Thursday, January 9, 2014

Naming Your Novel




*This is also helpful for other types of fiction and possibly even non-fiction.*


Note: How careful you have to be naming your novel depends heavily on if you are planning to sell it, and how you are planning to sell it. If you are an unknown who is self-publishing and you want a lot of people to read and buy your novel, you need to do extensive research on the market. This article only covers a few tips, and I am in no way a publishing expert. But, even if you don't plan on going mass-commercial, that doesn't mean you shouldn't spend some time deciding on a name for your labor of love and I hope this article provides some useful ideas.



Organized Brainstorming


Consider important items--does your story revolve around a magical staff, sword or pendant? For example: "The Staff of Alema," "The Sapphire Sword," or "The Destiny Pendant." (I know these are cheesy but you get the idea).

Consider who your protagonist IS--is it an assassin, a magician, an apprentice, a cat-lady detective? Try working these descriptions into your novel title. For example: "The Assassin's Apprentice" or "The Cat Lady Detective." Even something as simple as your protagonist's name could make a great title. Of course, a name like “Jane Lay” is not going to be very exciting, but “Alice Apricot” or “Izzy Alexander” might be just the ticket.

Consider important concepts, themes, and metaphors--for example, a short story I am writing right now involves themes of meaning and depression and uses apple juice as a metaphor for meaning and happiness. A pivotal moment happens when my character sees sunlight through window blinds--a symbolic instance. I could draw from these things and title my novel, "Apple Juice" or ""Through the Blinds." You can also try drawing from a significant phrase or idea that a character relates.
Write a summary of your story. Keep re-writing it to get it as short as possible. For example, “a girl moves to Kansas City and falls in love” could be shortened to “Love in Kansas City” or even “Kansas Love.” You get the idea.



Tips and Techniques  


Don't settle on a name too soon. Remember, it's probably not a good idea to start naming your story when you’re still in the first act--unless of course you have a detailed outline and you know pretty much everything that's going to happen. If possible, the title should relate to the heart of the story, the primary concept and theme, and sometimes you don't know what your story is truly about until you've finished it.

Try using simple descriptive words. Somewhere in my travels on the internet I saw mention of a recent trend in the titles of animated films: "The Bow and the Bear'" became "Brave," "Rapunzel" became "Tangled," and "The Snow Queen" became "Frozen." What is the common thread here? The names were changed to adjectives. You might say, "But I like the former titles!" Nevertheless, I must say, most of the time Disney and Pixar know what they are doing. Adjectives like these are exciting. Especially action words like “Tangled.” They pop out at you. Admittedly, there are other reasons for the name changes (like Disney probably changed the title to appeal a bit more to a boy audience) but you cannot deny the effectiveness of the simple titles.

Keep titles short. This is important for many reasons. It makes the titles easier to remember, and makes them easier to fit on a book cover, which will be a big help in actually selling your book. As someone with graphic design experience, I cannot emphasize enough the glory of short titles.

Be specific. Instead of "Crown of Flowers," choose "Crown of Daisies." Instead of "The Sacred Gemstone," choose "The Sacred Sapphire" (yeah, a little alliteration doesn't hurt either if it's pleasing).

Look for puns and double-meanings for a clever title and unique ideas. But remember, before someone reads the book, pretty much the only one who knows about the double meaning is you, so make sure it is a clever double meaning AND a good title.

Make sure your title doesn't give away any information about the story that you want to keep a secret. This might seem obvious, but say your story is about an albino kid who at some point discovers he is supposed to inherit the throne."The Lost Albino King" would be a stupid title, because it would probably be a major spoiler. Separating the two ideas would be better, such as "The Albino" or "The Lost King." (This is just an example, ignore the weirdness of the example.)

Make your title unique, but make sure it's not hard to spell or unpronounceable. If your reader has to go to the dictionary to understand or spell your title, it's probably the wrong title. This tip also relevant for made-up words. Fantasy writers who have a thing for Elvish and made-up languages need to be careful about this. For example, "Mellygroody" is a made-up word but isn't too difficult to spell of pronounce. But something like "Stveiachzoeliscksei" is nearly impossible to spell or pronounce. It's probably a good idea to keep made-up words out of your title, even if you use them in your story.

A title should be a good representation of the book. If your theme is courage, it would be good if the title indicated that. If your book is very humorous, it would be good to have an amusing title. A title can also be used to indicate genre. Take a survey of other titles in your genre and notice common attributes. If it is a romance novel, we should have some idea that it’s a romance novel from the title.  As cliché as it is, a title like “Christmas Bride” is likely to attract a romance novel readers, because they have a good idea of what to expect, and may inclined to give your book a closer look. If your novel is easily identifiable as being part of a specific genre, it can help it stand out and attract people who are looking for books in a genre they like.

Make a list of possible titles, then after setting it aside for a while come back and see what stands out. Putting your ideas aside for a while can help you get a fresh look at what works and what doesn't.

Ask family and friends what they think of a title and if they have any suggestions. They may have insights as to the various associations your title brings up, and as they have a completely different frame of reference than you, they might have unique ideas you haven't thought of. Just remember though, their opinions often may not be correct. For example, if your aunt hates the title "Canada Cantata" it might not be because there is anything wrong with the title, but perhaps because your aunt had a bad experience vacationing in Canada or something like that (like, I don't know, maybe she nearly drowned in maple syrup and was trampled by a moose the last time she went there.)

Once you've got some good ideas, make sure you look them up on the internet. Chances are, not matter WHAT you choose, the title or a close variation will already be used for something, and that is OKAY as long as the title isn't used for something that is well known or could be confused with something well-known. While many titles aren't copyrighted, it's best to be as original as you can be. It's not a good idea to get too set on one particular title, so have some other ideas in mind. For example, if you get your heart set on "Rachel of Sunny Farm" you might have to change it when you discover that it sounds far too much like the famous "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm." On the other hand, the fact that "A Tale of Two Neighbors" sounds an awful lot like "A Tale of Two Cities" might be an amusing association that would make your title memorable and pique the interest of prospective readers.



Links for further resources:


Short but helpful: http://writerswrite.co.za/naming-your-book (a great website by the way)

Also short but helpful: http://12books12months.com/2013/08/13/how-to-name-a-story/#comment-3200

One of the better title generators I've found: http://www.kitt.net/php/title.php (good for inspiration at the least)

A simple strategy: http://www.wikihow.com/Name-Your-Novel

Creating attention-grabbing titles: http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/2014/05/get-your-novel-noticed.html


Comments of interest:



This is a useful tip:
"I also find it is useful to look up your novel's title to see if it is already taken or there are a lot of similar titles; the more unique a title is, the easier it will be to find. The only other tip I can think of (which you pretty much already covered) is make sure it is a memorable title, something that will "stick". Using unique or less common (but easy to pronounce) words paired with simple words is one way to make a title stick in a reader's memory. A title like, I don't know, "The Cat and Malison" or "Little Magnolia", or "The Great Enigma" (those are weird examples)." -Stilwater-Rundeepo

This is a good question: 
"This is very helpful. One other thing I thought of however. If your novel is one in a series, should the books have similar titles? Or titles that relate to the series name itself? As in for example, if you have a series titled Knights of Bloodtree, would a book with a name of one of these indicated knights be better than a book with the name with an adjective (like what you mentioned with Tangled and the like)? This is my biggest dilemma with my own series." -Rhavencroft
This is my response to the question:
     I'm so glad you found it helpful! And, I actually have some thoughts on that....
     I've seen books in series titled various ways. For example, all the Narnia books have completely different titles, but all under the main title: The Chronicles of Narnia. As I glance at my bookshelf, I notice I also have a trilogy titled Kidnapped where each book has a title with the same theme: The Abduction, The Search, and The Rescue. In the I, Q series by Roland Smith, each book is titled with the main location the book takes place in: Independence Hall, The White House, Kitty Hawk, and Alamo. Again, the titles are different, but hold the same theme. Another example is using the same word, as in the DragonKeeper Chronicles where the books are titled, Dragonspell, Dragonquest, Dragonknight, Dragonfire, and Dragonlight. Similar to this titling method is Nancy Yi Fan’s novel Swordbird and its sequel Sword Quest.
     With your example of Knights of Bloodtree naming each book with the name of the primary knight of the story would be an excellent idea, because it is a logical titling method that gives you a good idea of what the book will be about (assuming you’ve been introduced to the knights in some way in the previous books). So the books could be titled like, Knights of Bloodtree: Sir Ivan, Knights of Bloodtree: Sir Gregory, etc. Or with a different approach they could be titled: Knights of Bloodtree: The Sword of Destiny, Knights of Bloodtree: The Sheild of Sorrows, Knights of Bloodtree: The Helmet of My Forefathers, etc. Those aren’t great examples, but you see how they have a similar theme.
     So in all honestly, I don't think there is no ONE right way of doing it. Though I would personally recommend sticking to a similar theme/titling style for all of the books in a series to make it cohesive.

14 comments:

  1. Something else to think about - if your book is published (or in manuscript format), then anyone reading it will see the name of the title on every page. It can be a way to keep certain information in your reader's mind. Like in John Fante's "Ask The Dust," the dust becomes a huge and complicated metaphor for what will happen to the characters, and as a reader I was more in tune to it because "dust" was in the title.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a really good point! The "Ask The Dust" title sounds like it was a good reminder of the metaphor ^_^

      Sorry for my late reply!

      Delete
  2. This is fantastic! I especially enjoyed the Disney/Pixar bit. You have me thinking. Thanks for sharing, Laura.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I was wondering something. I plan on writing all my books within the same storyverse, with the stories being like vignettes that only slightly overlap. However, some of the stories can't just be told in one book and so there are sequels and trilogies. Obviously one wants to name a series with one main title and similar sounding subtitles, but as all of the series' (one shots, sequels and trilogies) take place in the same storyverse and interlink, shouldn't there also be some sort of linking title or group title? I've very rarely encountered other authors that write this way (Inio Asano does something like this with his manga series What a Wonderful World, but he does the stories as individual chapters, not whole books unto themselves), so I don't really know what to do about it. I want to make clear to new readers that all of the books take place in the same storyverse, but I don't want the titles to be too long to remember or too complicated to make a good cover design with them. Advice?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I actually co-authored a novel very similar to that... story vignettes that overlap but are also somewhat stand-alone. I would say that there should be some sort of group title. This instantly brings to mind the Chronicles of Narnia, where some books overlap a lot and others overlap hardly at all. Warrior Cats is somewhat similar. You’re completely on the right track with not wanting a long and complicated title! So I’d recommend going with an overarching title for everything in your storyverse, like “Chronicles of ___” or “The ___ Files” or something like that. Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus books are a good example as well, as they are overlapping stories that are set in the same universe, but not always the same protagonists. So for example, idk what your theme is, but just for example if it was the same as Riordan’s books you could use “Demigods” or “Olympians” as your overarching title. So books in your series might be titled: Olympians: Moon Children, Olympians: The Great Escapade, Olympians: Rising Wind. (Those are just examples though, haha.) Also, I think if you have an overarching title for everything in the storyverse, you don’t have to worry as much about all the sub-titles being similar.

      Hope that helps and I understood your question right?

      And sorry for my late reply!

      Delete
  4. This was very timely for me. I've been brainstorming about titles for my up-and-coming novel for weeks. I'm bookmarking this and using your helpful ideas. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Awh thanks! Glad you found it useful enough to bookmark :D

      Delete
  5. Good post! Titles can be very tricky. I've changed mine so many times before I've settled on them. XD

    Stori Tori's Blog

    ReplyDelete
  6. Great article! Love your ideas for titling. I will have to keep this in mind when I'm done with mine! ;)
    Check out my site: www.mycornerofthelibrary.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! I hope it turns out to be useful!

      Delete

Be sure to check "notify me" to get notification of replies!