What’s in a Title?

Recently I have been thinking about book titles. I have had people ask how I come up with mine, and have had some titles by other writers pointed out to me. Specifically, I have had it pointed out how common the act of recycling a title has become. I was shown a book by a new self published author, and I read the title and thought it sounded familiar. So I googled it. Not one, but three books existed with the same exact title, in the same exact genre.

Now, it was not a title that is particularly generic. And two of the three were by authors I have read in past decades and enjoyed. One at least would be considered canonical. So there was a fair amount of literary capital attached to the title already. Is it at all acceptable to take a ride on that capital?

The market doesn’t seem to mind, but in my way, I certainly do. Mind, that is. It feels to me, a little insincere. “I write original books. You will like my books. I can’t think of my own title.” This, it would seem to me, is just a mild form of hypocrisy. It has been suggested to me that it is good marketing. But good marketing convinces me to buy a book. This does not.

Now, I have no doubt that a large amount of recycling occurs by accident, or because a title is simply too generic. I am well aware that my own second novel, titled ‘Starlight’, falls victim to this generic title effect. Perhaps I will coin that phrase, GTE. Starlight still receives strong reviews and has garnered a small fandom. I like to consider it genuine success in spite of GTE, primarily because it could not be mistaken for another book – there are something like 50 pages of Starlight titles, ranging from romance to hard core horror, in the Amazon listings. You don’t look at that list and assume the one you are buying is the one you want, based simply on the generic title.

I learned my lesson from that experience, and do a thorough search on all my titles before adding them to the to do list. ‘Suspended Earth’, ‘Dance of Nevermind’, ‘Armada’s Disciple’. None are the same as anything else. Of course, some years ago I came up with the title ‘Shades of Farthrow’, only to have that other shades book burst onto the scene around the time it was being completed. That has had an impact, and not a good one, on sales for what some have called my greatest work. But the integrity of the book demands the title remain. Have you ever bought a book, only to find you already read it under a different title? I have. It annoyed me.

So to my mind it is imperative that we as the creators of original work take whatever steps are necessary to ensure our titles are original, out of respect for our own efforts as well as the efforts of our colleagues. You want your work to be remembered as your own, not as a derivative, or as something written by somebody else. Imagine a miracle occurs and you land in a new canon of your genre. How sad would it be that you share your title with somebody else in that list?

Got a book out? Google your title. See how original it is. And next time, google before you choose. Your books will be more ‘yours’ by this simple practice. It will further be made yours by good selection. Relevance to the story is critical of course. A good title is a tribute to the struggles and victories of the characters contained within the pages of the book. A good title attracts curiosity and generates interest, but it does so without borrowing from any other creator’s legacy.

I only hope I can keep mine coming without drifting away from those ideals.