Friday, April 10, 2015

The Lion, the Witch, and the Garderobe

No, I'm not advertising a medieval paranormal with a twist. With that title, I'm not sure what a reader would expect! The King's prized assassin, the stealthy Lion. The town's reclusive orphan healer, known as the Witch. The castle's...toilet.  Ahhh, nothing says romance like la Toilette.

Probably not romantic to reference a commode in a title. I digress. I'm just thinking of titles for books. Lovely books.

Authors don't have a lot of choice in titles when a book is traditionally published. However, with self-publishing, the author gets that burden, um, responsibility. I don't recommend using a Romance Title Generator. Yes, those exist. Be more thoughtful than that. Unless you're at a party acting out the titles that appear. Then, it's great fun!

I digress....

I struggled with titles for the upcoming books in my debut series. I had to seriously think about what makes a good title. What things did I consider? What logic did I use?

If your title contains the word "dom" or "mask" or "tied," then I think erotica. If it has the word "home" or "again," then I think of contemporary or maybe a second chance romance. There are words associated with motorcycles and tattoos. If a "Duke" or "Lady" appears, then the reader will think it's historical romance. Same with the word "Danger" as relates to suspense.

The key is giving readers what they expect. Don't lead them astray with a title that suggests one genre and ends up being something different.

If the cover and brand are flowers and butterflies, but the title contains the word, "Bada$$," then it must be an intentional juxtaposition of sweet and tough. I've seen it work well, but it's not easy.

Google the title. You may be surprised. There may be an event or activity or product that readers associate with your title. You want that to be deliberate.

There is one book with the same title as the first book in my series. It has a cowboy on the cover. My hero is not a cowboy, and the cover reflects that. There are zero romance books with my second and third titles.

This leads to the next point....

One-word titles can have impact, but are easy to duplicate.  I remember recommending a book to my sister and there were several with that title. She was confused.

On the other hand, a title that is too long won't work well either. It may be harder to remember and more difficult to promote.

I love when a title makes me wonder about the book. Then, you find how it's related as you read the story.  On the other hand, sometimes I'm in the mood for a certain type of book, and then I like an obvious title. The best is a combination of both. I know what I'm getting, but there's still some mystery.

Subtitles can provide information a reader needs, especially reading order e.g. (Book 13 in the Amazing Romance Series). It may clarify genre if a title and cover don't convey the meaning enough e.g. Rattlesnoops (a Texas mystery)

So many titles play off other phrases. "Tall, Dark, and Handsome" can be changed to "Tall, Dark, and Whatevs"  There are song titles. Slang. They can all work. Genre can have an impact here too. I kind of love it all.

Do you want to follow a trend or not? Rewording a phrase is a trend. Using song titles. There are others. Trend was less important to me because I wasn't sure how long it would take me to write three books. I didn't want to bank on a trend and then have it be over by the time the series was released.

Are you releasing all of the books at once? Are the releases staggered by months? Years? I loved the idea of releasing a series where each title built upon the previous one. Individually they work, but taken as a whole, they create a sentence or something clever. There's a risk to that since you can only write the number of books allowed by the titles! I didn't end up doing that, but I still liked the idea. At any rate, there should be continuity with the titles if it's a series. Just like you would have continuity on the covers.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
What if The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe had been titled The Magic Children or Magic Journey to Narnia? Growing up Narnia? Rescue from Winter? Winter Curse? Lion's Sacrifice? The beauty of the title is that it reflects the main elements of the story. The lion represents good/Christ in this story. The witch represents evil/Satan/sin. The wardrobe is a passage/transition. What a perfect title. Memorable. Simple. Reflects the essence of the story.

Side note: I've read that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were in a writing group called The Inklings. Can you imagine? I digress....

I originally decided on the following titles for the books:

They evoked more of a suspense or military feel than I wanted for the series.  I wanted to keep the toughness associated with the words, but focus them in a more Contemporary/New Adult direction.

I revised to:
Colt (The Southern Brothers)
Ruger (The Southern Brothers)
Sig (The Southern Brothers)

The subtitle clarifies that it is a series with brothers as the heroes. The covers downplay the subtitles, so I still have the one-word impact. The covers and series logo will have a modern-tough Southern feel (scoped rifles and deer skull) rather than Western or cowboy (revolvers and longhorns). I can't take credit for that - my brilliant cover designer basically gave me exactly what I wanted when I wasn't even sure. Book 1, Book 2, Book 3 will appear in the titles when I upload them, so readers will know the order. If I do print books, then I'll put reading order on the spine. Also, the titles and subtitles have stories behind them, which readers discover along the way.

At a certain point you have to make a decision and move forward with it. I'm sure I'll learn lessons to  improve the next series. In the end, keeping the reader in mind was the key component for me, as it has been in all things related to my books.

So tell me. What makes a good title? What do you like? Dislike? Do you have any favorites? It doesn't need to be in the romance genre. Steinbeck titles are some of my favorites. What are yours?


Jillian said...

Great post. Titles are super hard and I Love how you broke it down. Your titles are awesome. Very cool! I am drawing a blank on titles I like though. LOL

Ali Hubbard said...

Thanks, Jillian! I appreciate you stopping by.

I love your Tequila Mockingbird title, by the way. It has all the good elements in it :-)

And yes, titles are hard!!!!! I read an article once where someone had asked if "A Business Affair" would have done as well as "50 Shades of Grey." Interesting thought!

Louisa Cornell said...

What a great post! Definitely a primer on how to come up with a great title. With my Christmas novella I wanted to draw the reader in and give them a clue as to the tone of the story. A Perfectly Dreadful Christmas just struck me as funny and I hoped readers would want to know what constitutes a dreadful Christmas. Think of some of your Christmases sort of thing. Now I am coming up titles for the sequels that tie into that Perfectly tone. The next book will be A Perfectly Scandalous Bride. The next novella will be A Perfectly Quiet Christmas. (and it will be anything but!)

A title that appealed to me at once was THE MADNESS OF LORD IAN MACKENZIE. I had to know exactly what his madness was and the book was and remains an amazing read.

Jennifer said...

Great post! There's so much to think about when choosing a title!

Heather said...

LOVE your titles! Fantastic post and great advice.

Suzanne Johnson said...

Great post! I've been lucky, I guess--I've never had a publisher change one of my titles. Then again, I usually have the title before I write the book, for better or worse.

Totally agree about looking for other books with your title. Go on Amazon and plug in your potential titles--you want to be the only one that pops up, or at least be on the first page!

Ali Hubbard said...

Louisa, thank you :-) Glad you stopped by! I love your titles. They are perfectly wonderful! A bit tongue in cheek. And they tie in together so well. There's a lot you can do with those.

THE MADNESS OF LORD IAN MACKENZIE is a great title. Packs a big punch. I admit I haven't read it, but now I want to! I'll add it to my crazy TBR pile. haha

Ali Hubbard said...

Thanks for stopping by, Jennifer. Great to see you here! :-)

Ali Hubbard said...

Thank you, Heather! Fingers crossed. lol. At every point of self-publishing, I realize there's still so much to think about!

Ali Hubbard said...

Suzanne, I'm happy to hear that you got to keep your titles!

I name mine too. I took a class once, where the teacher said it helped to give your WIP a title instead of calling it something generic like Steamy Romance 3. Helps you connect with it. ;-)

Thank you for stopping by!

Meda White said...

I love your titles. My first two series were easy to title, but I'm being wishy-washy with my other two. I keep changing my mind about how to brand them. You've given me some things to consider. Thanks. :D

Ali Hubbard said...

Meda! Thanks for stopping by :-)

You know I love your titles! I'm sure you'll come up with something awesome for the next one too!

Cari Hislop said...

Great post! As a reader titles are really important to me (even more than the cover). It's not that way for everyone of course. I have a friend who never looks at the title and only looks at the cover and the synopsis before buying (which I find fascinating - we're all so different). As a writer though I think each book has to have the right title.

I like titles that are plays on words with double meanings that the reader might not get until after reading the story. The last Regency I finished I titled Dancing the Maypole. The heroine is 5'11 (hence the derogative term maypole), but it's also symbolic of the weaving of the generations - all the various unhelpful "helpful" relatives attempting to bring the hero and heroine together.

Speaking of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It's such a brilliant title. Part of it's magic is it's brevity, but also there's on earth do these three things possibly relate to each other? How can anyone not crack a book with a title like that? It's genius!

I've not read 50 Shades, but I think it's title does help sell it. It's like a mental sticky note...I remember first hearing about it (before I knew what it was about) and I was dead curious because it made me ask...why would you need 50 shades of grey? And the number works for it too. I think the word fifty works better than if they'd used forty-nine or has a flow that helps it stick.

Alicia Coleman said...

Great post Ali! I'm terrible with titles. I usually use the main characters' names for titles until I think of something and that's usually midway the manuscript. Your post has given me some ideas about renaming my stories and my poor manuscripts appreciate you for it!

Ali Hubbard said...

Cari! I love the double meaning titles too. Dancing the Maypole is a fabulous title. I can see why it intrigued you.

I think you're right about 50. When I first heard the title, I didn't know it was a romance. It just made me curious. That's something I didn't even list...what does the title SOUND like when people are saying it? Super great point!

And I agree (with the example of the differences between you and your friend). We all find our books a bit differently. lol

Thank you so much for stopping by. You know we love to see our Cari!!!!

Ali Hubbard said...

Alicia, you and I do the same thing, using the character name(s) as title. :-)

I've started keeping a little notecard for what I call "impact words" as relates to the story. So, that when I'm done, I have a notecard of what I feel reflects the essence of the story. I'm hoping that helps me in titles and blurbs in the future, maybe even a synopsis.

Thank you so much for stopping by!!!