One Writer’s Journey

March 28, 2019

Titles: A Contract with Your Reader

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 4:09 am
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Lately I have noticed a trend in misleading titles. Yesterday I clicked on something like “Why I am Breaking Up with Twitter.”  The first paragraph was about how the author has never had a Twitter account.  Um . . . what?  You can’t break up with someone or something you’ve never had a relationship with.

Do not play with me if you want me to keep reading.  I’m serious.

If you promise me a mystery, there had better be a mystery.  Words like Secret and Curious also imply mystery.  Really.  They do.

And I’m not saying that titles can’t be clever and just a bit tricky.  Something Rotten by Heather Montgomery is about the science of road kill.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The Science of Roadkill.  But it is also vaguely reminiscent of Hamlet.  One, roadkill science, will attract the target read.  The second makes it curious and quirky.

A title is a contract with your reader.  It can promise mystery, romance, fantasy, or humor.  You don’t want your title to give too much away but you still want readers to know what to expect.  Of course, this means that you the writer need to deliver.

I have to admit that titles are not my strength.  It isn’t that I tend to fib to the reader.  Nope.  Instead I tend to give too much away. Deborah Blum does not have this problem.

The Poison Squad.  What do you expect from this title?  A group that tries to poison someone?  That tries to catch a poisoner?  This is the title of Deborah Blum’s book about a chemist who wanted to test some of the preservatives being used on foods in the 1880s and 1890s. He recruited a group of young men who would ingest the preservatives in capsule form when they ate their meals.  In this way, we learned which preservatives were safe and which were harmful. It is the beginning of the FDA.

The title is enough to pull you in but it doesn’t give the entire story away.  It hints but doesn’t deceive.  And that, my friends, is how is done.



March 14, 2019

Titles: Choosing the Right One for Your Book

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:26 am
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“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

I get Shakespeare’s point but I’m not sure I agree.  Character names and book titles are, unfortunately, important.  Why unfortunately?  Because I’m not all that great at creating titles for my manuscripts.  It is a struggle.

Monday I finished roughing out a humorous picture book manuscript.  As I finished, I looked down at the title.

9 Things to Remember about Surprising Your Mom.  This was the title that popped into my head and inspired the manuscript.  But by the time I was done drafting the manuscript the title no longer fit.  It was still about a surprise and the surprise was still for Mom but . . . no.  I just didn’t work.  I needed a new title.

Cake Is Good. As my teen would say, “Well, duh.”  Cake is good.  And that’s a line out of the manuscript.  But I don’t want the emphasis to be on the cake from the start or it is no surprise what they make for mom.  And since one spread is about debating what to make . . . can’t give it away in the title.

Think, Think, Think.  True, the characters do a lot of thinking especially when one plan or another doesn’t work but . . . not quite.  I wanted something that placed a greater emphasis on what the book is about.

Doing Something for Mom. Ugh.  Boredom would set in from the title alone.  This book is both fun and funny.  This title?  Neither.

Surprise!  Hmm.  That’s what the whole gang yells at the end when they surprise Mom.  While using a line from the book isn’t a bad thing, do I want it to be something from the last spread?

Finally, I settled on Think, Think, Think. As the manuscript stood, the title didn’t quite work.  So I tweaked the manuscript here and there. Think, Think, Think became not only the title but a chorus throughout the book which strengthened one of the themes which in turn created a STEM emphasis.

Not only can the right title help sell your manuscript, it can help shape it.  Sorry, Shakespeare.  I get what you’re saying but finding the right title can be vital.



June 20, 2016

Coming up with a Top Notch Title

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:47 am
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Disgusting, Man, Sick, Spew, VomitEvery now and again I come up with the perfect title for my manuscript.  It is catchy, alluring, and just revealing enough.

Then there are those times that I think I’ve pulled that off but  — no.  I have not.  That was the case with What’s Up, Chuck?  I mean, what could be better for a book on vomit?  Apparently, something that tells the reader what the book covers.  And it has to do it without sounding like an academic title.

I smiled when Taylor Norman (Chronicle Books) told me this at the retreat, because really she was super helpful.  But inside I was crying.  I hate coming up with titles.  Hate it.  Really.

More often than not I can’t come up with anything decent but I’m lucky because I do a lot of online writing.  State the obvious and do it briefly.  Or work for hire.  The contract comes with a title.

But this time I have to do it myself.  The only word I have so far is “Vomitology.”  I’m leaning towards “Vomitology – The Science of Puke,” but I haven’t allowed myself to fall in love.  It is far too early for that.

That said, I did test the title out.  How?  I Googled it.  Hmm.  This probably won’t work.  It seems to be the name of a Death Metal band.  It is also an entry in the Urban Dictionary.  The example sentence contains the name of a male body part that rhymes with Venus.  Yeah, not really the sort of thing I’d want my 8 year-old reader to find.  So I’m back to square 1.

When you think you have a spiffy title for your book, Google it.  You may not come up with a Venus or a death metal reference.  But you may find 15 other books with the same title.  What happened when I was looking for Whoosh by Chris Barton.  It is a picture book biography about the NASA scientist who invented the super soaker.  There was probably a full-page of titles — some spelled Whoosh, others Woosh.

Pukology is also a no-go.  Don’t Google it.  Just don’t.  It was disgusting and this is from the woman writing a book about barf.

Vomitus scientificus?

Ugh.  I hate coming up with titles.


June 17, 2014

Your Title: What Are You Promising Your Reader?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 12:39 am
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An intriguing title helps hook your reader because they want to solve the mystery.

This title promises a gruesome look at history. The cover art assures you that it is also humorous.

What do you consider when you title your book?

We know that a title has to tease and tempt the reader.  If it doesn’t, they won’t check it out.  We’ve missed our first opportunity to hook them.

This is why you see intriguing titles like Dinosaurs without Bones.  You see that and wonder what fossilizes other than bones and what dinosaurs didn’t have bones anyway.

I’ve been researching a new book project for about two weeks now.  Not only am I seeking out source material, I’m also reading the competition and, honestly, there may be books out there but I’m not too worried.  Why?  Because so many of the books that I’m finding make promises that they fail to keep.

I’m not going to name specific books because I don’t want to pan someone else’s work.  And, I’m not sure who is coming up with the titles for the books that I’m reading – maybe it is the editor.  Maybe it is marketing.

Whoever comes up with these titles, they understand how young readers think.  They know that young readers, especially boys, like topics that are a little gross and a little skewed.  That’s what they promise in the title, but then they don’t deliver.

Take the title  How They Croaked.  The title promises the reader a book about death and this particular book delivers.  This a nonfiction title about how various people died — always famous people and always in a slightly off, often icky, way.

If you had a book called The Germs that Changed History, potential readers would pick it up thinking that it would be a book about plagues or epidemics.  Fail to deliver and you will lose your readers.

Fortunately, I already have the title for my book and it is keeping me on the straight and narrow.  I know that what I write has to fit that title.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a promise to keep.



August 30, 2012

Are Your Titles Any Good?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:08 am

A rose by any other name might be lobelia.

“A good title should be like a good metaphor. It should intrigue without being too baffling or too obvious.”
Walker Percy

Special thanks to Susan Uhlig who posted this quote on her own blog.   It really made me think because I’m getting ready to send out a stack of manuscripts.  How do I put this gently?  Titles are not my thing.

That isn’t to say that none of my titles are any good.  I’m really happy with Wolf Guilt, Crab Dad and Rat Race.  But those are my middle grade and young adult titles.  My picture book titles are much less amazing.

The Princess in the  Garden solidly gives away the ending.  I get that but I’ve yet to come up with a title that I like better.

I liked Onward and Upward but it was a touch too mysterious.  Since this is a very character driven story, it became Fearless Felicity:  Onward and Upward.  It may go through one more change and become simply Fearless Felicity.

Cowboy College is so so but its wrong for the focus of the story.  Again, no better ideas have approached me out of the ether.

Zoo Staff is another monument to the so-so.  It became Zoo Crew which I like better but . . .

Off to do some more brainstorming.



September 8, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:09 am

 thinkingConfession time: 

I HATE coming up with titles for my manuscripts.  It was so much easier when I was in grad school and my thesis title, “Five Chinese and Taiwanese Families in St. Louis: A New Chapter in Immigration,” was, if not inspired, what everyone wanted. 

Now that I’m in the publishing world, that doesn’t work and I am truly bad at titles.  Even when I come up with a title I like, it is usually bad because it gives away too much. 

But then I saw this in “A Fiction Writers Checklist” by Renee Heiss:

My conclusion links to my opening or title. 

While I’m good at linking my conclusion to my opening (circular structure), I had never considered looking specifically at my conclusion for inspiration in naming my work.  Maybe this will be the key for me.

What inspires your titles?


January 23, 2009

Does Your Title Earn an “A” or a “D-“

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:16 pm
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Do you spend a lot of time coming up with your title?  I have a writing buddy who runs lists of possible titles past her critique group.     Dozens of possible titles.

Not me. 

I’m really impressed if I come up with  one title I can live with.  Dozens?  Not unless I find a title tree.   

A writing buddy recently showed me Lulu Titlescorer (  The program was created when statisticians analyzed approximately 50 years worth of best sellers by their titles alone.  Obviously, the title alone doesn’t drag a a book to best seller status, but is there something these titles have in common?

Just playing around, I plugged in one of my favorite titles — Wolf Guilt.  I answered the required questions.  This title scored 63.7%

Next I plugged in one of those titles you stick on the manuscript because you have to have something to put above your by-line and in the header — Rat Race.  That score?  69%. 

So then I tried out a few more.

Malcolm MacGowen, 45.6%.

Ocean Blue and Jungle Green, 26.3%.

The Princess and the Garden, 55.4%

Ink and Paper, 10.2 %.

I’m not sure if this tells me anything at all.  I don’t think “Ink and Paper” is significantly worse than “The Princess and the Garden” as titles go.  But it may be something fun to play with.


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