What’s the fuss over titles?

Those who have been here before may have noticed a title change for this blog.  The former title “A Fantasy Novelist’s Pilgrimage to Publication has been demoted to the status of sub-title.  Why the change?  Two reasons and then I’ll talk about titles in general since it has been on my mind this week.

First, I’m new in the blogging milieu and had no idea what to call this blog on the day I launched.  I brainstormed for only a few minutes, while constantly distracted by the WordPress new blog instructions.  Rather than take the time to properly generate numerous titles and then consider them all until the right one resonated, I created a title that had no business being top billing.  So, the title that was really a sub-title was put in its proper place.

Second, I needed a real title.  After almost a month of hosting this blog, and actually spending a bit of time out there seeing what and how others are blogging I paid attention to what kind of blog titles caught my attention and what did not.  Most were short, two or three words and quite pithy.  I now wanted a short, pithy title.  Thus, I brainstormed a little more properly and came up with 8-10 potential titles and then thought about them, considering did each word convey the right meaning and were all title words together greater than the sum of the parts.  This blog is about a journey that few successfully tread and fewer can explain how it all works.  Thus I felt like I had a title that most illustrated the theme of this blog, as it were, Arcane Roads.

I don’t know if I succeeded in creating a more appropriate title, but I like it and it’s staying along with the cool header pic.  You can tell me what you think…hint hint.

Now for a more general discussion of titles.  How many of us have selected a book or a movie based solely on the title?  How many of us have passed over a book or a movie based on a title?  Show of hands, please…

We react to titles in our choice of entertainment, but probably don’t think much about why.  We either like it or we don’t.  It often takes a strong recommendation from a family member or friend to get us to change our mind and see the movie or read the book that had a dull, vague, or generic title.  I won’t provide any examples here, leaving it all up to your imagination.  You can probably think of several right now.

I have come to appreciate that titles are more than simply the largest, boldest font on the top of the front cover of a book.  A title is in essence, both the overview and underpinnings of a book or movie.  Let’s focus on books, since I’m writing one and many of you are as well, and if you aren’t writing books, you’re reading them.  Maybe the readers will think a bit more about the title when browsing the shelves at Barnes and Noble.

A great title serves many purposes besides large fonts and headers.  It is your readers’ first introduction to your story.  Even before they read a single word of your carefully crafted prose, they see the title and have an instant reaction to it.

The question for the writer is What reaction do I want from the reader? If you’re like me, obviously one of many possible reactions desired is Read me. If the title evokes something within the reader it will attract their interest.  Different people react to different stimuli and no title is going to appeal to everyone, but you can still ensure your title is the best reflection of your story AND it is the best sales tool for your story.

What?  Sales?  We have to market our work?  Er, yes.  So take it from the whole ad industry that a handful of words, when used properly, can create brands that last for decades.  Who hasn’t heard of iPods, or Coca-Cola, American Idol, or SpongeBob Squarepants?

Unless you write solely for your own personal enjoyment, or that of close friends and family, marketing is going to be a factor.  Don’t worry about marketing, per se, it is a very intimidating word to writers and I’ll cover that later when I actually have to do it and have learned something worth sharing.

Back to titles.  You don’t just need a good title; you need the best possible title you can create for your story.  Some writers start a story with a title and it never changes.  Others, name their story, Untitled, and worry about it later.  Still others create a starter title and as they write and the world of the characters in their story unfolds before them, the title becomes more and more clear, like a sculptor chipping away at a block of marble to reveal the statue within.

I’m more like the third type.  I start with a serviceable title and for reference; the working title of my current fantasy novel project is The Tower.  That will likely change after the first draft once I’ve been fully immersed in the world I’ve created for enough time to know what it is truly about.  Only then, will the title be clear.  That is how I work and others may have other methods, which I’d love to hear about.

What’s in a title?  Well, everything.  A title draws readers to your work and that makes editors and publishers happy.  The title should do more than look good in large fonts.  It should convey theme, or character, or setting, or plot or all of the above in a way that tells the reader what type and quality of story to expect.

Think of it as the teaser to read your book or story or article or essay.

-Mark

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