Choosing a Title for Your Novel

Perhaps you have a finished manuscript and you’re struggling to title it, or perhaps you want to name your book before you can start working on it. A title is a very important part of the finished product—it is likely the first thing anyone will know about the book, before its cover design or even its authorship! Working out a title that will attract the right sort of attention while remaining true to your work can be tricky, but here are a few tips.

Stay relevant

A good title will be relevant to the book without being overly expository. A highly obscure title is just as bad as a very transparent one. You don’t want to spoon-feed your message to your readers before they’ve even opened the book, but you also shouldn’t opt for a purely poetic sounding title that has very little to do with what’s inside. Try to keep it simple and elegant.

Stick to your genre

You will have to take your target audience into account. What are the sorts of titles typical of the genre you are writing in? While it’s never a bad thing to strive for originality, your title shouldn’t fall so far outside the range of titles in your genre that readers mistake it for something else. For example, you probably want to steer clear of naming your sci-fi novel “Miss Stewart’s Picnic,” unless you intend for it to be humorously incongruous and expect that your readeres will pick up on the joke. Either way, you will need to know your audience, know your genre, and have a clear sense of where you want your book to fit in.

Stick to your guns

Publishers will sometimes ask you to rename your manuscript if they think a different title will sell better. Sometimes they will be right, and if you’re comfortable with it, go ahead and change it. But if the title is more meaningful to you than a simple selling point, this might be one battle worth fighting. You know your work best, after all, and if you think your title is the best possible one, it probably is.

If you’re self-publishing, you won’t have to fight anyone to keep your title, but you should still ensure that it feels right. Discuss it with your editors and friends. Consider also showing it to some people who know nothing else about the book (or the genre) and see how they react. But above all, make sure that whatever you end up with feels right to you.

Robin Field holds a BA in English and Linguistics from the University of Cape Town where she is currently working toward her Master’s degree in Linguistics with a focus on gender and game studies.

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