The Romance Reviews

The Romance Reviews

A Spell in Provence

A Spell in Provence

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

A lot of Sense and some Sensibility Too! How to choose the title of your novel

There are many informative articles and blog posts on the subject of naming novels, but I must confess I hadn't read any before choosing Angel heart, the title of my debut historical romance. It came to me one day, in the early stages of researching the story. I liked it because it was short. I found it catchy and easy to remember, and I liked the fact it related both to the name of my heroin and to the plot, so I stuck with it and never considered changing it.

It was the same for my second historical romance, The Lion's Embrace, which once again just popped into my mind. It immediately felt right because it related to the main character - the hero this time - and the North African setting. As for the two romances I recently completed, Dancing for the Devil, and The Lady of Bellefontaine, and which will both be published by Áccent Press in the next few months, I found the titles before I even worked all out the details of the plot!

Now I have researched the topic I realise I got it all wrong and I should have taken more time and experimented with different ideas - even if I still love all my titles and would probably keep them anyway.

First and foremost, I should have 'Googled' them to make sure they didn't already exist or weren't too similar to others out there. The most important function of a title is indeed to identify your novel among the hundreds of thousands of books on the market, and a good title should be unique and make your book stand out. This makes so much sense I can't believe I didn't think of it.

Secondly, I should have waited until the end of the writing process before deciding on the name. This is because the original title you may have fallen in love with when you started writing your story may not reflect the plot, characters or style of the final manuscript and may therefore mislead or confuse potential readers. This is something else I didn't do, but then again I feel it would be too much like leaving the choice of a baby's name until after the birth, and I'm not sure I could wait that long.  


Of course, there are other factors to consider when choosing a title. Should you go for an obvious title that reflects the genre, style and content of the novel so that readers know exactly what they are buying, or choose a more intriguing title, one with different layers of meaning?

Many romance novels are often easily identifiable from their title. Anything with the words 'heart', 'passion', 'temptation', 'wedding' and of course 'love' and 'heart' (I am guilty here!) could point to a romance. Add an aristocratic title - 'Viscount', 'Marquess' or 'Duke' - and you fall into the sub genre of historical romances. Further references to a geographical or historical setting will immediately appeal to a specific market. For example any mention of the Highlands or Highlanders evokes Scottish lairds, clan wars or Jacobite plots, and of course men in kilts... 


Some romances have very long titles which look like mini-blurbs and give away most of the plot. There can be no doubt in the reader's mind about who the hero and heroin are, and what the conflict is going to be. 

Even without being too obvious some book titles give you an instant feel for the mood of the novel. I doubt anyone picking up Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, Victor Hugo's Les Miserables or Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath would expect a cheerful read with a happy ending, even if they knew nothing of the story.

But what about the element of surprise? Is it a good idea to have a title so obscure readers have absolutely no idea about the story and they feel compelled to pick up the book and look at the blurb? Or is there a danger that they might feel let down, or even a little cheated, if the novel turns out to be somewhat less original and enchanting than the title suggested?

There are of course many great novels with great titles around. Successful French novelist Katherine Pancol has a few of those, such as The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles, Cruel Men aren't so Easy to Find, or again The Squirrels in Central Park are Sad on Mondays (my own translation since the book is not yet available in English). And what about The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, The Devil Wears Prada, by Lauren Weisberger, One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or Madam, Will you Talk by Mary Stewart?  I wish I could come up with one of those. 

So what can you do if you are stuck and can't think of a title for your story? Using the name of the main character, or of the place or period where the novel is set is a good idea. So is referring to key words, concepts or images recurrent in the story and contrasting them (War and Peace is a classic example). Play on words or the use of alliteration will help make your title memorable (Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility), and so will rhyme (The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss). 

     

If you are planning a series, it makes sense to have catchy titles that follow on from one another or have the same style. Sue Grafton takes letters from the alphabetA is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, C is for Corpse. Sophie Kinsella uses the same word in her Shopaholic series, and so does Kathy Reichs for her thrillers, Bones Are Forever, Devil Bones, Break No Bones. I very much like the titles fellow MuseitUp Publishing author Anne Stenhouse chose for her historical romances, Mariah's Marriage, Bella's Betrothal and her forthcoming novel Daisy's DilemnaThis is definitely something I wish I had considered for my own romantic novels, since Angel Heart, The Lion's Embrace and Dancing for the Devil are part of a trilogy. 


So what about you? How do you choose the title of your novels?  And which titles do you wish you had thought of first?


10 comments:

  1. Hi Marie, this is a really thoughtful discussion of titles. They can be the bane of an author's existence. I found the title of my debut novel, Mariah's Marriage, kept dragging me back to what the novel was about and similarly with Bella's Betrothal. As a person who sees side turnings and deep caves with no visible exits in any straight path, this is very useful. Also, being British, I do love alliteration. Anne Stenhouse

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    1. I do love your three titles and feel they work really well on their own and together too. Thank you for stopping by!

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  2. For my current novel I wanted the title to have an action verb + Tibet. That's how I got "Race to Tibet". However I run the risk that readers will mistake my book for non-fiction rather than fiction.

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    1. According to some of the advice I read, titles which have three words and include a verb are the best, so your 'Race to Tibet' should work really well for your novel. Tibet is a great setting for a novel. Good luck with it, Sophie, and thank you very much for your comment.

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  3. Hi Marie, I think every author approaches it in a different way. For me, I've used song titles for all my books except one. I simply could not decide on that occasion but it's been song titles ever since and it works for me!

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    1. What a great idea to use song titles! You are right, Jo, in the end it's how you feel about your title that matters. Thank you for your comment.

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  4. Hi Marie, what a thoughtful post. I love your titles, and I think Angel heart and The Lion's Embrace really fit the novels well. I also like Anne's three titles, which are catchy and clever. Jo's idea of using song titles is good. Anyone who googles that song title will also come across your book. Great idea!

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    1. Hello Helena and thank you so much for your kind comment. I too think using song titles is very clever. There is a lot to consider when choosing a title, but I think the most important is that at the end of the day, you have to be happy with your choice and it has to feel just right for the story and the characters. Your two titles - The Silk Romance and The Antique Love - fit the novels perfectly!

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  5. I write heaps of possibles before deciding and even then it can change. I've even trawled through a list of racing horse names because some sound more like novels than horses! (Have a look and see what I mean!) I usually start by thinking of 'associated words' and then browse Phrases and Sayings or Rogets thesaurus for inspiration. Lulu.com used to have a "title-ometer" (or something similar) which would rate a title for you, as to how successful they thought it was going to be!

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  6. What a great idea Wendy! When I was little, one of my uncles back in France was keen on gambling at the horse races and would read the odds out in the papers to me. I do remember some incredible names - some really romantic ones too! Thank you for visiting.

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