I've never been good at titles. They just don't come easy to me. Since I've only written a few novels, I haven't found out if practice really does make perfect. When my friend Marcus told me that he needed a new title for his second book, I wanted nothing more than to help him. I sat for few hours, brainstorming, flipping through pages of quotes, scrolling through books on Amazon, but nothing came. The fact is, I liked his original title, even if his publisher didn't, and it was hard for me to think of his book by any other name.
The other day, I had coffee with another writing friend and, as always, I asked him what he was reading. "That Harlan Coben book," he replied, "The Innocent? Innocence? I always forget the names of books!"
So it got me thinking. How important are titles? Publishers seem to think very. But what about readers? Personally, I have never bought a book or picked it off the shelves simply because it had a gripping title. In fact, I've bought quite a few books despite the title because of a review I read or a friend's recommendation. Is it just me? Is the title of a book a real deciding factor for most people?
In his blog, Marcus writes:
"Despite the lesson we're taught in childhood, people do judge books by their covers--and their titles. And why not? First impressions matter. And where a cover design assumes the reader is holding the book, and can flip it over to read blurbs and a summary, a title has to stand on its own. It has to be memorable and suggestive, with the right balance of poetry and punch..."
I agree that a good title resonates long after I read a review or hear it mentioned at a party. Titles like "Please Kill Me" or "Be Cool" draw you in immediately. Others, like "Positively Fifth Street" or "Hairstyles of the Damned" are suggestive, give you a flavor of the book before you even read the back cover. But do they truly make or break the sale? After all, I bought "Welcome to Temptation" and "Faking It" despite the pastel covers and suggestive titles (both excellent reads by the way).
The conclusion I seem to be drawing is that while a bad title doesn't necessarily break a book, a good title can certainly make it, so why not spend time developing the best title possible? And there must be something to it if publishers and booksellers are so concerned about it. However, for newbie novelists such as myself, the top priority should be writing the best book possible. Don't spend so much time dreaming up the most perfect, poetic, resonating title. After all, isn't the publisher going to want to change it anyway?
I'd love to hear people's opinions on this. Are there books out there that you bought just because of the title? Do you even remember titles? When it comes to book buying, what's in a name?