Friday 6 May 2011

A Working Title...?

Do you decide upon the title of your novel first and write the story to suit or do you finish the manuscript and choose a title afterwards?
Me, I start with the title. It 'pops' into my head while I'm pondering the theme, the premise and the characters, then it is fixed. Even my next book, the one I haven't yet started writing, already has a title. See, I just can't help myself.

Of course, it might not be a good idea to get too attached if you have a publisher, as I know lots of writers who thought they had the perfect title, only for it to be changed later. Famously, Jilly Cooper's latest blockbuster Jump had a working title of 'Village Horse' during the four years she was writing it.

So what makes a good title? Well, surely, it has to be the minimum number of words that sum up the feel of the book. If you can relate genre, setting, time period and premise, as well as attracting attention to the cover, then you have to be backing a winner.

I had an interesting time on Better Book Titles  today - a website that features recognisable book covers of bestsellers and classics and updates them, with a twist, and gives a much more descriptive title. The site is run by Dan Wilbur and he aims to give you the meat of the story in one condensed image. Great fun!
My advice if you are struggling to name your magnum opus would be to think about what you want the title to convey and to make notes, jotting adjectives, verbs and nouns, which can be associated with the story. Use a thesaurus and refer to a reverse dictionary - a reverse dictionary allows you describe a concept and get a backlist of words which have definitions conceptually similar to the words you search with - a good place to find a reverse dictionary is

Next I would suggest giving yourself some time and space to process your ideas and to allow your subconscious to work. Then, when you have a title or a selection of title ideas to work with, go to Amazon and look up other books with titles that are similar or the same - noting in particular the ones in the same genre as your work. Originality is always best but remember that there are no laws of copyright on titles.

If you are deliberately trying to be controversial with your choice or simply like to be a little different then don't be suprised if you find yourself shortlisted for next year's Oddest Book Title Of The Year Award. This year's worthy winner was an inspirational guide: Managing a Dental Practice:The Genghis Khan Way  - as announced recently by the Bookseller magazine.

So how did you come up with  the title of your book and at what stage in the writing process did you do it...? All comments appreciated.