Monday, 9 December 2013

Troublesome Titles

Thinking up titles can be troublesome. On the other hand, some come easy. But getting the title of a piece of writing right is important … sort of.

I’m currently trying to think of a suitable title for a novel I’m writing. Novel titles have a lot of work to do. Ideally, they should convey something about the plot, or at least the genre. However, generally, novel tiles should be short. Sometimes a title may be one word. That’s a lot of work for one word to do.

Short story titles can be longer. One of my published short stories went by the title: It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken, which for those of you who are not good at counting is eight words. It was published with this title, although when I sold it to an Australian magazine the editor cut it to A Good Life. Personally, I don’t think that’s as good. In my opinion, the If You Don’t Weaken is much more revealing about the story’s plot than A Good Life. A Good Life could be about anything: a nun, or a charity worker. But the phrase, If You Don’t Weaken immediately tells the reader that temptation is close by! Still, the Australian editor went with the shorter version, and at the end of the day, an editor knows best for their magazine.

For magazine articles, titles can be straight forward. Many articles take a numeric approach: Seven Ways To Drop A Dress Size Before Christmas (which’ll probably be to eat less on Monday, eat less on Tuesday, eat less on Wednesday …) Or, if they fill a regular column the title may be obvious. An article about the joy of finding a church unlocked for The Simple Things magazine had to take the column’s regular name as the first part of the title: Things I Miss … What came after was obvious really: Things I Miss: Unlocked Churches.

If you’re stuck for ideas for potential titles, consider the following:

- a play on words/phrase:  Amazing Feat (walkers who’ve achieved something spectacular).
- alliteration: Seven Seductively Secret Saunters (walks with hidden promises).
- a song title: Happy Holidays. (Be careful with song titles, though. You have to exercise caution when using lyrics, so if the song title comprises lyrics it may be better to think of something else.)
- stating the bleedin’ obvious: How To Build A Boat.
- a quote, proverb, or saying: From Tiny Acorns …

Of course, whatever you come up, you have to remember the editor may have his/her own ideas. The image at the top of this post is an article of mine appearing in the January 2014 issue of Cumbria magazine. I’d given it the title Cumbrian Weather Forecasting For Tourists. As you can see, the editor has changed it to something else: It Rains ... Get Over It!

‘nuff said!

Good luck!


  1. I would say about 50% of my magazine stories get published with the original title. It used to bother me at first but don't worry too much now about it - after all it is the story/article that's important. I think the title for a novel is different, though - unless you come up with something unusual, it will be overlooked on the shelf.

  2. Hi Wendy,

    Yes, sometimes it can be quite interesting what an editor chooses. But, as you say, when they've bought it, it doesn't really matter!


  3. As a newbie writer I was shocked that Editors can change your story titles - and without asking! You soon get over this when the cheque arrives. But it can be annoying when you'd thought you'd come up with the perfect title. Re your Cumbrian weather article - I rather liked your title, Simon.

    1. I liked my title too - but I think the editor's has a touch more humour!

  4. I like thinking up titles, but I'm not fussed if someone thinks of a better one.

  5. I always have difficulty coming up with a catchy headline, and for my published work the editor has changed mine every time. I don't mind that, as I'm happy to learn from someone who has more experience.


  6. I'm a novellist and find my one-word (character name) titles don't sell so well as something catchy. Often I'm using the working title until quite late on. An exception is the one I'm currently writing, which has been "Harmony in the Harem" from page 1. Nigella Lawson has provided me with a catchy title for a future book. She referred to her husband's behaviour as "intimate terrorism", which sound like a winner!

    1. Yes, Yvonne, I suppose your one-word character name titles have a lot more work to do than your other, more descriptive, titles. "In An English Country Dungeon" sends a good image to the reader, I think!

  7. I'm betwixt and between. When I have an idea for story I can never think of a suitable title. However, out of the blue can come a brilliant title...but no story to go with it! Hey ho, I'll keep going maybe one day I'll manage the two together! So far my short story titles haven't been changed. I didn't think they were that good but maybe they were ok. Thanks for an interesting article Simon.

  8. Sorry, I'm bot unknown! I'm Carol Warham. Well, I am unknown but you know what I mean. :)