East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

The Story of Whatsisname


Book-titleOK, so I lost the race but I’m on my way to finishing my second novel.
There’s a catch – apart from a few bits that still grate a little, and that I’ll have to discuss with my editor and beta readers… there’s the matter of the title.

Because so far, I’ve worked on files codenamed Matter/Energy, but let’s admit it – as a title for a science fiction novel, Matter/Energy sucks.
And is sounds like some kind of slash fiction for horny trekkies, which might attract the wrong readers.

So, I’ll have to invent a title.
The publishing gurus talk about compelling titles – but a cool title would be enough.
Because a cool title is something that really sells the novel.

For instance, last night I discovered there’s a book called The man who shot the man who shot The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
How cool is that?
I need to read that story1.

On the other hand, I’ve also been hit by a few horrid titles in the last few days.
Make it weeks.
OK, months.

Stuff like The saga of the wizard.
Boy, this sucks a lot more than my Matter/Energy.
What’s supposed to catch my fancy, to stimulate my curiosity, to cause me to actually buy and read this story?
Add to it an anonymous cover, and the book is on the fast lane for nowhere.

And yet there’s a lot of books out there – mostly self-produced – that sport titles that are at best forgettable, at worst really damaging of what could actually be a good story.

My personal hit list of bad titles includes

  • the overly generic – like the one mentioned above

  • the psaeudolovecraftian regurgitation – titles featuring a string of unpronounceable syllables that are supposed to sound alien/exotic

  • the minimalist whatever – the book has a single word for a title, and that word is singularly unattractive (body parts, botanical technical terms, commonplace words)

  • the name + synonym for “story” title2

  • titles with black, dark, blood. angel in them

  • anything that sounds like a well-known title with a changed word

000b081e_mediumBut that’s of course just me.

And yet, a minimum of thought about thetitle should be part of the work – part of actually writing the story.
Because the title is, after all, part of the story.
There’s a nice book out there, called How Novels Work (nice title!), by John Mullan, which examines each element of the novel, including titles and sub-titles.
It’s well worth a read – or a re-read!
So much so that I’m posting this, and then I’m taking a look at it myself!

  1. so much so, that I have set it as my personal prize for delivering the finished manuscript to my publisher. 
  2. granted, Dickens did that a lot but he was, well, Charles frigging Dickens 

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

8 thoughts on “The Story of Whatsisname

  1. Thanks for the recommendation on the Mullan book — haven’t seen that one yet, and it sounds interesting. Lots of us struggle over titles! Good luck coming up with just the right one!


  2. Oh yes – titles! I love titles nearly as much as I love names.
    I must confess a partiality for the ones with a literary quotation inside.
    Which is how I ended as good as killing a novel of mine… it’s a sad story – and I’ll tell it at some point. But I was badly overdoing it, and personal catastrophes apart, I still think a well devised quotation can work wonderfully.


  3. Actually, The Black Dark Blood Angel doesn’t sound half bad…

    Good luck with the title. I’m having my own struggle in coming up with one for a steam punk fantasy spy novel. My working title for the rough is about as generic as the ones you mentioned, and my working title while I edited it involved too much profanity.


    • I can fully understand the adoption of profanities 😛
      And yet there has to be a trick, a formula or something, somewhere, a “sure thing” to help us with titles for our stories – but so far, I’ve been unable to find it.
      Best luck with your title – and your story!


  4. Oh, titles! Man… I really suck at titles! 😀
    I always try to leave that to my wife, or my colleagues… Women, usually. They find better titles, when it comes to playwriting or projects…
    In fiction title really matters, for me, when it’s time to spend some money… I bought a lot of books only for their titles! 😀 (p.s. Cynical Little Angels’ a damn good one!)
    As for SF I love old, long and weird titles… Old Urania books are full of them! 🙂 Just taking a look at my shelf there’s “Mr. Caxton Draws a Martian Bird” and “Grab Bags are dangerous”, both by F.B, Long… I love titles like those.
    I also share your hate for the minimalist whatever! XD
    Recently bookshelves are full of books with titles like “Dark” or “Fallen” or “Allegiant” (ehm…)
    Good luck on your work and your title! I’m looking forward to read that novel… Right now I’m just stuck with the “missing” chapter of Ministry (“first version”, bought the very first day), waiting for the damn Amazon syncronization! (but I think I’m going to contact you good guys of Acheron to have my ebook fixed)


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