The clue’s in the title

I write a lot of short stories, blog posts etc, and for each one I have to come up with a title. You’d think by now I’d have learnt how to come up with a good one, or at least figured out how to avoid the big mistakes, but sadly that’s not the case. I started writing Wasted Years in 2004, finished it in 2010 and all that time I thought of its title as a temporary  measure until I came up with a more suitable one. Then I redrafted the novel, submitted it to a couple of places, and finally decided this summer to self-publish. And it’s too late, I can’t think of that novel as anything but Wasted Years now, that’s its name. Does it have the right feel? I’m not sure. Does it suggest the contents? I can’t tell any more – it does to me, obviously. The moral of this being, if you want a good title come up with it earlier.

I found an interesting article by John Floyd on the subject of titles recently, so I thought I’d share the link. Apparently, The Great Gatsby was originally called Trimalchio in West Egg; I’m so glad F Scott Fitzgerald wasn’t as attached to that title as I am to Wasted Years, I just can’t see me getting quite as enthusiastic about it as I got about The Great Gatsby. For one thing, I’m not sure how to pronounce Trimalchio so I’d have a hard time recommending it (which is a point Floyd makes in his article – if your reader can’t pronounce or remember the title, how will they urge the man at the bus stop to read it).

Another title-related bit of fun is the Lulu Titlescorer, provided by the self-publishing service Lulu. By analysing the titles of fifty years’ worth of bestsellers they’ve put together a gizmo that scores your title on bestsellerness. While I don’t think it’s a watertight system for success, it might make you think about things like using the name of a character in your title, or perhaps re-ordering the phrase. It helps if you know your grammatical terms; if you generally know what words to use and in what order, but couldn’t say if a thing’s an abstract noun or a preposition, you might come unstuck. Apparently The Height of Bestsellerness has a 41.4% chance of becoming a bestselling title – I’ll keep that in mind for a future project.

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4 comments

  1. Titles are a tricky one for me. I normally find it so hard to get something that sums up the story and sounds punchy and interesting. It tried the Lulu gadget and most of mine have about 26% chance, apparently!

    1. I think titles are a widespread problem – titles get changed right at the last minute by publishers, and well-known stories (and songs, for that matter) have had a few title-changes along the way. Doesn’t help when you’re trying to find a good one for your latest work though.

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