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Saturday, July 28, 2012

What's In A Name?

Readers will tell you that a great title attracts them. So how do authors come up with those great titles? Some authors have a knack for this, and some struggle endlessly.

Popular Wisdom

The general opinion is that short titles are best – the shorter the better. Sometimes you just can't fit the premise, plot, characters, theme, setting or any of the other elements in a novel into one to three words.


Sometimes though, long titles just resonate with readers. I went to my bookshelves for some perfect examples of long titles. Some of these sing like poetry. Here are just a few. Some authors like James Lee Burke and Martha Grimes always seem to have long, evocative titles.

Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
In the Electric Mist with the Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke
Snow Falling On Cedars by David Guterson
Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Ecco
The Man With a Load of Mischief by Martha Grimes
Through a Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen.

Then there are the thrillers by Stieg Larsson: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and The Girl Who Played With Fire. None of those books could possibly have a short title as evocative and memorable as the name they carry.

Memorable Shorts

Short titles can also be memorable. Dean Koontz – or his editor – chose well with Phantoms, Lightning, Watchers, and so many other titles. If you've read those books, you know those titles fit those books perfectly. Most of Mr. Koontz's books bear short titles.

The Short & Long Of My Titles

I didn't think I'd ever come up with the perfect title for my latest book, Scents and Sensuality (expanded and updated and to be published soon). This ebook is an expanded version of Say Yes, a previously print published book. I never thought that title, insisted upon by the publisher, was a good fit for this romance. I spent months trying to think of a better title. I test marketed a few titles along the way in emails with readers and other authors and in blog posts. Finally, I hit upon Scents and Sensuality, a subtle homage to Jane Austen and a name that perfectly fits the book that has a perfume designer as heroine.

For the most part, I've had success with the titles I've chosen. They all say what the book is about, they're all "catchy," and they all attract attention. Some like Jane (I'm Still Single) Jones, Nobody's Cinderella, and Old Enough To Know Better – attracted more attention.

Post Script

Short or long or somewhere in between, readers will remember your books if you leave no word unturned in your search for the perfect title.

(Joan Reeves is a Kindle bestselling author of romantic comedy. Her books are available at all major ebook sellers. Beginning in August, you will also find them as audio books at Audible.com and iTunes. For more information, please visit: www.JoanReeves.com or SlingWords.blogspot.com.)


  1. Great post, Joan. You have memorable titles for your books. When the title is long as in my Right Name, Wrong Man, it can be a problem to fit it on the book cover with a good-size font.

    1. Yes, long titles can be memorable, but they sure are hard to fit on the cover.

  2. Titles are interesting. I've noticed how title length can often relate to genre. Many YA seem to have one word titles, although a few years ago I was told one word titles were hard to sell. I love your titles, Joan. My publisher used the titles I'd chosen for my paranormal books, but Carina renamed the contemporary that I have coming out with them soon.

    1. Thanks, Helen. What's that new contemporary title?

  3. Joan, great post. I have decided to NEVER again use a song title for a book. I sign for Google alerts, but get so many unwanted ones for the song titles. ☺ OUT OF THE BLUE fits the book for which I just received my rights that I won't change it in spite of the unwanted alerts.

    1. I ended up with song titles on some of my published books because that's what the editor suggested when my original title and my second choice was already taken. So many books have been published that it's hard sometimes to find a title that doesn't make the reader think of another book.

  4. Titles are of the utmost importance. Some titles, though, give me no clue as to the content of the book. And they should.The longest title of a book I read was:
    Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Rise and Fall of Great Empires. Now how could anyone not know what that book was about...and how dry and boring it was? Haha. I had to read it for book club one years.
    Titles are not easy for me--they tend to be mundane, and the titles come to me and I stick with it--The Stars at Night, Showdown at Southfork, Texas True...etc.
    I like your titles very much. Good job!

  5. Thanks, Celia. I like yours too because they say what the book is about, and they're perfect for western romance.

  6. Sometimes a title grabs me and I write the book. Sometimes I start with no title! Short ones seem best, at least at first. Good post!

    1. Thanks, Mary. I don't think I've ever written anything with no title. The title may change but my brain won't work unless I have a working title in place.

  7. It's really hard to pick out a great title, almost as hard as collaborating on a good book cover!

    What sounds good to some could resonate poorly to others.

    Morgan Mandel

    1. Very true, Morgan. Everything about writing and publishing is subjective.