Thursday, September 15, 2011

Falling in the Love...with the Perfect Title

by Leah Hultenschmidt, Senior Editor

You know those books that have such a clever/intriguing title you want to read it without knowing anything else about it? Talk about love at first sight.

We talk a lot about how important a cover is, and that process is a great topic for a future post. But editors don’t have the benefit of a gorgeous cover to suck us in when we’re first reading a manuscript or proposal. If we’re lucky, we have a fabulous query letter that gets excited to read more. But what can often help complete the package is an amazing title to go along with it.

Every one of my authors is going to think this post is directed him or her today because we’re all going through the process of finalizing titles as we start to set our Fall 2012 list (yes, we’re working that far ahead). But it’s really for all writers at any stage in their career. And for writers going through the submission process, a strong title can help you stand out from the pack.

One of the most important parts of my job is to help position a book for the market. How do we show what the genre is (military romantic suspense? Regency? paranormal?) so readers can identify it, while still making it distinctive enough to stand out from the pack. It’s a combination of art, tagline, back copy and marketing materials. And—you guessed it—title.

So what should you look for when thinking about your title?

  • What are the titles of other books in your category? Do some words tend to repeat? No surprise that certain words tend to have built-in appeal: bride, cowboy, lord, lady, duke, etc. There’s a reason why so many category novels are some form of The Greek Tycoon Billionaire Secretary’s Secret Baby. Certain words work. Use them. But…
  • Avoid sounding generic. Or choosing a title that’s already been done.
  • Are you planning a series? Can your titling lend itself to a theme? But also keep in mind that you don’t want all the books to sound the same.
  • What’s the tone? Can you use some clever wordplay? Alliteration?

When brainstorming titles, I find it helps to create a word-association list to start. Even if they’re crazy words, they’ll help me find the tone of what I’m looking for. And when I get stuck there, I’ll turn to some resources:

  • my Rodale’s Synonym Finder (best graduation gift ever!)
  • imdb.com – Can I play off a movie title?
  • iTunes – Can I play off a song title?
  • BN.com – Has this title already been used?
  • NYT, USA Today and Bookscan bestseller lists – What titles are selling big?
  • An online title generator - Sometimes sparks something good, sometimes just good for a laugh (unless you're dying to read Deadly Men on Fast Hotties)
  • Colleagues, husband, friends – I’m not above picking brains and bouncing ideas

I’d love to hear some of your titling tips or some of your favorite titles. I have a spare an early copy of THE GOBLIN KING by Shona Husk for a lucky commenter.

But, truly, for this one, everyone is a winner, because you can check out a free prequel called THE SUMMONS at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your ebook retailer of choice.

26 comments:

  1. Great post, Leah!

    I read somewhere that titles should contain a verb or noun and adjective. Does Sourcebooks use a similar "formula" when deciding on a title?

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  2. A helpful post, Leah, and if I could add a caveat: Say your title out loud before your slap it on that book. When I tell people the first book in the Windham series is "The Air," I get a polite blink until I add, "H-E-I-R." Oh, yeah.... heir. NOW it's a Regency Romance.

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  3. Great ways to come up with titles, Leah! That's definitely what hooks me sometimes on taking a look at a book--just the title.

    Hey, Grace, I have the same "look" when I say that I've got The SEAL in Wolf's Clothing coming out....no, not a seal shifter who's pretending to be a wolf, a SEAL as in Navy SEAL. LOL :) I can just imagine the visuals the other seal provides. :)

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  4. I think that titles can play a large role in the successful acceptance of a book by the public. A poorly matched title, one that is too long, or one that is simply unappealing, can all detract from the content of the book. Having said that, I know that I could read a great book without a title or cover, and I would still be impressed. The trick is to find a "short but sweet" title that makes an impact and leaves a lasting link to the book.

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  5. That's a good point, Grace. I hadn't thought about the sound versus what one sees on the cover. I don't think I've titled a single one of my books, so I'm obviously not good at it.

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  6. I have to agree about the not to long and complicated. Some series have a connecting theme which can be great but I know of one series that it's play on words is so confusing that I can't remember one from the other. So if I'm in a bookstore and want to buy the new one, I don't because I'm afraid it's the wrong one (I like to collect them all before starting sometimes).

    I also can't understand why the same title can be used for more than one book - doesn't seem right.

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  7. So far some of my favorite titles are either somewhat funny or a play on words within the book or topic of the book...like "If You Give a Girl a Viscount" or "Cloudy with a Chance of Marriage" ...another example would be where the profession of one of the main characters is some how incorporated into the title like
    Marisa Chenery's "Designs on a Warrior" - the heroine is an Interior Designer...it helps me to remember the books easier when I shop ... plus if an element of the book title could be incorporated into the cover image..that's even better! Or like what Sourcebooks has done with the Jill Mansell books "Millie's Fling" or "Take a Chance on Me" .....if you can trigger word association with something from pop culture that's good too...

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  8. @Tracey Devlyn - I like for a series to have some kind of "formula" or consistency to keep it recognizable across the titles. But we don't generally stick to any rule of noun/verb + adj. Looking at my shelf, we have: Lord and Lady Spy, Cover Me, No Proper Lady, Tempted, Lady of the Storm, A Demon Does it Better. So no formula that I can see.

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  9. @Grace Burrowes - Oh yeah, been there too. As a matter of fact, I was at a meeting presenting a new title on Tuesday and our editorial director's comment was: I liked it until I heard you try to say it. Gee, thanks. Back to the drawing board on that one!

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  10. @VirginiaC - "short and sweet" is great advice!

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  11. @ShanaGalen - No matter who came up with it, I loooove the LORD AND LADY SPY title!

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  12. @catslady - Great points. Sometimes all the series sound so similar (or meaningless) that end up referring to them by character.

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  13. Maria - Those are great titles. Thanks for sharing!

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  14. Great post, Leah! And you know I totally want to read this book just based on title alone:

    The Greek Tycoon Billionaire Secretary’s Secret Baby

    Someone should write that!

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  15. Awesome post, Leah!
    Several of my fan letters start with "I love your book titles." So thank you to all of the staff at SB for most of them. The one that still gets a giggle is "My Give A Damn's Busted". One fan says she bought it as gifts because the title fit her mood so well!

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  16. One-word titles are really tough. I could probably write a lot more books in the Cat Star series, but we're running out of titles!

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  17. Cheryl - ditto on the one world titles being tough. Dealing with that myself right now. Hard to find one word that fits both the romance and plot.

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  18. I thought I was the Title Queen until I started publishing with Sourcebooks. My titles were changes 3 or four times, but the final decisions worked! People remember them! Fans tell me they read XXX and can't wait to read XXX. That's the mark of a good title, at least to me.

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  19. Hi Leah!
    Interesting post... as a reader I hadn't thought about what goes into formulating a title. I'm sure there are times when the title easily comes to the writer, but I would definitely want to check to make sure that other writers hadn't chosen it already. There are times when I see lists of titles for new releases and no covers, so for me it's kind of like a blind first impression since I don't automatically look for the best cover. The focus then becomes the title, so it is important for it to stand out.

    Thanks for the giveaway!
    yadkny@hotmail.com

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  20. Good ideas--I like the play on a phrase, but know it can be confusing at the store as to which one you need next. Janet Evanovich nailed it with her numbered titles, didn't she?

    BTW, I think I saw a Harlequin Presents at Walmart the other day that was titled The Greek Tycoon Billionaire Secretary’s Secret Baby. No fooling. It was that long and that silly. Short and sweet wins it.

    I got a copy of No Proper Lady in the mail today and I'd like to say thanks! Really look forward to reading it and that's a pretty good title. juleejadams (at) gmail (dot) com

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  21. My favorite title was for a non-fiction book and I still love it:

    Eat, Shoots & Leaves

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  22. @yadkny - That's exactly why it's so important to have a great title!

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  23. At Julee J - I'm a sucker for wordplay too.

    Hope you enjoy No Proper Lady (originally titled Much Abides, btw)!

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  24. @Lil - I have that book. One of my faves too!

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  26. Titles can definitely make me take a closer look at the story. They can really stand out...and sometimes for the wrong reasons too. I want titles that are catchy and relevant. If it's the best title out there but has nothing to do with a book then it can be misleading. Other times titles can be mysterious or smart. These are the ones I like (provided they suit the story). Some titles I adore:

    Blue-Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas
    My One and Only by Kristan Higgins
    Breaking Point - Suzanne Brockmann

    Cambonified [at] yahoo [dot] com

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