Can you tell that titling a book is not my forte? I’m responsible for four titles a month. For the life of me, I don’t know how it happens. My first step is to ask the author and editor for suggestions. We need to convey “romance” and “suspense” in one perfect title. No bland words, no clichés (or at least not too groan-worthy), nothing that’s been used before in the same line. I make lists of “hooks”, words that readers love to see. Then I check the sales history of titles with certain words. The choices are narrowed down to a few and I usually ask the author pick his/her favorite. Sometimes a title will just appear and I am extra happy if the author comes up with it. It saves me work!
For a category romance*, there are a few lessons I’ve learned when it comes to titles.**
- Try not to be married to your original title. Maybe just co-habitate. Your story is what counts the most. Editors really do understand how meaningful a title can be for a writer.
- Negative titles tend to tank sales***. The Reluctant Guy might evoke visions of a hero who won’t clean the bathroom or tuck in his shirt. Heck, he may not even rescue you from the elevator shaft or that pesky bank robber. Who needs a reluctant anything? I’d go for Her Hero in the Nick of Time instead. Actually, don’t use that title either but you get the idea.
- Emotion in a title is good. The Secret Agent Slammed the Door. Night of Passion, Day of Regret. Maybe I wouldn’t use these but they indicate a feeling, a vibe.
- Generic titles like Second Chances or Murky Waters fall flat. These work better for a single title, where the book is broader in scope and more complex. I would never title a category romance Gone with the Wind. Maybe Gone with the Handsome Sheriff. Your title should convey a specific message and not be too clichéd.
- If you’re going to use a name in a title, make it interesting. Josh’s Choice doesn’t say a whole lot. We don’t know Josh. We all make choices, so who cares? Josh’s Woman says a little more, is kind of primal and attention getting. I would probably use Josh’s last name D’Artagnan instead: D’Artagnan’s Woman.
- Think wild and crazy. I try to brainstorm insane titles. This helps me through what is usually a painful creative process. Who’s that Man in My Shower? or He’s Coming at Me with a Knife! can forge a path toward a salable title. Plus, it just makes me laugh.
Sometimes I share the author’s feelings–that his/her title is better than the one we ultimately went for. We experience fluke successes with odd titles and failures with guaranteed hits. For some authors, the title could be The Pirate Prefers Grape Juice and it would fly off the shelves. My ultimate goal is to help sell the book, remaining as faithful to the story and author’s wishes as possible. Now and then, I will take a risk on a title that might not cause fireworks but fits the story more than any other. It’s a collaborative process–well, except for the writing, of course. Thank goodness for that!
*Category Romance = romances with the specific word length and guidelines, with happy ending guaranteed.
**These findings are not always true, but I’ve found them to be the case more often than not. There are exceptions.
***Did I mention there are exceptions?