So I'm there. At that critical place. Deciding on a title for the novel I've been working on since 2006.
Well, besides the fact that I'm a little nutty/obsessive/neurotic about all writing-related stuff, I'm determined to come up with a title that speaks for this story. After all, I've spent nearly four years writing it--lived it, breathed it, dreamed it, worked it, rolled it under the bed when I was sick and tired of it, nursed it, cuddled it, thrashed it, once bashed it over the head with a boot, hid it from myself in a box, loved it, hated it, loved it again.
Needless to say, this book needs the right title.
Of course, there's also all the marketing stuff related to titles. Like the fact that...
- a title is usually the first thing an agent/editor/bookstore owner/book buyer hears; it is often what begins a person's relationship with a book
- a kick-ass title can help you sell books, get reviews, get noticed, get buzzed on social media networks, etc.
- a kick-ass title can stop a browsing book shopper in her tracks; get her to pick up your book and buy it
- a kick-ass title can be passed from reader to reader on a subway or in a Tweet. "Hey, have you read _______? Oh, my god, you should."
- a kick-ass title stays with a reader long after the reading is done
But most important for me--the writer, right now--is to come up with a title that FEELS right.
With that said, I have 3 working titles:
- one rather looonnnnggg title (15 words)
- one very short title (1 4-letter word...no, no, no...not a 4-LETTER word like f*ck or h*ll or sh*t...a much more powerful 4-letter word)
- one in-between title (3 words, 3 words)
To help me in this task, I decided to dig into titles and titling a bit more. With a little help from my pals on Twitter and Facebook, here's what I've come up with thus far. The breakdown:
- A Heartbreaking Work of a Staggering Genius (Dave Eggers: memoir)
- From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (E.L. Konigsburg)
- Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life (Amy Krouse Rosenthal:memoir)
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie)
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon)
- Beloved (Toni Morrison)
- Middlesex (Jeffrey Eugenides)
- March (Geraldine Brooks)
- Choke (Chuck Paluhniak)
- Thirsty (Me...)
- Tethered (Amy McKinnon)
- Tinkers (Paul Harding)
During my Twitter poll, @StacyBierlein mentioned that she likes titles that are complete sentences. Though I hadn't thought about titles in this way, I realized that I, too, like complete-sentence titles. There are some really great ones out there:
- Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? (Lorrie Moore)
- I Love Myself When I Am Laughing and Then Again When I Am Feeling Mean and Impressive (Zora Neale Hurston: nonfiction)
- You Shall Know Our Velocity (Dave Eggers)
- Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret (Judy Blume)
But I'm pretty sure the most common type of title for a novel is the "phrase title," which can be broken down into categories.Titles that describe an object:
- A Spot of Bother (Mark Haddon)
- The Lizard Cage (Karen Connelly)
- The Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers (Xiaolu Guo)
- The Sea (John Banville)
- The Girl With Glass Feet (Ali Shaw)
- The Murderer's Daughters (Randy Susan Meyer)
- The Time Traveler's Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
- The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson)
- Tinkers (Paul Harding)
- Ursula, Under (Ingrid Hill)
- Loving Frank (Nancy Horan)
- Eat, Pray, Love (Elizabeth Gilbert: memoir)
- The Opposite of Love (Julie Buxbaum)
- Love and Other Impossible Pursuits (Ayelet Waldman)
- Love You Hate You Miss You (Elizabeth Scott)
- Love in the Time of Cholera (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
- Brooklyn (Colm Toibin)
- Island Under the Sea (Isabel Allende)
- Red Hook Road (Ayelet Waldman)
Titles that play with grammar:
- So Cold the River (Michael Koryta)
- What Is Left the Daughter (Howard Norman)
And one thing I learned via Twitter is that some of the best titles come out of kids' imaginations. Like the one @ErikaRobuck 's 5-year-old son suggested:
- Gooey Stuff in the Closet
Of course, titling a book gets a little more complicated when you start thinking about the relationship between the story and its title. Some use the direct approach, like Patrick Gale's Notes from an Exhibition.
And other titles, like Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, have a more imaginative, peripheral relationship...which I like. Which I really like.
So with all that said...QUESTION FOR YOU: What are your favorite titles of novels? Why do they work?
lightbulbs: Pixomar / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
glasses/book: Michelle Meiklejohn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net