Do You Judge a Book by its Title?

As writers, we ensure that we use a great opening, that the content is spectacular, and each scene (in fiction) ends with a cliff-hanger. In short, we spend the majority of time tweaking our story. And of course, that’s the way it should be.

But how much time do we devote to titles? It appears to be very little.

I recently did an unofficial survey of both published and unpublished writers, and here’s what I found:

Most believed:

  • The title was unimportant
  • If the editor didn’t like it, she would change it
  • Makes no difference to the book
  • People would buy the book no matter the title
  • It was something to think about later-if the book sold.

They couldn’t be any further from the truth if they tried.

Titles are extremely important to your story. So important, they will often mean the difference between selling or not.

It’s okay to have a weak or unrelated ‘working title’ ­ but that’s as far as it should go. The minute you have an appropriate catchy title, change it. Not only on your ms, but also in your mind.

When I wrote “Saving Emma,” it had a horrid working title. “Undercover Love” was never a favourite of mine, but it would do until I could find something better. As I wrote the second last chapter, part of the dialogue talked about the main protagonist ‘saving Emma’ from certain death. In that unforgettable moment, the title jumped off the pages and into my brain.

Not only did my whole outlook on this book change, but it also changed in the minds of editors and publishers.

As “Undercover Love” I’d submitted the book to several publishers and had nothing but rejections. And not even personal rejections; I got form letter ‘dear writer’ rejections.

When the title changed, the responses also changed. I began to get bites and requests. Despite the fact that the story itself was unaltered, editors became interested.

All this because of a title change?

Well, yes. Titles are extremely important.

To get an idea of how much difference a title really can make, take a look at these examples of title changes:

  • Tomorrow is Another Day ­ – Gone with the Wind
  • John Thomas & Lady Jane – ­ Lady Chatterly’s Lover
  • Something that Happened – ­ Of Mice and Men
  • Blossom and the Flower  – Peyton Place

Sometimes it’s just a matter of tweaking your title slightly. For instance, one of my works-in-progress was called “Into the Arms of a Stranger.” I hated the title, despised it in fact, until I shortened it. “Arms of a Stranger” is a much better title, and has more appeal than the longer version.

Following are just a handful of titles I’ve started with, and then changed for the better:

  • Poison Ivy –  The Rubber Ducky Killer
  • The Flight – ­ The First Flight
  • The Gym – ­ Mystery at Joe’s Gym
  • First Person Point of View – ­ Me, Myself & I: Writing First Person POV
  • Finding Ideas – ­ Today I Witnessed a Story

The title of your story, book, or article, should portray something of the content, as well as standing out from the crowd.

Just as a great looking cover will sell your book, so will an outstanding title.

Copyright Cheryl Wright. All rights reserved. Cheryl Wright is an award-winning Australian author and freelance journalist. In addition to an array of other projects, she is the owner of the Writer2Writer.com website and the Writer to Writer monthly ezine for writers. Her publications include novels, non-fiction books, short stories, and articles. Her upcoming release is”The Write Resources” from Central Avenue Press. Visit Cheryl’s website http://www.cheryl-wright.com/