I've had a very exciting discussion with my boyfriend yesterday, because he told me that... *drumroll* ...he might write a fantasy novel too! Turns out, years before we met, he had this idea while playing WoW, to write about hard core gamers, but never had the time or enough belief in himself to even try. Anyway, we were talking about the premise, the idea, and then the topic of the book's name came up. Which made me think back to a lot of indie books I saw, books that fail to attract people's attention simply because they have not been named properly. Their title is not interesting enough, it doesn't grab people, and I thought back to my branding experience, from my marketing days; thought about my own process of naming books, and, once again, from the light hand of my boyfriend who said I should blog about it, here I am blogging about it. How DO you pick out a title for your book? I'm not a publishing expert, but I did do branding for companies in the past, and it looks like the same principles apply in the publishing business.
It has to be a proper English name or a noun. This is a principle that Marty Neumeier talks in his books, ZAG in particular, one of my favorites on branding. Seth Godin says the same thing. After all, all stories are about characters, or things that act as characters, so you need to get the title of your book as close as you can to a real human name. If you look at the list of all-time best-selling books, you will see A Tale of Two Cities, The Lord of the Rings, The Little Prince, The Hobbit, etc.Notice how they are all nouns, and most describing a certain person, a lord, a prince, a hobbit. Think about Lolita, Harry Potter, Anges and Demons, etc. Now, there are also titles like Twilight. This is a proper noun. There are also exceptions like To Kill a Mockingbird and Gone with the Wind. There are always exceptions to every rule, but since I'm a rookie writer, I will stick to the majority, until I develop enough sense about how to step away from it.
If it's two words, they better be opposite. Okay, this is a bit of a hard concept to explain, but in the simplest terms it goes like this: if you must use two words, which I do in the case of Siren Suicides, combine the words that are typically not used together and come off a bit as a shocker. In my case, a siren is an immortal mythological creature, why on Earth and how would she commit suicide? Doesn't make much sense, but that's exactly why it's grabbing you. You want to know more, it's the first hook of the story, it's also easy to spell and easy to say. Here are other examples. The Da Vinci Code. Why would a painter have a code? Fifty Shades of Grey? That's way too many for such a dull color. The Lovely Bones? How can bones be lovely? Life of Pi? Pi is a number, it can't have a life. There are exceptions to this that are perfectly successful, but I'm not bothering about those right now. I'm going with the general rule for the purpose of this exercise.
The title should have contradiction in it. This is the same idea but turned a bit sideways, in the sense that a certain title just doesn't seem appropriate for the content of the book, yet this is precisely why it's grabbing attention. Let's take a look at Hugh Howey's Wool. How come a sci-fi apocalyptic story can be named something that belongs more in your grandma's cupboard or is sheered off sheep for knitting socks? That's exactly why it's interesting, because it makes you wonder what it's about. Or, look at 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. What kind of a year is that? Where did the number 9 go? Doesn't make any sense, and that is precisely why it's interesting to pick it up and leaf through it in a book store. In this sense, if you have a tale about dragons and call it The Dragon's Tale, I might argue that it's a weak title. It might not have been at the time A Tale of Two Cities was published, but it is now, with the flood of indie books choking Amazon and all other online sites where anyone can write anything, call it a book, and upload it for people to buy. You have to be able to stand out from the crowd, and you have to be smart about it.
The title is the first idea of a story for a reader. It has to be about your story. In a word or two, you have to describe your story, describe what happens there. This is the hardest part, because how can you possibly squeeze your whole book into one word? Into two?!? Or three at the most? You can. Listen to yourself when you tell other people about your book, what is the word you repeat a lot? Before Siren Suicides was Siren Suicides, I wanted to call it Ailen's Song, and still before that Fishy, and even before it... I had several ideas, as you can see. I noticed that when I talked about it, I mentioned the word "suicide" a lot, because this is really what the book is about. You surely have the same, that one word you keep mentioning over and over, that one reason why you write it. That might be a good idea to name your novel.
DISCLAIMER: I have yet to confirm that my assumptions here are true in the publishing business after publishing my books, selling them, and learning from that experience. I also didn't discuss specific genres. This is simply what I'm currently applying to my own book naming process, so hopefully it will help you too.