They say that an author and a publisher will never agree on two things: One is the choice of cover image and the other is the title of a novel.
I imagine that is very often true.
If, like me, you are a traditionally-published author, this may, (or may not), be the case, but either way, you will certainly benefit from the editorial, publicity, marketing and sales experience of the publishing house. If you are self-published, then, fellow writer, it is all down to you.
So what makes a good title for a work of fiction?
It should link to some extent to the contents or theme of the book – quite obviously. But more than that, it should, in conjunction with the cover image, play a major role in actually selling the book. That is perhaps where a publisher’s experience will usually trump the author’s.
Unless your book is a classic, at the point-of-purchase, where the majority of decisions to buy are made, your book has a very limited time in which to grab the consumer’s attention. By limited, I mean a few seconds at most. This is particularly the case when the consumer is browsing online. Few people will study your title to analyse how clever it might be so, together with your cover image, it needs to create an immediate emotional reaction.
That reaction can be curiosity or puzzlement, intrigue, enchantment or even outrage, but in every case the prospective book buyer should be induced to want to know more.
· The Childtaker, (Conrad Jones). This is an exceptionally powerful title, which together with a simple but dreadful image of an empty playground swing generates strong emotions of anger and outrage.
· The Other Boleyn Girl, (Philippa Gregory). This is more curiosity and intrigue. Most of us know a little about Anne already, but the other one?
Authors can often be too close to the detail of the plot to see this bigger picture. My novel The Eighth Circle of Hell had the working title of Victorian Maiden for a while. That may have been quite effective for a Nineteenth Century romance, but a powerful tragedy needed something more direct and forceful, yet intriguing. Similarly the working title for my second novel, Seven Gifts of Madness was rejected by Thames River Press in favour of the stronger, Red Dragon – White Dragon.
For those without the benefit of a publishing house committee, book stores are also good sounding-boards for potential title–image combinations. Even more so than the blurb or arguably even the contents, the title of a book is probably its most important selling tool.