Friday Flix: Winning the Title
A “friend” of mine formerly on Gather, but also on Twitter and Facebook writes movie reviews for a site in Louisville. A couple months from when this airs he reviewed “Cowboys & Aliens.” The main point he made echoed that of Hollywood insiders quoted in another article I read, which is that the title gave people expectations the movie didn’t deliver.
When many people heard of “Cowboys & Aliens” they thought it was going to be a lighthearted movie, a fun popcorn movie. I’ll confess to being one of those people. Instead it seems that the movie was anything but. This is cited by the insiders as one major reason the movie barely edged out “The Smurfs” on its opening weekend before suffering a quick demise.
This brings up an interesting point, one many authors struggle with: the title. There are times when I’ve had a title right away (like Chet Finley vs. The Machines of Fate) and other times when the title came much, much later—the fifth Scarlet Knight story where I came up with the title during the final draft. Those lucky enough to find a publisher may not have to worry about this past a working title phase, but getting to that phase and beyond requires a good title.
Why? Because the title is one of the first ways to introduce the book to people. Before you say what your novel’s about, you usually tell them what it’s called, right? So it’s important that your title gives people some idea of what to expect. Along with the cover it’s part of a contract you make with the reader so that they have some idea of what to expect from your book.
For instance, I think my title “Where You Belong” is a good literary title. Between that and the cover I think it’s obvious that it’s a thoughtful literary novel and not a shoot-em-up Western. (Though there is a Where You Belong romance novel. So maybe I’m wrong.)
I’m less sure about my titles “Virgin Territory” and “The Naked World.” The words “Virgin” and “Naked” might give people the idea it’s an erotica story. Then they might be sorely disappointed to find some sex, but not as much as an erotica book.
So maybe you see from the above examples where the title helps in forming that first impression to an agent, publisher, or reader.
As well, the title is how you sell the book and how other people find the book. A couple of good examples of bad titles come from contemporary music. For instance, the band The Goo Goo Dolls got their name from a magazine advertisement (or something if I remember my Casey Kasem correctly). As time went by they started to get sick of the name, but then they became popular and they were stuck with it. About the same time a band called Live formed—you might remember their hit “Lightning Crashes” if you lived through the ‘90s. As far as names go, that one is kind of annoying. It was less so in the pre-digital age because if you wanted a Live album you just went into the record store and looked under L in the Pop/Rock section. But now in the digital age, just trying finding them! I mean really, go and type “Live” into the music section of Amazon and see how much stuff you have to search through to find them. The point then is to find a title you like and won’t get sick of and also one unique enough that people can find it. Because as I said, that’s going to be important when selling your book. You don’t want to go around on blogs, TV, radio, whatever with a title you hate and you don’t want to make it too difficult for people to find it.
So, if you thought the title was unimportant, think again!
Monday: Book collecting for dummies.