How to Write Great Novel Titles
Titles are extremely important when it comes to pitching your work to agents and editors. Literary agent Karoline Sutton (of Curtis Brown) even went so far as to say that she could sell a novel on a title alone if it was awesome enough. A fantastic title can add thousands of pounds onto an author advance, she says.
Why? Because a great title is one of the main ways a novel gets noticed, gets picked up in a bookshop, which then (hopefully) leads to a sale. When there are over 120,000 books being published each year in the UK alone (not including self-published books)*, you need something that helps you stand out from the crowd.
Here are some more tips from Karolina (she really is a wealth of information) specifically on writing great novel titles:
- Pay attention to trends and fashions. Don’t wait to be atthe end; be at the start of a trend, or ahead of it!
- Don’t be too abstract. Concrete titles give us a strong hint towards what the novel is about, or its main theme(s).
- One word titles (with or without ‘The’) are popular and definitive. For example: Room by Emma Donoghue; The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
- Longer phrases are also popular. For example: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson; The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal.
- The title must reflect the tone of the book. Only give your novel a bold and quirky title if it is a bold a quirky book.
- If your friends can’t remember the title of your novel a week after you’ve told them, you haven’t got a very good title!
And here are a few of my own tips on coming up with titles:
- Scribble down words and phrases related to the subject matter and theme of your novel.
- Keep an eye out for phrases in literature or lines of poems which could serve as a title (or inspiration).
- If you are writing for a specific genre, research the type of title that is often used.
- Don’t worry if you discover that your title has already been taken: titles aren’t subjected to copyrighting. However, be aware of the downsides of this.
- It’s useful to have a working title in mind while you are writing as it keeps you focused on your novel’s core.
- Don’t worry too much about coming up with the perfect title. An agent will help you with this, and a publishing house’s marketing division usually has the final say anyway. Of course, if you come up with an awesome title from the outset, there’ll be less chance that the publishers will want to change it.
So the moral of the story is: if you can, try your best to come up with the most brilliantly awesome title that’s ahead of the trend… But don’t worry too much.
Do you have any tips on writing novel titles that I’ve not included here? Where have you found your best titles? What’s your idea of a great title?*Morgan, Nicola, Write to be Published, Snowbooks, 2011