History That Never Was

Home of Dawn Vogel: Writer, Historian, Geek

Choosing Titles

Whether you’re writing novels or short fiction, titles are important. For one thing, you need them in order to keep track of your stuff. But you also need them so other people can keep track of your stuff. And while you could just call things “Book 1,” “Book 2,” etc., that’s not really all that interesting, and it’ll make Google searches almost impossible. (Which is, for the record, a bad idea.)

It’s also useful if you have titles that make your novels or stories stand out. A couple of years ago, Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld did an analysis of the most common words used in titles for stories submitted to Clarkesworld. He made a cool graphic out of it, too. And while he also mentions that a title isn’t going to be what makes or breaks a story for him, there is some value to having a title that’s interesting and unique. Especially when it comes to novels.

Razorgirl Press loved my novel, which was originally called The Cask of Cranglimmering. But partway through the editing process, they pointed out that it was going to be really hard to get people to remember “cranglimmering.” It’s a weird word (it’s made up) and not easy to spell if you haven’t written/edited it 6,000 times. So we made the decision to change the actual title of my novel to Brass and Glass, but kept The Cask of Cranglimmering as the subtitle.

My husband has a series of books called Kensei, which is the main character’s super hero name. If you search for Kensei on Amazon, it likes to show you shoes. (Called Kinsei. It’s not even spelled the same!) Had he realized this before he started the series, he would have changed the name.

So when I’m putting together a collection of stories, or when we’re planning an anthology for Mad Scientist Journal, we do a LOT of Google and Amazon searching to come up with a title that’s easy to remember and that isn’t already the name of a million other things. It’s been a real learning process for us, and we may not always get it 100 percent right, but we’re learning to make that title checking a priority now.

When it comes to short stories, I’m not as picky about my titles. I’ve had titles that are ridiculously long (“The Recondite Riddle of the Rose Rogue” was the first story I ever published, but it’s not my longest title) and just a single word (seven completed stories so far, three of which have non-English titles). The key for me when I’m naming short stories is just finding the title that fits it the best. Sometimes, it’s really easy–a word or phrase in the story that stands out. Sometimes, it’s more complicated, and I wind up with three or four possibilities. Then I just have to winnow it down to the RIGHT title.

And it also helps to be flexible. Even if you’re dead-set on a specific title, if someone suggests something different, it might be worth considering. It might not wind up right for your story, but sometimes the outside perspective helps.

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