There’s a rule that says book titles should be short. There’s another rule that says book titles should be long enough to attract attention. Sheesh! That’s the trouble with rules. No one can decide what the rule should be.
Readers will tell you that a great title attracts them. So how can an author come up with a really great titles? Some authors have a knack for this, and some struggle endlessly. Some authors have editors at publishing houses who decide what the title will be based on various factors.
Some of those factors might be previous use of the same title, some words in the title that the editor or someone in the editorial department doesn’t like, something in the title that was trendy or not trendy, etc. In other words, an author’s chance of using his own title was very small.
My first published book, Summer’s Fortune, which I’ll bring out as an indie published title next year, carried my title. No change. That was highly unusual.
Just One Look was my second traditionally published book. (Available at most ebook sellers; audio edition at Audible and iTunes.) That book’s title was changed 3 times. The third time proved the charm when the editor decided on Just One Look.
The only other title of mine that I was allowed to keep was Jane (I’m Still Single) Jones. I felt I had a good chance of keeping the title since it was highly unlikely that there were other published books with the same title. Plus, the editor liked the title a lot, and the title fit the story perfectly.
The general opinion is that short titles are best — the shorter the better. Short titles can be memorable. Dean Koontz — or his editor — chose well with Phantoms, Lightning, Watchers, and so many other titles in his booklist. If you’ve read those books, you know those titles fit the books perfectly. Most of Mr. Koontz’s books bear short titles.
It’s hard to find an evocative 1 to 3 word title that gives a glimpse of even one of the important elements of a novel: the premise, plot, characters, theme, setting, etc. That’s when you start playing around with more words.
Long Titles Can Be Glorious
Forget short titles. Sometimes long titles just resonate with readers. Some authors gravitate to long titles over and over. Long, evocative titles that just sing like lyrics in a song. Who doesn’t love these titles?
Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke
Snow Falling On Cedars by David Guterson
Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Ecco
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain
Through a Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen
and my friend Cynthia Wicklund’s In the Garden of Temptation which began her Garden series.
Let’s not forget the thrillers by Stieg Larsson that made such a splash a few years ago:
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
The Girl Who Played With Fire.
None of the books above could possibly have a short title as evocative and memorable as the name they ended up carrying.
The Short & Long Of It
For the most part, I’ve had success with the titles I’ve chosen. They all say what the book is about, and they’re “catchy” and attract attention. (Leave a comment today with your email address and win a copy of Jane (I’m Still Single) Jones, my longest-title book.) I do know that I leave no word unturned in my search for the perfect title.
What do you like? Short? Long? Somewhere in between?
( Joan Reeves makes her home in Texas with her hero, her husband. She writes sassy Contemporary Romance with the underlying theme that is her motto: “It’s never too late to live happily ever after.” Her books are available at most ebook sellers and audio editions at Audible and iTunes. Joan publishes Writing Hacks, a free subscription newsletter for writers, and WordPlay, a free subscription newsletter for readers. Find Joan online: Blog, Website, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.