I've been in both situations. I've written six novels, and am currently working on my seventh while in the final editing stages of my sixth. On my first novel, I knew the title before I wrote the first sentence. On my sixth novel, I had to force myself to come up with a title, because I was printing it, and needed to put something other than Novel 2013 on the front page. I kid you not. The document title on my book was Novel 2013 until the day I printed the first draft. That to say, I've been on both ends of the novel naming spectrum. I'll tell you that I'm no title master, nor do I poses a magic wand for naming your novel. I do, however, have some tips that may help you come to that aha! moment when you find the perfect title for your baby--I mean novel. Here are 3 tips for naming your novel. Stay until the end, because some great authors pitched in their two-cents on how they name their novels!
The goal is for your title to be as true to your novel as possible. I believe that a big mistake some writers make is generalizing, or not writing a title to stand out. They write a mystery, so they title it something like Ashley's Clues. They write a horror novel, and name it Trail of Blood. What's wrong with these titles? There isn't anything inherently wrong with the, however I just typed the latter title into Amazon, and the search resulted in over 24,000 results in its Books section. What about Ashley's Clues? Again, there isn't anything exactly wrong with the title, however it's typical. It's moderately generic. It looks like a title that could fade into a bookshelf without being noticed. Though some good cover art can help with this, why not start with a strong foundation, like a standout title?
Outlining and Brainstorming can help with this. When deciding on a title, write down distinct, short points from your manuscript. Does your main character have an interesting name? Is there a key element that conveys the heart of your novel? Is there an object that is a main theme throughout the book? Play on that. Play on the uniqueness that makes your book your book. I would suggest getting a nice pen--because we all know that nice pens make writing SO much more fun--and some paper, and taking a whole page or two to write down key words that remind you of your manuscript. Write down things that make you smile about your book, and words or sentences that you use when someone asks you that question every writer is asked--what's your book about?
When I'm giving my novel a name, I try to think about myself in a bookstore. What books am I drawn to? Which ones catch my eye, and which ones make me turn away?
How do you answer these questions? Know your reader. Someone that reads Young Adult fiction will be drawn to a completely different title than someone who reads comic books or nonfiction. Young Adult fiction tends to have short, catchy titles. Take for example Divergent, The Hunger Games, Beautiful Creatures, Delirium, and the Looking Glass Wars. What do all of those titles have in common? First of all, they all have less than 5 words in their titles. Also, all of the titles are fairly intense. Young Adult literature is a massive genre--growing more and more every day--so to stand out is everything. To stand out, and to be attractive, is even more. These titles master that object. Though short, the titles brew intrigue in adventure and action, or are serious and potent.
What about other genres? Let's look at the romance genre. Take for example some bestselling romance novels, like The Notebook, Gone With the Wind, and The Next Always. There's a decidedly different flavor in these titles. Though they're also strong titles, they're different in a sense. They don't necessarily spell out the action or adventure that is so strong in the Young Adult genre. Instead, they shadow love, a story wound around a relationship (typically), and a distinct focus on the character, whereas Young Adult a lot of times will focus on the story as a whole, or a strong main focus in a novel, not just a phrase.
I would suggest for you to make a list of titles that are best sellers in the genre you're writing in, and write down common themes throughout them. What tends to draw the readers you're writing for in? Write to your readers, because in the end, who do you care about the most when crafting your title? Most likely, your answer will be the people reading it.
Don't stress yourself out too much about the title. Of course it's important, but remember that in the end, sometimes the publisher/editor/agent will help guide you to an even better title. As an example, did you know that Stephenie Meyer's best selling novel Twilight was originally titled Forks? She says that she still has a soft spot for it: "The first thing we worked on [Stephenie and her literary agent, Jodi Reamer] was the title, which started out as Forks (and I still have a teeny soft spot for that name)..." In the end, TRUST YOUR PUBLISHER, or you may end up with a book about vampires that sounds like an all-you-can-eat buffet cookbook.
As promised, here are some quick thoughts from writers about naming your novel (Thanks to them for sending me their tips to post!)
Lindsay Cummings, HarperCollins author:
"I love to pick titles that shock people, ones that tell an entire story in just a few words!"
"When choosing a title, I find it important to be descriptive, concise, and to avoid cliches. One or two well-chosen words go a long way!"
"Because book titles are a symbol of a story's inner being, it's best to let them come to you on their own time table."
"Short and sweet is the way to go. From my experience, books with quick and punchy titles are usually the ones that get pulled off the shelves.
"It is good strategy to use words in your title that prospective readers are likely to search for. My most popular titles include "dragon."
Best of luck to all of you writers out there crafting your titles and your manuscripts, and remember that with hard work, patience, and the ambition to make it happen, your novel's name will one day be on store shelves.
Connect with the awesome writers who gave their advice:
Jessie Mae Hodsdon:
Facebook: Jessie Mae Hodsdon
Quote from Stephenie Meyer: