Working title – choosing a title for your novel
I decided recently that the title for my novel isn’t working (that coupled with a form rejection hitting the doormat hammered home the point).
I initially called it The Golden Section. It’s about a make up artist who becomes obsessed with the Platonic ideal of beauty. It refers to the Fibonacci sequence found everywhere in art and nature – in the head of a sunflower, the spirals of a conch shell, and in the proportions of a ‘perfect’ face. It also deals with the themes of lying, artifice and illusion with an unreliable narrator.
I think it’s pretentious. I find myself having to explain the concept of The Golden Section (or Ratio or Number) before I explain the book. It’s vague, it sounds like a tome on maths and Pi (not my strong point!). For a while it was called Face Value (after I did a little crowdsourcing experiement on Twitter) and now it’s called The Make Up Girl which I hope suggests the double meaning of her being a liar. I don’t like the word ‘girl’ as she’s in her thirties but that’s how they’re referred to in the industry. Now I worry it’s too fluffy.
Sometimes I think I’m over thinking it.
There’s a fun site run by Lulu called Titlescorer to see whether your title is going to be a best seller where you put in your proposed title and it generates a score based on the success of other titles. The Golden Section got 20.1% whereas The Make Up Girl got 76.3%. Clincher!
Choosing the right title is trickier than it looks. You want your title to stand out from the crowd but at the same time you want to give people an idea of what to expect. It has to match the genre. It has to be memorable (although the staff in my local bookshop are brilliantly at guessing what customers mean based on the vaguest of descriptions.)
One of the best titles I’ve seen recently has to be Kerry Hudson’s Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma but I wonder if she had any problems with it? Did they have trouble fitting it on the spine? In these times of Twitter hastages, what do you shorten it to? I’ve also read that you shouldn’t use titles that begin with a number (for indexing/cataloguing reasons?) but my second novel, a psychological thriller, is called 100 Yards.
Strangely there is no actual copyright on a title but why would you go for something that somebody already has and add to the confusion? I wonder if Jasper Fforde and his ‘Shades of Grey’ series (which began long before the FSOG phenomenon) has benefitted from any confusion with a certain E L James? I’d love to know how many book titles get changed in the run-up to publication.
Has the title of a book ever put you off or made you think it was going to be something other than it turned out to be?
If you’re a writer, how did you come up with your title?