By Any Other Name

Several hundred wise writers have said that a book’s name comes after the manuscript. I used to think that was ridiculous. Now I’m not so sure.

My current project has gone through several working titles, each less promising than the last. It wasn’t until this year, several years after beginning the project, that I finally settled upon something that feels right. It’s succinct, ambiguous, and speaks to the theme. Problem is, I’m not just writing one book. I’m writing a SERIES of books, and now I’m committed to giving separate titles to each one.

The following conundrum ails me: How do you choose the perfect title, something that makes perfect sense in the hindsight after reading, without having it also be a huge giveaway of what the book is about? You’d think those questions would be easy enough to answer, except perhaps you’ve forgot one key thing: You are biased.

There is no possible way for me to know which of my decisions will constitute a spoiler, because I already know what happens. To me, there are no spoilers. So, how can I know which titles and metaphors are off limits if I want to maintain any secrecy?

There is also the question of unity when writing a series of books. Does one choose an umbrella title, and add separately to each depending upon the content of an installment? Or, does one separately name several books and dub them “The Blank Series”? Essentially, it’s “Harry Potter and the Name of this Book” vs. “This Series: Book One”. Is one method stronger or more captivating than the other?

Other things to keep you up at night: accidental copyright infringement, unintended reference to something unrelated or unsavory, too cheesy, too brooding, too misleading or mysterious, not mysterious enough, already taken, already done, already something else because really, what hasn’t been “already”d by now?

Some poetic jerk once told us “a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet”, but I feel like “rose” would sell more books than “stinkweed”.

Do you struggle to choose a name worthy of your intellectual labors? Share with us some of your favorite examples of books or series that you feel were particularly well named.

October is upon us, and Kathy leads us bravely into the DARKNESS!


About RicoChey

I'm just an unmarried, childless, thirty-something high school dropout with big ideas and a small attention span. Weave drunkenly behind me as I meander through my own life: a winding path of musings on life, relationships, food, the few politics I can stomach discussing, and probably really dumb stuff like the ratio of Sex and the City episodes wherein Carrie does and does not appear to be wearing extensions.
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4 Responses to By Any Other Name

  1. I would totally buy a book entitled Stinkweed. As long as it’s not about stinkweed.

    When in doubt, choose you’re favorite philosophical line and make it the title.


    That’s brilliant! I’ll be back later 😉


  2. t.s.wright says:

    “because really, what hasn’t been “already”d by now?”
    I love this statement.

    Choosing a title is tricky. I think a good working title throughout the process helps, but when you get to the publishing wrap up you’ll have an editor or three to help guide you on the unmarketable, already taken stuff and perhaps to contribute to the subtlety you seek.

    Patrick Rothfuss has a series called The Kingkiller Chronicle. I have read book one titled, The Name of the Wind. The title suits, it’s relevant, it’s part of a recurring theme in the book. The chronicle name however…there were no kings in the first book, certainly none that were killed. Has he given away a key event? Will it be a subtle tie in?

    George R.R. Martin may have called his manuscript A Song of Fire and Ice, but I would bet money that the volume titles were settled on by the publisher. They’re too neat.

    Adrift has been the name of my novel from the beginning, but it’s the only one of my projects that was so easily named.


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