What’s in a name?

A fellow writer and I attended the annual Book ‘Em literary festival at Robeson Community College on Saturday. It was my third time to go and the first time I was on a panel. Our topic was romance and as expected we all had differing views of exactly what romance is. I guess that is why there  are so many sub-genres, from sweet (think Amish) to erotic (think 50 Shades).

The goal is to sell books and support literacy efforts at the same time as part of the sales profit is donated back to the people who organize the event who then donate the funds to various literacy programs.

That’s their goal. Mine is meet other authors and potential new readers. While chatting with one author, she said someone had picked up her book and mused, “Murder on the Mississippi, huh.” Then she said, laughing but still a little indignant, “He looked at me said ‘What’s it about?'”


But it got me thinking. Do our titles really tell what the story is about, like a condensed elevator pitch? (If the term is new to you, it’s what you say to an agent or publisher if you are in an elevator and they ask what your book is about. You have 30 seconds to pitch it to them before they reach their floor.)

Authors spend hours composing their elevator pitch. It isn’t easy. Think of a favorite book or one you just finished reading and try to explain it to a friend in one or two sentences.

Authors also agonize over a title. A woman politely informed me as she flipped through my book that Dale Evans had written a book called Angels Unaware years ago. I do, but I discovered the fact after my book had been published. Or take A Question of Time. Google that, and a dozen books with the same or similar title pop up.

Titles are not copyrighted, thank goodness. But it might be wise for an author to research their title before settling on it. And to try and make it hint at what the story is about. The title and cover are what make the reader pick up the book. Only then do they read the description on the back cover.

The title doesn’t have to be a two- or three-word book report. Sometimes a story can’t be shortened to two or even five words. So your title needs to get attention, like Gone with the Wind or Love in the Time of Cholera. What do you think when you read them? Are they enough to make you want to read the blurb?

Does your title?

So the title is important. It has to grab the reader, make her curious enough to think, “Oh, this sounds interesting,” and pick up the book.

Maybe they still won’t get it, as the person who asked what Murder on the Mississippi was about.

But you can bet the farm I will be thinking more seriously about my titles from now on. If I am fishing for readers, I had better make sure the bait is alluring.





3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. CristineGzr
    Feb 28, 2016 @ 08:13:13

    Murder on the Mississippi? Oh, that made me laugh. –I would have had to wrestle the smart-ass inside me not to answer: ‘It’s a children’s book”


  2. lilapinord
    Feb 28, 2016 @ 14:12:07

    I, too, found out AFTER I chose my title for my last book IN TIME, that it was used before and also a movie was coming out with the same name! Alas…
    Lila L Pinord
    author of four thriller novels


  3. Nancy Hibbard
    Feb 28, 2016 @ 15:51:09

    I am a reader of books and always am drawn to the title that makes me want to look inside for the synopsis. Not so much by the cover picture as that can sometimes be misleading (as I have often found out to my dismay.).


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