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Jul 23, 2010

Roses By Many Other Names - Finding the Right Title

An agent once told me, "I dismissed your book based on the title. It was so trite, I expected the writing to be bad too."

Fortunately, she went on to say that the writing was much better than she expected, and she requested a partial. I still felt aghast that I had almost shot myself in the foot with a lousy title.

Interestingly, the other agent at the same session said that the title hadn't struck her as trite at all -- quite the opposite. It had intrigued her. The problem: she didn't rep my genre. Her area was literary fiction. So if I had been pushing lit fic under the same title, maybe it would have worked.

Not to be coy, the book in question was Dindi Book 1, and the title I was trying out at that time was, "The Secret Society of Warrior Dancers. Book 1: The Initiate."

When you are naming a series, you have the added difficulty that you ought to have a pattern for the series. I would have moved on to Book 2: The Serving Maid, Book 3: The Warrior; Book 4: The Vaedi. (By Book 4, readers would hopefully know what Vaedi meant.)


I now need a title for my present fantasy wip. I don't know about you, but it bothers me working on a book with no title.

Have you noticed that a terrific title compels you to buy a book even if you know nothing else about it? (Please tell me I'm not the only one with this disorder.)

Some of you, my blogging writer friends, have come up with compelling titles.


Tell me that's not made of awesome. Anthony Pacheco is working on a space opera with this title.

Although, I realize I remembered it wrong, as BLOWING STUFF UP IN SPACE. Huh. Either way, great title.


This works perfectly to let you know this novella is a retake on the story of Cinderella. At the same time, it makes me think of something burnt to cinders, which is slightly ominous, and fits the theme of questioning what happens after "happily ever after."

Btw, I think Michelle's contest is still open. Go join it if you haven't already.


I love this title. I hope Scott uses it.

A kickass title (A) forces you, will you or nill you, to buy the book, (B) tells you something about the story, (C) works on more than one level.

Not all books have, or need, kickass titles. FIRESTARTER gives you a good idea what the book is about. CARRIE could have been a gentle coming-of-middle-age story about a divorced woman struggling to keep her small town apothecary in business.

A lot of fantasy books have trite titles because it's more important to convey the book's genre than anything too specific. If you title your book, A BOY GROWS UP, even if that's what it's about, it may attract a literary crowd who will be disgusted with the actual content. If you title it, DRAGONS FIGHT ELVES, the right readers will find it.

I have a book about gladiators and pirates. With more emphasis on gladiators. There's also an island, a contest that takes place every hundred years, and the fact that our hero is planning to throw the match. What should I call the book? I considered the obvious (believe me).

GLADIATORS FIGHT PIRATES (Not unless I can fit in such a scene. Which, I admit, would rock.)





ARENA OF THE DRAGONS (Did I mention there are dragons? Of course there are.)

Turning to my husband for help, I received a lot of tongue-in-cheek suggestions. Alas, my book is not comedy.



HERE THERE BE WENCHES (my husband's fave, but really not relevant, sorry, sweetie!)

Or I could go for something a bit more obscure and high-brow.




WE WHO ARE ABOUT TO DIE (I like this, but is the phrase too tied to historic Rome? My story is fantasy, not historic fiction)

I’m open to suggestions.

How do you come up with titles? What titles are you using? Do you love your title or just tolerate it? Would you change it if an agent or publisher asked you to?


Michelle D. Argyle said...

Thanks for the shout out!

Okay. Confession: Sometimes I come up with a title first and then build a story around it.

Is that bad? Well, I usually have a really SUPER loose idea for a story, and then I come up with the title and then create the story around the title. I did that with MONARCH and CINDERS. Maybe I'm weird. :S

I LOVE the title of Anthony's book. And Scott's. I hope he sticks with that title as well.

As far as your titles go, I think ARENA OF THE DRAGONS is my absolute favorite. That implies a lot of excitement and is obviously fantasy. I love it!

Tara Maya said...

That explains why you have such good titles, Michelle.

Cheater. :)

It's funny you like ARENA OF THE DRAGONS. That was the original name I had for it. LOL

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Haha, yeah I'm a cheater. :)

Maybe you should stick with Arena of the Dragons. :)

Lucas Darr said...

Thanks for the shout out!

I also cheat. I have a lot of experience in creating titles as a headline writer for a newspaper.

I have to read an entire story or piece to get at a tittle, though.

Ban said...

I second Arena of Dragons! Liked it soon as I saw it.
And no, you're not alone - I myself am a Cover Girl (I'm not talking cosmetics) A great cover will get me to pick a book up, then see if it sounds as interesting as it looks.
And yeah, a book somehow seems to lack direction without a fitting name. I like the idea of having one early on so the story can grow into, the way some people grow into their's.