It’s a Title! What’s the big deal?

Like many authors, especially we indie authors, deciding on the title of a book can be pretty difficult and time-consuming. That may seem ridiculous, but if you think about it, the title of your book is the first step to catching a potential reader’s attention. The next is the back cover blurb, but that’s a whole different topic.

A title has to fit the tone of the story.

My current w.i.p. is a contemporary young adult novel. For a long time I didn’t have a title for it. Then after discussions with writing friends, the title “If I Knew” surfaced. While I liked it, and the questions it raised, something about it hasn’t set right with me. I don’t even remember what the first working title was. I was about on Chapter five when my writing friend, Mary Buckham, and I were on the phone brainstorming when she threw this one onto the list. The title works…it fits the book…and it raises story questions, so technically, it’s a “hook”. I decided unless I came up with something different, this title would be fine.

But it wasn’t. Over the past year, I’ve sought suggestions from others, did my own private brainstorming, put those ideas out on Facebook to get feedback from readers, and still, nothing seemed better than “If I Knew”, so I kept it.

I made a mock up of a cover just to try and make it look official. (I am not a cover artist, by the way, although it’s not horrible.) I’m someone who is motivated by something that forces me to finish…like a cover.  I thought seeing the title on a cover would make it feel right.

Um, nope.

So, today, I was writing the back cover copy. As soon as I wrote the first line of the second paragraph, I realized what was wrong. The word IF was hanging me up. I didn’t like the word IF. (Maybe it’s because I like to fancy myself a decisive person. <grin>)

I wrote the line “Before I discovered…”

Then, for the next line I realized I was starting the sentence with  “Before I met…”

Next, “Before I realized…”

Then, I got to the last line, and it flowed out. “Before I Knew…” As soon as I wrote the words, I felt something in me settle. I like the word “before”. It raises questions.

Before what?  Before she knew what? How did learning what she didn’t know before change her life? What changed? Was it positive or negative? (The options for questions goes beyond these.)

So, why is the title important? It should catch a reader’s attention so that they’re asking a question…hopefully a question that they just can’t bear to move on in life without getting the answer. #booksales

And the title has to fit the book so the reader isn’t misled. If they pick up the book based on the title, and then the story line doesn’t pan out to fit with the title, the reader may get annoyed or frustrated and put it down – and then that means they won’t recommend it to others. So, if my title seems to point toward a mystery or something humorous, but the theme is really about building family relationships, healing broken people, etc., then there are going to be annoyed readers when they find out they aren’t going to laugh throughout the book or sit on the edge of their seat wondering “whodunit”.

My advice: without giving any details about the story line, share your potential title with others. Ask them what comes to mind when they hear it. Then, add a little detail about the story and see if they still feel it fits.

With my mock up cover up above, I asked people if they were picking this book up in the store and had to guess at what the story was about without seeing anything other than the cover with title and tag line, what does this cover tell them. Many were right on the mark about the general sense of the story. Imagine my surprise when a couple of people asked in horror, “Is she going to kill the horse?” And they were serious.

You, as the author, know exactly what the title is supposed to convey. Readers who don’t know the story have nothing to go by. So, choose your title carefully, run it past a few people, and always be open to the possibility that there’s a better title out there than the one you’ve fallen in love with.

Editing and revising…it’s even important with book titles.