient shorthand for picking out my current WIP from its fellow computer files. I wrote the Cat book. Next, I wrote the Goblin book. And the Amazon book. When, as an unpublished author, I decided to send a handful of manuscripts off on the RWA contest circuit, I simply had to give the blasted manuscripts better titles, so I sat down and considered the key elements in the book: my Cat book was sexy, with a big, shapeshifting hero. Plus, an erotic hunt figured prominently in the book. I came up with ”Caught by the Cat” and patted myself on the back. As titles went, it was marginally better than “The Cat Book” (which sounded like it should be coffee table fare filled with pictures of the African savannah). And, alliteration had to count for something—right? Since “everyone” knows that New York always changes your title, I figured the title didn’t really matter (besides, I had this fabulous midnight epiphany that I’d call the next books in the series “Claimed by the Cat” and “Charmed by Cat,” although, after that, I’d probably have to end the series as I’d already run out of words that began with the letter “C”).

I was wrong.

I didn’t know squat about titles.

“Caught by the Cat” sold to an editor juding the Orange Rose contest. Soon after I sold, however, my editor gently asked how I would feel about changing the title. She wanted to find something edgier, something that packed an erotic punch. That sounded great to me—right up until she asked me to brainstorm a list of possible new titles. Fortunately, I was able to brainstorm with both my agent and my editor—and we ended up going with one of my editor’s ideas.

Why do titles matter? First and foremost, a title makes the reader look. A good title conveys the flavor of a book in just a few words. My agent said that “The Hunt” jumped out at her and would make her pick the book up from the shelf (score!). It also shrieked “Alpha male!,” which was our goal. Strong. Forceful. Sexy. Just like my hero.

A successful title also connects the books in a series. Repeated words, elements, or themes work well. For example, we could have called a trio of shapeshifter books: The Hunt, The Game, and The Breakpoint. Instead, we decided to play with variations on a hunt: “The Hunt,” “The Pursuit,” “The Capture. Always think ahead: how would you pitch the next book in the series? How will you tie them together.
Things to consider when you’re coming up with a title for you book:
  • The title needs to be short and to the point—it has to fit on the cover of a book and the graphic designer creating your cover doesn’t need the challenge of a five-line, polysyllabic tongue twister.
  • The title should hint at the tone of your book. Is the book dark and sexy? Sweet? Hero-centric or focused on the heroine?
  • The title of the book should also serve as a hook for the series (unless you’re truly planning just one standalone book). You may also want to brainstorm a series name -- especially for FF&P-ers, this is a      fabulous place to introduce your world-building.
  • Keep an open mind and get feedback from as many folks as possible. A truly successful title is marketable and hooks in as many readers as possible… so you want to get impressions from as many people as possible. What do they think of when you say your title? What kind of book would they guess the book is? What adjectives come to mind? If your beta readers are thinking “Oooh! Dark and sexy!” but you’re writing light paranormal—or vice versa—you need to rethink the title.
  • Search (Amazon is a great tool). Has anyone else used that title? It may not be a deal-breaker if someone else has used “your” title (the title I proposed for my forthcoming sexy contemporary, for example, was apparently used by an anthology a few years ago, but my editor wasn’t too concerned as the other book was an anthology).
There are lots of great titles out there, titles that make me go “Wow. Wish I’d thought of that!” The titles for Jacquelyn Frank’s Nightwalkers series, for example, let you know loud and clear that, when you crack those covers, you’re going to read about strong, forceful alphas. Jacob, Gideon, Elijah, Damien—these are forceful, honorable, no-nonsense Biblical names. Kathy Love, on the other hand, writes fabulously funny, sexy paranormal and her titles convey that message clearly– “Truth or Demon”, “What a Demon Wants”, “Fangs for the Memories.” Rebecca Zanetti’s two books—“Fated” and “Claimed”—use strong adjectives describing the relationship between the hero and the heroine in some very sexy terms. And, Karen Kelly’s books (“The Jaguar Prince,” “The Falcon Prince”) are tied together by the fact that her heroes are princes and shapeshifters.  Each title reflects the different stories we’re going to find between the covers and draws us in, hinting and promising at what we’ll find. I’ve picked up more than one book based on the title alone because I love the kind of story line the title hints at (cough—Karen Kelly—cough). The next time you’re naming your book, think about what kind of story you’re promising your reader—and what message you want to convey.
A professional technical writer, Anne discovered that getting laid off was actually A Very Good Thing. While looking for her next writing gig, she picked up her pen (well, okay, she used her writing as an excuse to buy a new Apple laptop) and started writing. She soon discovered that writing was uncomfortably similar to sit-ups: add a few more crunches each day, wake up sore, but, by God, you will fit into that bikini. Or finish the book (she’s still working on the bikini). Now she cranks out software manuals during the daylight hours– and writes about alpha shapeshifters the rest of the time.


  1. LOL - I've completed that Carina sheet and went through about a month of trying to think up titles. The first lot were rejected, and then the second list. Finally, they went with my original title. I kid you not!

    I've found if my first title sticks all is good, but if the title is rejected headaches will commence! :)

  2. I always have a hard time with titles for my artwork so I feel your pain. :)

    You've probably already thought of these, but...

    Magick's Knight
    Magick's Cursed Knight
    Magick's Betrayed Knight
    Magick's Eternal Knight
    A Knight's Curse
    For the Love of a Knight
    To Save a Knight

    That's all I've got, I'm afraid. haha. Good luck with the name!


  3. I'm so not good with titles...mine are "of the Nile", which of course is similar to titles by other people, but it does give the Reader some indication what they'll be reading LOL. My science fiction novels were all going to be "Mission to..." except now I've published the first one with a totally different title going on! Enjoyed the posts!

  4. I always thought I was good with titles, but pubishers never agree, so I'll subside quietly--good luck!

  5. Titles are sooo hard! I don't like my latest, but couldn't come up with anything better that the publisher liked.
    How about The Shelton Dilemma?

    Sandy B