Tuesday, 11 May 2010

How to Find the Perfect Title 1

And another thing I can't believe is that I haven't blogged about titles before. What an omission. So here goes - what makes a perfect title...

1) Easy to say.
Who wants to look stupid when ordering or discussing a book?

2) Easy to spell.
If someone is searching on Amazon or Google and they get the spelling wrong, then the search engines won't find them.

3) Uncommon words
My name, Sarah Duncan, is fairly common. If someone does a Google search for me, my website does come up first, but there are lots of other Sarah Duncans around, as well as "...said Sarah. Duncan, on the other hand..." If your title has lots of common words then it's going to be harder to find on search engines.

4) Strong nouns
If I say "the book about the tractors", I bet most of you will know the book I mean. In fact, Penguin used that line to advertise Marina Lewycka's next book. (And I don't know how you pronounce her surname either.)

5) Fits in with the genre
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society doesn't sound like it's a thriller or teenage vampire book. In Cold Blood doesn't say romance. Titles need to match the genre.

6) Has some originality or quirkiness
Would Captain Corelli's Mandolin have done as well as The Italian with the Guitar?

More on finding the perfect title tomorrow...

Come to the launch party for Kissing Mr Wrong, 6.30pm on 20th May at Waterstones, Milsom Street, Bath. All welcome, but please ring 01225 448515 to let them have an idea of numbers.

10 comments:

Hodmandod said...

For me, as an old paper sub editor, finding the right title, the one that gives me a buzz, is fundamental to my pleasure in writing. I have come late to being published, and am very happy to listen to my agent on this subject. I just do hope that I am allowed to continue pleasing myself on the subject of titles but feel I may be forced at some point to be less allusive.

Sarah Duncan said...

If your agent and editors are happy with your titles then you should be too. I find that when 'the' title comes along it's immediately obvious - there's an a-ha! moment. But sometimes it takes a lot of brain-ache to get there.

Dave Morris said...

The literal English translation of the original title of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" would have been "Men Who Hate Women" - which would perhaps not have taken it into the bestseller lists.

Sarah Duncan said...

Yes, I'd heard that was the original title which I reckon was a no no on several counts, not least because it sounds like non-fiction.

Sarah Callejo said...

Actually, in Spain it was translated as "Men who don't love women" and it still made it to the bestseller lists.
I found theses posts very useful and I think we could apply these ideas to pen names too.

Sarah Duncan said...

Interesting - I wonder if it kept the same name in other countries. Maybe we're more sensitive/PC about domestic violence?

Some of my books have had different names abroad, usually something related to the original title but sometimes not - Nice Girls Do was Under Blue Skies in Holland and Germany, and I couldn't work out why.

Sarah Callejo said...

If you translated Nice Girls Do literally into Spanish it would have a sexual connotation and I don't know if you intended that with your title. Maybe it's the same for Holland and Germany.
The same goes for films, it isn't the translator changing the titles, it's the marketing department.

Sarah Duncan said...

Well the novel before NGD was called Adultery for Beginners so, um...yes, the sexual connotation was there, and that didn't have a problem abroad, countries did their local variations and I think the only country that did something away from adultery was Norway (where it was Loves Me, Loves Me Not - just like the recent RNA short story collection). But perhaps Nice Girls Do translates too strongly? It's romance, not porn!

Terry said...

As someone with a book called, "What's in a Name?" I can totally sympathize with the horrendous (for me) task of thinking up titles. All advice is appreciated! Thanks for this post.

And when I got rights back to one book that had a good title and then had to find another "perfect" title for the new publisher, I thought I would go crazy.

Sarah Duncan said...

Finding a new title for a book with an already good title sounds like a new form of writer torture. My sympathies!