You know, writing your 80,000 word story is easy. It’s fun, too. We author types love doing the writing, the creation, the tale spinning.
Writing your blurb? Now, that’s hard work.
And coming up with a good title? That’s practically impossible!
Readers don’t know this, but authors sure do. I was reading a post by my author friend Jessica Marie Baumgertner – she’ll be featured here soon – and she was lamenting the same thing!
How do you come up with a title for your book? Usually, when I’m plowing through, some word or phrase jumps out at me. At least I sure hope it does, because if it doesn’t I’m really screwed. I think that’s where a lot of you end up, too. Pantsers, beware!
The more I talk to authors, the more I find out it’s almost luck of the draw; they’re hoping something inspires them. Meanwhile, they just call their WIP… something.
Have you seen the names people give their works in progress? They’re awful!
Hopefully, something will jump out at them as they write. That’s a BIG hope!
WHY is coming up with a title so hard?
Actually, I think I know.
When you write your 80,000 words (or 100,000 in my case), you have 80,000 words to make your point. It’s a different skill set to create a blurb that’s 500 or 250 words designed to get a shopper to become a buyer, and we struggle with picking which of the 80,000 get to be in the blurb. They all deserve it, after all. But only a few will make the cut. Just the best, the most important ideas are blurbworthy.
That means the pressure is really on if a title is only going to have three or four words. We can always change a blurb. A title is pretty much permanent.
Oh, the pressure, of a name…
I’ve talked about this before, but here’s how I came up with a few of my titles.
“Savvy Stories” was basically stories about a little girl whose nickname is Savvy. That sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? It wasn’t at the time, though. “The Daddy Diaries” was in the running (it was taken, and the word “diaries” was way too overused at the time). Another horrible name was “My Awful Three Years Without Sleep.” I like to think that wasn’t really a possible title.
“The Navigators” was a little harder. College students find a time machine and they realize they don’t actually pilot it anywhere, they just set the coordinates – and one character says “We’re the navigators.” That works on two levels, because they had yet to really set a direction for their lives until events in the story force them to. Prior to that, the working title was The Fantastic Five. Because there were five characters. Shudder.
“Poggibonsi” is a horse of a different color. It’s the city in Italy where a large portion of the story takes place in this romantic comedy. I had the name about five minutes after I had the story idea, which came to me on the way home from our vacation in Italy in March 2015. That’s all fine, but nobody knows what the heck a Poggibonsi is. It’s hard to pronounce (in the story, the assistant has to tell the MC how to say it).
But once you hear it, you pretty much can’t forget it.
(Check out two sample chapters of Poggibonsi, HERE)
I learned that from Arnold Schwarzenegger (among other things). He was doing an interview and they asked him why he didn’t use an acting name. He gave that as the reason. Once you hear it, you pretty much can’t forget it. Poggibonsi. You sure don’t confuse it with a book of a similar name because there are none.
It also has a helpful subtitle. The full name is Poggibonsi: an Italian misadventure. That is there solely to explain what the word “Poggibonsi” doesn’t – which is what the story’s about. In fact, if it wasn’t called Poggibonsi, it would have been called “The Italian Assistant.”
So, Poggibonsi it is.
I asked my critique partners and some beta readers about the name Poggibonsi, and they all said basically the same thing: it didn’t sound like a great name at first, but it grew on them. They have since nicknamed it Poggi, which is cute. (Note to self: add that to the key words and metadata for the SEOs.)
So while every author is challenged with this titling dilemma, there ought to be a simple way to come up with great titles. After all, there are formulas to come up with your blurb; why not your title?
The title needs to sum up the story, right? If it can?
The Water Castle, a fantasy romance, takes place in and around a castle on a river. The MC as a child calls it that after seeing an old stone water tower out the window of the car one day, and she asks if it’s a castle. Her father plays along and says it is. As a teenager, she is drawn to it on the 10th anniversary of his death, and her fantasy story begins. It seems sweet to use the name she called it as a child, and what her deceased father let her think it was.
But honestly, it sounds a lot like The Water Closet, and that’s not good. Totally different meaning. Sales may be weak in Great Britain. But for that one, I also had the title about five minutes into writing the story.
And while The Water Castle and Poggibonsi may not immediately let you know what the stories are about, what title really does?
What did Harry Potter mean before there was a book called Harry Potter?
What did Jurassic Park mean before there was a book called Jurassic Park?
What did Jaws mean before there was a book called Jaws?
Maybe a trip to the orthodontist, but that’s about it.
The list goes on.
Schindler’s List? Tells you nothing.
Star Wars? Less than nothing, because you actually wonder what stars are fighting. Could be a paparazzi dustup. Alec Baldwin going, well, Alec Baldwin on somebody.
You had to get an explanation about a wizard boy or a shark or whatever. THEN, the title changed the meaning of the words. And the explanation of the story was what made that happen.
A short, simple, easy to say explanation.
So, when you encapsulate your story down to its essence for your blurb, and try to make the diamond out of that lump of coal to become its title, take a deep breath and think up a sentence that the story’s about. That’s really what you need to do.
That’s my process. What’s yours?
How do you come up with your titles?
Feel free to share your title-birthing experience AND your horrible Work-In-Process name!
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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi: an italian misadventure.” Check out his other works HERE