How to Conjure up a Title for a Book

Newsflash for TS Eliot: it’s not just the naming of cats that’s a difficult matter. Books are equally tricky.old-books1

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.

Twins & Multiple Births book

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?

lighting shop in Camden Passage

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.

1 Book title generators like Fantasy Name Generators, Adazing’s book title generator, and a fun blog post by Tara Sparling.

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.

bookshelf crop

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.

The reading world already has Aberystwyth Mon Amour and A Year in Cricklewood.  On that basis, Much Ado about Something Quite Serious makes perfect sense to me.

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? Kennedy

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.

21 thoughts on “How to Conjure up a Title for a Book

  1. “Notting Hill” served the filmmakers pretty well – maybe go for something that is a wordplay on Hampstead Heath or that involves Islington. (I suspect US readers wouldn’t know that Passage is a little road, anyway – it might make them think of something anatomical instead.) There are some other Islingtons but it’s a bit more famous than Camden, I think, not least because of its Blairite associations. Depending on the content of the book, it could be something like “Islington Blues” or “Islington Nights” though “Hampstead Nights” might sound a bit dodgy. “Upon the Heath” – reference to the Three Witches in Macbeth deciding “when shall we three meet again?” – not exactly a date but an interesting threesome!! Looking forward to reading the book, whatever title it carries!

  2. I would think Hampstead, including Hampstead Heath, is the most well-known of these areas to non-Londoners, if you really want to get the London association across. However your first book was very London-based and didn’t mention any geography in the title, so you don’t necessarily have to this time. Another possibility would be to include a quirky underground station name like Mornington Crescent or the name of one of the underground lines……..

  3. Hampstead Soul? North London Nights? A Date with N1 / NW3? Or more implicit Dating N1ght? or something as simple as Save the Date. Without kmowing more about the content or the core narrative its a bit difficult! More clues…..?

    • Thank you very much. The easiest way to describe it is as the sequel to ‘One Night at the Jacaranda’. So it’s sexy contemporary fiction about dating in London. The characters are all in their mid to late 30s and the story unfolds through their eyes. That’s about as much of the plot as I’m prepared to give away but I can tell you that there are also red shoes, a doctor, and cats.

  4. I am thinking Hampstead Heat is good if it is set in summer and is in your previous raunchy style. Most English readers will get the allusion to Hampstead Heath though other UK nations may not.
    Facebook poll sounds good.

  5. I’d finished the second draft of my novel Unlawful Things before I got a title I was half-way happy with. My advice: pillage poetry! Unlawful Things is partly about the playwright Christopher Marlowe and the title is a quote from his best-known play Doctor Faustus.

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