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Naming Your Baby

Choosing a book's title is kind of like naming your baby. You want something original but not weird, easy to remember, not too common, and something that goes well with the family name. BUT—and this is a huge but—most readers don't realize that authors don’t always get to choose their books’ titles. Publishers have their own agendas and that’s what rules.

There are many ways to approach title choice: a bit of dialogue from the book (“Or was Tara also gone with the wind that had swept through Georgia?”), a theme (War and Peace), something exotic and mysterious (DaVinci Code), a location (Jurassic Park), a person’s name (Dr. Zhivago), a person’s title or description (The Paris Wife) . . . et cetera. There are no rules—this is art, not science—but there are some recommendations.

An author should check first to see if their title idea is widely used. My publisher was amazed that the title for my first Roaring Twenties mystery, THE IMPERSONATOR, had not been claimed. In fact, there was one book of that name but it had been published 25 years earlier and it was obscure. There were no books titled SILENT MURDERS or RENTING SILENCE (the 2nd and 3rd in the series). There were already 3 books titled STOLEN MEMORIES (my standalone mystery set in France in the 1920s), and since I published that one, a 5th has appeared, so in retrospect, I made a poor choice. Oh—if you were wondering—a book title can’t be copyrighted, so theoretically, I could title my next work TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

Generally speaking, shorter is better. Some say no more than 3 words is best; others allow 4. Some like the use of alliteration in titles (Wind in the Willows). One current fad that’s getting a bit tiresome is the use of Wife or Daughter as the second word (The Paris Wife, The Magician’s Daughter, The Aviator’s Wife, The Bootlegger’s Daughter, etc.) In fact, during the past few years, there have been 30-50 titles published per year in the Someone’s Daughter/Wife format. Enough already!

There is a website called Titlescorer you can use to rate a title. It’s not very specific but it’s fun to type in your title idea and see what their algorithms have to say. Of all my titles, the Titlescorer ranked RENTING SILENCE highest. What do you think is a great title? A terrible one?

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