Mystery, suspense, thrillers, paranormal, horror & YA by "Cheryl Kaye Tardif" & romance by "Cherish D'Angelo". Cheryl is represented by Trident Media Group in NY.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Short or long book titles?

1 word, 2 words, 3 words, 4...with book titles is less more?

A while ago I read a post by an author/publisher who wrote about book titles--should they be long or short? It made me contemplate how I named my novels, how sometimes I chose the titles before or during the writing or how the titles sometimes chose me.

The title of this publisher/author's post was Would You Pay Attention, Please? Or, How to Keep Up with Trends in Book Titles, Arguably the Most Important Element of Your Marketing! (which personally I think is ridiculously long!)

I have always believed that titles are key to a novel's success. I have searched out books in my genre and studied their titles, text placement, front cover, back cover etc and asked myself, 'Why does this book's title work?' For my own novels, my titles are always tied to the story, often in a symbolic way and sometimes in more than one way. Children of the Fog is literally children taken by a kidnapper nicknamed The Fog, and it represents the children in the story who are cloaked by an actual fog.

I might be an unusual author; I almost always have the title of the book before I've even started it, or at least before it's finished. I sometimes look within the manuscript for the title, as I did with The River--short, mysterious, adventurous, just like the novel. Some titles are just "there", in front of me before I even start writing, like Whale Song and Children of the Fog. Divine Intervention had no title a few chapters in, and then one night I saw a promo for a new TV show--Joan of Arcadia. As the preview ran, the words DIVINE INTERVENTION ironically appeared. I knew at that very moment, and the title affected some of the actual story and gave me my 'Divine' series. (I'm almost finished editing Divine Justice, book 2.)

I am also working on a suspense thriller called SUBMERGED. It's the story of a man who is submerged in grief and self-blame; and it's about a woman and her 2 children who are trapped in a submerged car--a fear that most of us have. I had the title the second I knew that the story would be about someone in a submerged vehicle. I also knew that the title was a play on words, that it would symbolize the main character's overwhelming guilt.

I have another novel plotted: The 6th Plague, a thriller about a small quarantined town gripped by a deadly plague during a film festival. I actually played with a few titles, until I realized what the invasion was going to be--and when I looked up the Deadly Plagues, I found that the 6th one--boils--was perfect. The idea for the story and the title came to me within 5 days.

As for subtitles, I have an aversion to long ones, unless they're absolutely necessary and ONLY for nonfiction. If the main title gives you enough information, then I wouldn't want a subtitle. But if you can't understand what the book is about from the main, then a subtitle is vital. Take for instance this nonfiction title: Kissed by an Angel. Does it tell you what the book is about? No. I am working on a nonfiction book titled: Kissed by an Angel: 12 Steps to Surviving the Death of a Child. This is not just a 12-step program, but a look into the paranormal/spiritual and healing side of grief.

As a reader, I tend to be drawn mostly to suspense fiction with titles that are most often two words. Years ago I read an article by someone who had researched some of the best known book titles. Guess what he discovered? These bestselling books had titles of 1-4 words! Rarely any more than that.

If you're a bookworm, please comment on your preference for titles. If you're an author, which do you prefer--short, long or somewhere in between? I look forward to reading your replies.

~Cheryl Kaye Tardif,
author of Whale Song


Anonymous said...

I'm struggling with titles for my books right now, so I was glad to read this post. Short and sweet for me, but I believe the title should give the reader a glimpse into the book without giving away the story. That said, I'm working on a series. Double trouble there!

Thanks for the food for thought,
Jessica Rosen

Eileen Schuh: said...

The statistics are a little questionable; they don't mean much unless we know if non-best sellers also had short titles.

I think by default, most authors/editors/publishers use short titles. The fewer the words, the better it displays on the cover, the easier it is to remember, the greater the impact.

Company names and people names are also usually short, probably for the same reasons.

A sample of my titles: "Aedrie", "Noraebang","The Traz", "Back Tracker II: FIrewalls"

Karelia Stetz-Waters said...

I have always been drawn to long titles. My favorite is A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. However, now as I look for a title for my second book, I find I worry that longer titles are too trendy. On the flip side, my book is funny, and I'm finding it hard to convey humor in a short title. Any suggestions?


Cheryl Tardif said...

Longer titles for Chic Lit is common. I'd say go with a happy medium of 5 words and you'll be fine. As Eileen mentions, you want people to remember your book title. Longer titles are harder to recall.

Happy writing! :-)

writerschoice said...

I like your energy and your pragmatic thoughts. Titles usually come to me in a flash, just like names for a struggle. But now I'm fidgeting and floundering with a title as I prepare to do the copyright. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

My titles, To be or not to be, Judge not lest ye be judged Matthew 7:1, Hero or Villain, The Relict Chronicles, The Return, Love with an Improper Stranger.

Jim Williams