What’s in a title? (Apart from words, that is)

We all know that covers sell books. But what about titles? How important is it that we get the right title? A title that invokes the spirit of the story; a title that describes the story; a title that grabs the readers’ attention?

To highlight the impact of a good title, I’m going to recall a story that happened to me recently. But it doesn’t involve books; it involves music.

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 17.57.20So, I was in the car with my two daughters when a tune that I really like came on the radio. Naturally, I dialled up the volume, boosted the bass, and carried on driving with my head going up and down like a nodding dog.

The tune in question was Walking With Elephants; a house track by DJ/Producer Ten Walls. I personally think this is a great tune, but it’s not really kids’ music. Nevertheless (and to my surprise), both my girls loved the track and I’ve been pestered to buy it ever since.

If you go and have listen, you will hear that it does indeed invoke the image of walking with elephants – which is key to the point of this post.

I have since wondered: would my girls have enjoyed this tune as much had it been called something like Tubas and Trombones or Dancescape Eternal? Is it the invocation of elephants that caught their attention and then ushered them on to enjoy the track itself?

I believe it was. I believe that without this title, they would have ignored the radio, carried on playing with their Monster High dolls and continued to perpetually ask ‘if we’re there yet’, as opposed to enjoying this four-minutes of music.

And to bring things back to a literary perspective; I’m not saying that a book can coast along on the strength of a good title alone, but I would argue that a well conceived title can certainly provide the flavour of the book, set up the story to come, and help the reader through those crucial first few pages.

So how about you? Can you think of any books, films or tunes that relied more than others on a killer title? Or perhaps a title that turned you off buying a book or one that could have been better?

Thanks for reading.

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16 comments on “What’s in a title? (Apart from words, that is)

  1. I agree – titles intrigue me – I do think that the more famous an author – the less time is spent on the title. I think they assume that you are then buying because of the name of the writer. Looking back to my teens the one author that used great titles was Wilbur Smith – which is probably why i still read him today.. When the Lion Feeds…etc.

  2. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    The title of your book – an interesting article with a great analogy.

  3. Allie says:

    I agree, a title can be key. I have been having an on off debate about the title of the book I am writing. I have changed the name three times to date. I have found as my story evolved the first ones did not say what I wanted it to. The jury is still out. Great post and great tune. Thank you for sharing. x

    • gpeynon says:

      Hopefully you’ll get something solid soon and that it doesn’t give you too much of headache – remember not to second-guess yourself too much either.

      I think that people who pick the title before the book is even started are like those kids (myself included) who start a band and give it a great name before even picking up an instrument. Change and evolution show you’re serious.

      Thanks for commenting, and I’m glad you like the tune.

  4. I think the title can be very important, especially as a debut author. I’ve been trying to pick a title for my book and am ready to give up. I want something that says this is a vampire novel, but not horror, but not really paranormal romance, and there’s some history, but it’s set in the present, and there’s humor, but also some darkness. Ugh. Too bad Twilight is taken, huh?

    In réponse to your question, I tried to think of novels with great titles and for some reason my mind went to Stephen King books and I came up with Carrie, Christine, Cujo and It. Whatever you think of his writing, his titles are pretty sparse and (in my opinion) not very creative, but they seem to work for him. So I don’t know, maybe I’m overthinking it.

    • gpeynon says:

      I quite like those one-worders from Mr King.

      Your book is exactly what I am talking about and highlights the matter perfectly. If your book isn’t run-of-the-mill, then an appropriate title is imperative.

      I’ve seen bloggers put the question to the community of how best to title their book. Of course this method doesn’t mean that you have to use someones else’s suggestion, but it may offer some insight and throw up new ideas that you can use to ease your titling troubles. Hope you get something solid soon.

  5. The title grounds me and gives focus to me as a writer. I agree the title should give you an idea what the story’s about without giving it away.

  6. M. C. Dulac says:

    Absolutely. Just in the example you gave, “Walking with Elephants” immediately made the music more intriguing and sparked off my imagination! I’ve found that of all my ebook titles, the one that people buy most and add to their list on Goodreads, is the one with “Dublin” in the title. It seems the city name attracts people’s attention. So when starting out, the title does seem to be a key part of catching the eye of all those busy readers!

    • gpeynon says:

      Yes I agree. I also see sometimes that readers’ love for a certain word, place name, etc. can lead to a glut of similar titles and a whole pile of cliché. That’s one to be avoided methinks.

      • M. C. Dulac says:

        Yes best to avoid the pile of cliche! I guess a popular word used imaginatively can help out initially, when people don’t know much about the work. “Interview with the Vampire” springs to mind!

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