Thoughts on Publishing – Guest Author – The Importance of the Title

Quick Announcement: Thank you to everyone who pitched in with their thoughts about which author photo they liked best. I’m currently deciding between 1 and 4, and I plan to announce which one I’ll primarily use when I do the cover reveal for Magic’s Stealing. Thanks again!

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Today I’m doing something a little different. Today my husband (and co-founder of Infinitas Publishing), Isaac, is going to be a guest author. He’s written a post about the importance of a title.

Take it away, Isaac! 🙂

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Author Photo - Isaac FlintHere is a quick little brain exercise.

Recall a chapter, short story, or article that you’ve recently read. Now imagine trying to sum that up in 500 words. Now try summing that up in a two-to-five word phrase. This phrase needs to be eye-catching and communicate the essence of the work.

This phrase is the title.

Creating an effective title in real life it is not an easy task. Arguably, the title of your work is one of the most important things to keep in mind when trying to attract the attention of an audience. This can be especially true if you are a new, unknown author, since the people browsing through your book don’t know you or your style. If your book is shelved face-out, the first thing readers are likely to notice when they pick up your book is the cover art. After that, they read the title. But odds are that your book will not be face-out on a bookshelf. The book will show only its spine, so the title is all a potential reader gets. Together, the title and the cover must persuade a reader to look at the back-cover blurb. And while some readers may overlook a tacky cover, if the title is bad, the book may never leave the shelf.

What makes a good title?

First, many good titles are similar to the other books in their genre. Why? Wouldn’t it be better to be the rebel and make your title stand out from the rest? The answer is often no. When readers–or anyone buying a new product–are looking for something different, they are not likely to go for something totally different. They are likely to try something close to what they already know they like.

Thus, when an author of a mystery novel names his new book My Puppy, Spot, odds are she won’t do as well as if she named her novel The Canine Case.

There are two reasons for this. The first being that the title of a book is often used by readers to identify what genre it belongs to. (For example: Magic’s Stealing is decidedly fantasy). The second has to do with a psychological phenomenon known as the ‘mere exposure effect.’ Simply put, the mere exposure effect states that people are going to prefer things they have already been exposed to, over new things. This is not always the case, but there is a definite trend.

Second, a good title can set the tone without a blurb or cover art. Many young adult dystopian titles will use a single subject as their title, such as the trial or hardship the protagonist must face, to set the tone. For example: the Frost Trials. On the other hand, many romance stories will use a steamy phrase or specific fantasies as their title. For example:  Arctic Pleasures.

In Frost Trials, ‘frost’ sets the reader up for a cold setting, while ‘trials’ tells the reader the protagonist is going to be under pressure to pass some kind of test. Opposed to Arctic Pleasures, in which ‘Arctic’ implies somewhere exotic, even dangerous, and ‘pleasures’… well… you get the point.  

Now try to image how well a young adult novel about the life of a teenager living in post World War III Alaska, which is titled Arctic Pleasures, would sell. The title might get someone to read the blurb, but they are going to be in for a big letdown.

Third, the title must be relevant to the story. Not only does Arctic Pleasures set the wrong tone for our post-war Alaskan protagonist, but it’s also not relevant. Sure, the story takes place in the arctic, but it’s mostly about finding one’s self in a desolate, frozen wasteland while trying to survive the harsh climate and undead polar bears.

Not exactly an arctic pleasure.

As the author, you might know the connection, but the new reader won’t.

For example, my wife and I are writing a series of short stories currently titled The Multiverse Chronicles: 1953. We named it such because it takes place in an alternative dimension in their year of 1953. However, after reading a couple samples to our critique group, it became apparent that this name was misleading.


In our alternative universe, the progress of technology has been hindered due to many of its people using magic-like powers. Thus, their 1953 looks more like ‘18’-53 (Okay… technically it’s a tad bit later than that, but the point remains).

When we told our critiquers the name of the story, they were confused. From the title, they expected propeller-driven airliners and cars with white-rimmed tires and fenders, not dirigibles and motor carriages.

These are few things to keep in mind when creating titles for any type of writing, unless you want to go bold and create a title that will have your readers confused about what your book is about when they pick it up. However, this is not an all-inclusive list, more like a little brain exercise.

Also, all the titles mentioned in this are fictitious save for Magic’s Stealing and The Multiverse Chronicles: 1953, so if anyone now wants to write the steamy version of Arctic Pleasures, have at it.

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Thanks, Isaac! 🙂

Now I thought I’d chime in with a couple notes. Having a strong title is important even before your book hits the shelves. In traditional publishing, a strong title can make your query stand out among the other queries in an agent’s inbox, sometimes speeding up the long wait for someone to read your manuscript.

The other thing to keep in mind is whether or not there is already a similar title out there. For example, you might find that certain keywords, which are great titles in themselves, have already been used.

In some cases, this isn’t a problem. You can’t copyright a title, so you can use the same title as someone else. (However, using a trademark in the name gets into a whole different set of legal ramifications).

However, if that book has a strong following, you run the risk of confusing readers who are looking for the other book. They may be less than pleased if they pick up the wrong one. If your story is different enough that there would be very little confusion (and here the book jacket can help), then by all means, reuse the title. Otherwise, use a similar title at your own risk.

At the moment, we’re considering renaming the first season of Multiverse to “The Trials of Blood and Steel,” but we haven’t settled on that title yet, and there is a book series that has a similar name (A Trial of Blood and Steel), which appears to be high fantasy. I don’t think the two stories would easily be confused, especially given that the book covers would be sufficiently different and that the other series appears to be a few years old. At the same time, what are your thoughts about changing The Multiverse Chronicles: 1953 to The Multiverse Chronicles: The Trials of Blood and Steel? What genre does that convey to you? Do you see it as a problem if two books have the same name (Even if one is a series title, and the other a book title)?

Anyway, I hope you found this post useful. 🙂 Have you had any experiences with a title not conveying the correct reading experience?


Filed under Business Ventures, Writing

2 responses to “Thoughts on Publishing – Guest Author – The Importance of the Title

  1. “The Multiverse Chronicles: The Trials of Blood and Steel” I’d drop the 2nd “the” or go to “…A Trial of Blood and Steel”. But it sounds like a nice alternate universe steampunky fiction. It’s similar in format to the title of the famous series A Song of Ice and Fire which does okay in sales.

    I’ll also reiterate something from the beta read of Magic’s Stealing. That title just feels weird in my mouth. It’s a possessive followed by a verb which is a little weird, and a double “s” sound with a break in between. I think it would be better as Stealing Magic or Stolen Magic, or Magic’s Loss. While the title does summarize a major plot element, it’s just such a grammatically strange phrase that I dislike it. My $.02.

    • I was wondering how it might sound without the ‘the,’ and perhaps have it say “The Multiverse Chronicles: Trials of Blood and Steel.” Not sure we’d want to make it “A Trial…” since the other series uses that. Having a little distinction might be nice. But I like the idea of dropping the ‘The.’

      And I can understand Magic’s Stealing having an odd sound to it (though I think I picked up the name styling from the Mercedes Lackey books, Magic’s Pawn/ Magic’s Promise/Magic’s Price… but it doesn’t have that double ‘s’ sound that you mentioned. I don’t think anyone else has mentioned having a problem with it at this point, so I was thinking of going ahead and keeping it, but it’s something I’ll definitely be keeping in mind for future books.

      Granted, if I have several people saying the title sounds odd (kind of like with Multiverse: 1953), then I might need to change it.

      I do get what you’re saying, though. Thanks for the input. 🙂

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