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Friday Flix: Winning the Title

September 16, 2011

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.

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12 Comments
  1. Rogue, you should have titled this post differently. It should have been called “Everything You Know About Titling Is WRONG!”

    You know I’m right…

    • Yes I should call every entry from now “Everything you know about [whatever] is WRONG!!!” Or just “YOU FOOL!!!”

      • In fact, why not just call this whole blog “YOU FOOL!!!” Or how about, YOU FOOL, HE MUTTERED (Maybe I’ll nab that one…)

    • Or maybe just “YOU’RE ALL FOOLS!!!!”

  2. That podcast I plugged yesterday on my blog talked about titles too – and pretty much echoed what you said about how a title has to be searchable now. This guy they discussed wanted to name his book ‘The Wizards’ and had to be told that no one would ever find his book in a search engine. They went with something a bit more unique.

    When I submitted The Blutonian Death Egg novel I freaked out right before I sent it out and decided it had to be retitled. I dubbed it The Crappy Astronaut and shipped it out. If there was a personal note I got with my rejection it was that my new title sucked.

    I think my next story will be called ‘Blew Balls’, I don’t know what it will be about but I figure the story is incidental if you get the right title.

    • Although of course Stephanie Meyer didn’t need a unique title for any of her books. I mean how many books were there with “Twilight” in them? And I wonder how many people stumble across “Eclipse” by Briane Pagel when looking for “Eclipse” by Stephanie Meyer? Maybe that’s a good way to go; name your book close to a more famous book and hope that people will see yours under their searches and go, “Hurm…what’s this?” Then maybe buy it.

      • I think the context of the podcast is for how an unknown, self-published author can have breakout success – I think Twilight had the help of a publisher, at least to reach that minimal audience necessary for it to take a life of its own. Quietly slipping a book out onto the kindle will probably mean sales that hover around 0 until enough people stumble across it on accident to see if it is worthy of any praise.

        But I really like Briane’s strategy of giving his books a title that is already poplular. I changed my mind about my next book – it will be called Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire. I guess I’ll follow it up with “The Holy Bible.”

        Wow. I wonder if there is already a cottage industry of this stuff.

    • Well some scammers have made money by putting out blank eBooks. But to avoid a lawsuit you might want to call your book “Harry Potters and the Goblet of Fire” or “The Holy Bibled” then you’re one letter off which should still come up but you can say it’s a completely different book. I did notice someone on Goodreads selling “James Potter” fanfiction about Harry’s supposed son and I thought, “That can’t be legal!”

  3. I’ve really struggled with titles. My book that I’m getting published is called “Slipstream” and I know that there are at least five or six books plus movies that have that same title and they are all unrelated. I figure what the hell…it’s not like it matters. But reading this maybe it does. My publisher has no advice as they seem to like the title and it really fits the book. Meh.

    The second book in the series is Oculus…a more unique title. I haven’t searched for it online yet to see how many books I come up with bearing this name but I just finished it only a while ago. But naming these things has been a real challenge…I’m loathe to try and do so again because it takes hours of brainstorming.

    • My method of brainstorming is to go to the Amazon MP3 store and look up song titles with key words on the theme of the book. I point I could have made too is that it’s even worse if you have a generic title plus a generic author name. I mean if your book is called “Air” and your name is “John Smith” then you’re really screwed. At least with yours I don’t think there are too many Offutt’s running around. Nor many Briane Pagels either I’d bet.

  4. Mutt, Alex J. Cavanaugh is running a blog fest for only this Monday that I thought you would be interested in participating in. Here’s the blurb for it:

    That’s right! Time to list the worst movies ever made.

    Here’s the scoop:

    Worst Movies Ever Blogfest!
    On Monday, September 19, post a list of up to ten of the worst movies you’ve ever had the misfortune to watch. Films that just oozed awfulness and featured plot holes so big you could drive a bus through them. Any genre or year, but only theater and straight to video/DVD titles. (Otherwise we’d all list every movie ever made by the SyFy Channel!) Sign up, grab the button, and on September 19, give us the worst! And be sure to visit others participating in the blogfest.

    So, are you ready to warn the world about some really bad films?

    He’s got a linky thing with 92 entries thus far on it (bloghop). I’m gonna do it and I thought it was right up your alley because you like to bitch about film.

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