Why Titles Still Matter In An Ebook Age

“In the middle of the lunch, I said, ‘Oh, shit, I made up a show, and I have a title,’ and that’s when you know you’re dead, when there’s a title.” Joss Whedon

When it comes to ideas, names can be powerful things.  As a writer, ideas will pop into your head and you will move them around but once they have a title they are yours: you owe them something.  Yet, with the proliferation of eReaders, titles are seen less by readers.  Rather than the constant view of the book cover, readers have their Kindle sitting on the table in front them.  However, this distancing of the reader and the title of your novel does not mean you should underestimate it.

A bad title can harm your book and a terrible title could destroy it.  This list, by Lee A. Jacobus, gives some funny examples of awful title choices and it should be a lesson for any writer.  Titles have always been important and eReaders will not change that.  Remember people still have to choose to read your book and your title will influence that decision.

In her recent guest blog, for Wattpad, Margaret Atwood discussed choosing the title for her short story.

“But the editors at Byliner felt that title didn’t jump off the page. They wanted something “sexier,” more alluring; something that would evoke all the longing in the story. We all cudgeled our brains, sending titles back and forth by email – Shackle Day, The Red Locker, Purple Kiss, The Heart Goes Last, I’m Starved For You.  Finally we narrowed it down to the last two. Then we voted, and I’m Starved For You won by a narrow margin.”

Margaret Atwood has a great grasp of genre conventions and the promises a writer makes with both the title and the cover.

“There was a brief flirtation with a picture of a red scooter on a deserted beach – the mood was “escape” – but as there was no beach in the book, I wrote to my editor, ‘Never promise a beach when you don’t have one to offer.’”

Titles are your reader’s first step into your world even in ebook form.  Choosing something that lacks resonance or meaning is just a missed opportunity.  Choosing something that is unrelated to your work will result in disappointed readers.  This has not changed because readers see your title less.  Take your time and think about what your book is about, unless you are as lucky as Joss Whedon and the title comes to you over lunch.

What titles have surprised you, disappointed you or just turned you off?

Leave a Reply