The Importance of Book Titles, Part 1: Stating the Obvious
January 16, 2013
Let’s say you’re an author and you’ve written a book. Congratulations! Now comes the REALLY important part. The book needs a title. The importance of this cannot be understated. Next to cover art, this is the most effective way to hook a potential reader. Over the next few blogs, I’ll be taking a look at effective book titling techniques. Let’s start with the really obvious, a title that describes the book. You don’t want to confuse your potential readers. So why not just tell them EXACTLY what the book is about? Consider these examples:
- Walter the Farting Dog by William Kotzwinkle. Is the main character a dog? Yes. Is his name Walter? Yes. Does the plot revolve around Walter's excessive flatulence? Yes. Am I giggling? Yes. Are you? Yes, you are, just admit it.
- How to Avoid Huge Ships (2nd Edition) by Captain John W. Trimmer. If you keep getting run over by huge ships, this is clearly the book for you.
- Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhoff. The author feeds her garbage to worms to make compost, and so can you.
- Bad Amateur Ebook Writer Romance Story by Ivana Murleau. This title clearly differentiates it from Good Professional Print Author Romance Story by N.E. Redwyne.
- This is a book by Demetri Martin called This is a Book. The minimalist approach.
In contrast to Mr. Martin’s minimalist approach, some authors feel you need to know a whole lot about the book from its title. I call this the "why read the book when you can just read the title" method.
- The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, Etc. Who Was Born In Newgate, and During a Life of Continu'd Variety For Threescore Years, Besides Her Childhood, Was Twelve Year a Whore, Five Times a Wife [Whereof Once To Her Own Brother], Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon In Virginia, At Last Grew Rich, Liv'd Honest, and Died a Penitent. Written from her own Memorandums. By Daniel Defoe. You could write a book report on this right now and get at least a C+.
- Kidnapped: Being Memoirs of the Adventures of David Balfour in the Year 1751: How he was Kidnapped and Cast away, his Sufferings in a Desert Isle; his Journey in the Wild Highlands; his acquaintance with Alan Breck Stewart and other notorious Highland Jacobites; with all that he Suffered at the hands of his Uncle, Ebenezer Balfour of Shaws, falsely so-called: Written by Himself and now set forth by Robert Louis Stevenson. By Robert Louis Stevenson. But you already knew that. See how this works?
- Travels through Italy Containing New and Curious Observations on that Country; Particularly the Grand Duchy of Tuscany; the Ecclesiastical State or the Dominions of the Pope; the Kingdom of Naples; the Republics of Venice and Genoa; and other Italian states. Wherein the present state of those countries is accurately described, as to their different kinds of government, situation, extent, revenue, power, trade, manners, and customs; but more especially their ANTIQUITIES as temples, triumphal arches, pillars, baths, amphitheaters, aqueducts, catacombs, ruins, and public ways; as also their MODERN CURIOSITIES, churches, convents, palaces, villas, castles, forts, bridges and public roads. With the most authentic account yet published of capital pieces in PAINTING, SCULPTURE, & ARCHITECTURE that are to be seen in Italy: Including remarks on the ANCIENT and PRESENT STATE of ITALY, of the ARTS AND SCIENCES which have flourished the re, and of TASTE in PAINTING; with the characters of the principal painters, and other artists. By John Northall, Esq. Captain in his Britannic Majesty's Royal Regiment of Artillery. Illustrated with A Map of Italy, a route of this Tour, and several copperplates, engraved from drawings taken on the spot. See, that's way better than Italy Travel Guide.
- Slaughterhouse-five, or, The children's Crusade: a Duty-dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut, a fourth-generation German-American now living in easy circumstances on Cape Cod (and smoking too much), who, as an American infantry scout hors de combat, as a prisoner of war, witnessed the fire-bombing of Dresden, Germany, "The Florence of the Elbe," a long time ago, and survived to tell the tale. This is a novel somewhat in the telegraphic schizophrenic manner of tales of the planet Tralfamadore, where the flying saucers come from. Peace. Dude, like, whoah.
- An Almanac of Complete World Knowledge Compiled with Instructive Annotation and Arranged in Useful Order by Me, John Hodgman, a Professional Writer, in The Areas of My Expertise, which Include: Matters Historical; Matters Literary; Matters Cryptozoological; Hobo Matters; Food, Drink, & Cheese (a Kind of Food); Squirrels & Lobsters & Eels; Haircuts; Utopia; What Will Happen in the Future; and Most Other Subjects; Illustrated with a Reasonable Number of Tables and Figures, and Featuring the Best of "Were You Aware of It?", John Hodgman's Long-Running Newspaper Novelty Column of Strange Facts and Oddities of the Bizarre and (take a deep breath…) For your Consideration, The Firms of Dutton Riverhead Books of New York City, Publishers of Ken Follett, Darin Strauss, David Rees, and the RZA, Present in the English Language: A Further Compendium of Complete World Knowledge in "The Areas Of My Expertise" Assembled and Illumined by Me, John Hodgman, A Famous Minor Television Personality* , Offering More Information Than You Require On subjects as Diverse As: The Past (As There Is Always More of it), The Future (As There is Still Some Left), All of the Presidents of the United States, The Secrets of Hollywood, Gambling, The Sport of the Asthmatic Man (Including Hermit-Crab Racing), Strange Encounters with Aliens, How to Buy a Computer, How to Cook an Owl, And Most Other Subjects, Plus: Answers To Your Questions Posed via Electronic Mail, And: 700 Mole-Man Names, Including Their Occupations. * Formerly a Former Professional Literary Agent and Professional Writer, AKA "The Deranged Millionaire." Yes, the title actually contains a footnote. Mr. Hodgman performed a combo breaker by simply titling his third book That Is All.
In our next blog post, we will look at the "Yes, I, the author, am totally awesome" school of book titling.