Newsflash for TS Eliot: it’s not just the naming of cats that’s a difficult matter. Books are equally tricky.
If you’re traditionally published, you may not need to give it much thought. One of my books was born with the zingy title of Twins and Multiple Births with barely any input from me. I can’t really complain. It may be low on pizzazz but it’s a fair description of the contents.
But now that I am nearing the end of my second novel, and the cover design is imminent, I’ve come to the conclusion that Camden Passage isn’t after all right for a racy story about dating in London. Camden Passage is in Islington, not in Camden. It’s a stylish destination for shopping and eating out, but still, could the address confuse non-Londoners?
For American readers, the potential for confusion is far greater. Camden, New Jersey, is often cited as one of the poorest and most violent cities in the USA. It was no doubt an ideal venue for President Obama to announce his new police initiative last year, but it’s about as far from a classy location as you can get.
Now I’ve abandoned Camden Passage, I’m left with various techniques for finding a new title for my novel.
2 Asking friends and family.
3 Talking to other authors.
4 Polling readers of existing books. There’s the title bracket system described by Nathan Roten in his blog post for ALLi.
5 Going to a quiet bar and staying till the barman comes up with a suggestion.
6 Aiming a dart at the dictionary.
7 Subverting well-known titles.
I’ve already tried some of these methods. With a dry January, number 5 won’t fly, and I didn’t quite gel with If Clouds Could Steal, suggested by one of the title generators, but polling writer friends and readers remains an idea.
As a journalist, I think bending well-known titles appeals to me more, and that might inject just the right note to hint at the wit within the pages.
I can also foresee shelf space for gems like The Ice Triplets, Bonfire of the VAT Receipts, Breakfast at Lidl’s and Great Expectorations (set in a TB hospital in the 1950s).
Hampstead is the scene for much of the action in my novel. Might Hampstead for Dummies work?
Hmm. Not convinced. But I rather like Hampstead Handyman which conveys a certain amount of action. Unfortunately it’s unlikely to fulfil its promise unless, as a friend suggested, I actually write a handyman into the story.
Those who can’t decide on a single name for their baby sometimes string all their favourites together as middle names for their little darling. You know the type: the newborn son or daughter saddled with the names of the entire football squad.
That may explain how Tom Wolfe got the Kandy-Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby. Though strictly speaking this was a car, not a baby.
So here I am at the start of the year and the end of my novel, my head spinning with title possibilities, all of them still wide of the mark.
If you’re an author, how do you choose your book titles? I’d love to hear from you.