One of the first steps I take before I write a single word of a novel is to create a working title. It keeps me excited as I journey into the new world I’m creating, and also gives the project a sense of realism. With every book I’ve written, the working title became the ultimate title. Except for this one time… Let me explain.
When I wrote my eighth novel, as typical, I began to promote it months out from it even getting into the hands of my beta readers. I had named it Picture Perfect, and touted that working title all over social media. My readers began talking about Picture Perfect on their newsfeeds, asking me questions about it, and really helping to build up buzz for its eventual release. All sounds great, right?
Critical Feedback on a Book Title
Well, here is what happened – one of my beta readers told me she didn’t like the title. I love my beta readers, and rely heavily on them for direction at the pre-editing stages. This feedback affected me in two ways.
Firstly, I cringed at the thought of having to change the title at this stage because I had marketed it so much already. I talked about Picture Perfect in interviews, blogs, on my website, and all over my newsfeeds. To rename this, and communicate this renaming, would take enormous effort.
Secondly, on a totally different tangent, I felt empowered that I could change the direction of this novel in such a dramatic way just by changing the title.
Be Flexible wiht a Book Title
A working title is just that, a title that keeps us working. I can’t say this enough – be flexible with it and be willing to change it. Also, be open to criticism on it. In fact, seek out critical feedback. Weigh it objectively. Play devil’s advocate with it. Don’t let your emotions rule your actions with something as critical as your work. You want to put your best out there, and to do that takes self-control to avoid the toxicity of self-preservation. Toss defenses to the side and listen to what people are saying. Is the feedback valid? If it is, let it sink in and do something valuable with this feedback.
The reason my beta reader didn’t like the title Picture Perfect was because it was prosaic and left no room for imagination. The title, in essence, told a story in and of itself that left no mystery. A story should have turmoil, conflict, and hold the reader captive with its lure of what might be or what might not be. The title didn’t match the story anymore. The story was not picture perfect. The characters faced tons of conflict that far dismissed any such nonsense of being ideal and perfect. The title simply didn’t live up to the story. It didn’t match the book. It didn’t grab her attention.
She painted a picture for me:
“If I were in a bookstore looking for a new book to read, and I had never heard of you or read anything by you, I would skip over your book. I wouldn’t even pull it off the shelf, because the title doesn’t say anything to me. It sounds idealistic and hopelessly romantic. It sounds like it is going to be a fluff story, not the soul-searching journey that is your story.”
After receiving this feedback, my gut told me this: My first step in marketing is to grab readers’ attention, and if my title does not hook the reader, I’m not going to accomplish that.
Jump into Book Title Mode
I needed to rename my book. My first reaction – ugh. I was done writing the book. Now was the time to pour myself a glass of sangria and kick up my feet. I wanted to celebrate the end of my fun journey frolicking through the brambles of literary landscapes, not recreate one of the most vital parts of the novel.
After I moaned and groaned for a few minutes, I got serious. I set aside my sangria, planted my feet back on the ground, and jumped into creative mode.
I would not come up for air until the perfect title struck.
I decided to make a list of concepts and emotions – words, phrases, fragments – that my title should convey. My lead character was on a journey to find herself, to find her value, and to understand her place in the world. She needed to understand how she related to her lover, her former lover, her friends, her career, and most importantly her inherent desires. So some of the ideas I listed included:
Journey | Dreams | Starting somewhere | Taking the first step
Removing comfort | Banishing routine | Opting out of stability
Taking that risk | Fork in the road | Start and the journey begins
Life doesn’t happen until you let go
I stared at this list for several minutes, letting each concept filter off the page and take up flight in my subconscious mind. The theme of a journey to somewhere formed, and connected to my book’s overall theme. As if the curtains of my mind opened and allowed the bright sunshine to cast its rays onto sleepy synapses in my brain, the title popped into my mind – The Journey Somewhere. It not only carried a bit of mystery, it also invited the reader to determine for herself what that journey started out as and what it evolved into.
How to Brainstorm a Book Title
When brainstorming a book title, aim to play to potential readers’ emotions and to spark their curiosity.
A great title must at the very least reflect the story’s content, create intrigue, and elicit an emotional response.
Short and snappy titles have proven to be successful. Not only do they fit on the spine of a book without effort, but they also tend to be memorable.
Whether you’re creating your book title prior to planning out your novel or after you’ve already written it, here is a technique that will spark fresh ideas.
This is what you’ll need: A magazine and a computer.
- For ten minutes, select a keyword or phrase from as many headlines in the magazine as you can and type them out in a column.
- Make a second column. For ten additional minutes, repeat this exercise selecting different keywords or phrases.
Now comes the fun part.
- Make a third column, and rearrange keywords and phrases from each column to make a unique title.
This is how I came up with my title for my third novel, Tangerine Twist.
After I planned out the story, I needed a working title. I wanted something that would represent the name of a special guitar my lead character’s grandfather had given to her at a pivotal time in her life. When I saw tangerine and twist written together it clicked. I thought, what a cool name for a guitar!
Here comes a little extra notation on this title. Later on, I went to wash my hands and realized the bottle of hand soap on my sink was named Tangerine Twist. Fate? I like to think a little bit of fate was at play (smiles).
Toss some of your book titles in the comments!