Thursday, October 28, 2010

*insert clever title here*

The name's the thing.

But what do you do when the clock is ticking and your mind is drawing a blank?

I'm talking about titles, of course. We all know that the chances of your working title being kept by the publisher is pretty slim, and for a lot of us, that's probably a big relief, right? I know it would be for me.

But it's still nice to have something to call it, isn't it? And I doubt many agents are going to want to see "WIP #45 is an 85,000-word thriller."

Or if you're shallow like me, and really want to have a pretty banner/cover for your NaNoWriMo project...

All good reasons to need a title.


I usually can pull a decent working title out of my ass, but for the current Nano project, I was stumped, and I mean stumped.

The main characters are chronokinetic, and that is an important element to the story, so for shits and giggles and in need of a folder title to keep My Documents nice and tidy (god, I really am a plotter, aren't I?), I titled the project CHRONO KILLERZ. Yes, with the Z. But obviously I couldn't keep that! Even if it has a nice pulp-fiction (the actual kind, not the "English, M*thaf*cka!"-kind)(and that's only according to my brother, who was worthless in helping me think of a title) ring, it's a total misnomer.

I've been trying to think of a title for almost a month, so today, out of pure desperation, I googled this:

"I need a name for my novel."

Never underestimate the power of Google, people!! For the Google gods directed me to superstar agent Rachelle Gardner's blog post entitled How to Title Your Book.

Here are her tips, in a nutshell:

  • Go to Amazon and search your genre, then write down 20 titles that appeal to you. Note what elements they share and what elements are lacking. 
  • Free-associate as many words as you can that pertain to your novel, theme, characters, and any phrases or images that come to mind when you think of your story. 
  • See if any of the words you free-associated could work as a single-name title, then start experimenting with adjective-noun, verb-noun arrangements. 
From that point, you basically pick out your favorites and narrow it down until you have a winner. 

I did the first two. Just out of scientific interest, here's an sampling of random books from the sci-fi and fantasy selections at Amazon that struck my fancy:

Out of the Dark
Spook Country
House of Suns
No Mercy
Devil May Cry
The Devil You Know
The Sparrow

Seeing a trend? I guess I'm mostly drawn to short, sparse titles, either one word or an article and a noun (think of Nicholas Sparks' novels: The Rescue, The Guardian, The Notebook). I'm entranced by the idea that one word can really encompass an entire novel's theme. Kelley Armstrong, urban fantasy author extraordinaire, really cashes in on the one-word titles. 

Anyway, I wrote down all my words and phrases and images, but nothing really jumped out at me, until I started thinking about idiomatic expressions. I've always liked those as titles, because they're already in the collective consciousness (of Americans, anyway)--kind of like a high concept title, I guess. And that makes it easy to remember, and we all want people to remember our titles. 

The phrase the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few is an idiom that could be applied thematically to my plot, except the MC is definitely more interested in what she wants than what's best for all. But Needs of the Few is a little clunky, isn't it? Interesting to think about, I guess, and it certainly could induce you to wonder who the few are and what their needs are and how their selfishness could affect the "many," but it still wasn't ringing with me. 

In a very un-Summer way, this project idea came to me in 2 books'-worth of fully-formed ideas. I don't like to think in sequels, but this just so happens to work that way, and I'm pretty in love with it, so I'm going with it. So while I was desperately trying to come up with a title for the "first book," the perfect idiomatic title for the "second book" hit me: Dead Ringer. Several layers of meaning, short and punchy. I liked it! 

But what about the first book? I know this is getting long and drawn out (welcome to my last month), so I'll just cut to the chase and show you the banner and "book cover" I made for the NaNo site:

So. My working title is now Dry Run. It's an idiom, and it has the added benefit of being both metaphorical and literal, plus it's a nice alliteration for Dead Ringer

All this rambling was in hopes of proving that the untitleable are never lost for sure! Definitely check out Rachelle's hints. 

And then when you're done, go here for a bit of fun (arbitrarily rates your bestseller chances based on title alone): LuLu Title Scorer. If you're wondering, Dry Run scored a 10.2% chance at becoming a bestselling title. Ha! Thanks a lot, Lulu! 


Hannah said...

Saweeet! I never seen to have too much trouble with titles. My NaNo title is a song title from a group I like. I may shorten it though. Who knows. I'm pretty satisfied with it as of right now. I don't know how to make banners so I leave it up to other artists to depict appropriate pictures. I'm going to check out that link! Thanks!!

Hannah said...

And. AND! I really like your book cover. It's very Philip K. Dick. I approve.

Jessica Lemmon said...

"WIP #45" LOLOL!!!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I like that title.
I haven't thought of one for my book's sequel yet. Hopefully it will hit me during NaNo.

Teri Anne Stanley said...

I love it! I've been pretty obsessed lately with the lameness of the Harlequin titles--"The Lawman's Secret Baby" or "Undercover Bride". I mean, really? Alot of romance writers get started there, and some of that stuff is really good, but I have a terrible time getting past the titles. So naturally, I want my NaNo title to be REALLY cheesey. Maybe "Undercover Baby's Secret Prince". But I don't have any babies or princes.

Catherine Stine said...

I like the title Dry Run a lot. As far as using short titles, or one-worders, there's an issue of having the book not pop up to the top in a search on google or amazon. For instance, with my novel Refugees. In a search, there were other titles that came up because there were many books on Refugees. So, even though I love one word titles, I will never do that again. Unless forced by the publisher!

Old Kitty said...

yay!!! What a great way to get a title!!! Titles are my least favourite thing to do cos every time I think I have something clever - I find it's already been done and dusted!

So this is a great way to find one that hasn't been used so far!

Thank you so much for the paws up!! I say paws cos I totally LOVE the pic of your furry muses! Take care

Meredith said...

Ugh, I'm awful at titles! I'm definitely going to try these tips :) And that banner is awesome!

Sarah Ahiers said...

awww! That's way cooler than my title (which is full o' crap, btw).
Also, the banner is a win

Jon Paul said...

Sweet! I like it! Great artwork too.

But you didn't try the open-a-random-book-and-pick-out-a-random-word method, which has always worked for me. Tried and true, I tell ye.

Seriously, love what you came up with and how you got there. Looking forward to hearing more about your story as we sprint through that crucible called NaNo!

DEZMOND said...

uh, I have no idea how I would translate DRY RUN into my language and I'm a professional book translator :)))

Lola Sharp said...

Love it! I love the picture you chose and both titles. (SO much better than CKz)

Lulu can suck it. ;)

Luna said...

This is so cool, Summer! Great title and cover. Good luck to you with NaNoWriMo.

Melissa said...

I really love that title and the cover. Gorgeous. If it was a book in the store... I'd pick it up for that alone!

I like the one word titles as well.

My book, the one I'm working on now, is called Pyre.

Unknown said...

I was having a similar problem with my title. Especially after I changed my novel idea from one end to another.

I love your banner as well as your cover. I would for sure buy it if I saw it in a store.

Good luck :D

Jamie Gibbs said...

I love the title and the cover :) 10.2%? Whatever :P I like the sound of it :)
I'm happy that in fantasy you can get away with fairly obscure titles, so my NaNoWriMo title is going to be Noscareg (a play on the Welsh for 'night stone'). It scored a 45% on Lulu, so I'm pleased about that :)

Good luck with Nano!

Crystal Cook said...

Sweet new title! I'm getting very nervous about Nano, because I wanted to finish my WIP #1 :) before I started Nano, but it ain't happening. Unless I stay up all night long which I just might. It'll be fun to Nano with you!