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The Art of Naming Novels

The Art of Naming Novels


When it comes to naming our novels, we are faced with a huge decision ahead of us. Not only do we have to find something that fits the story well; we also have to come up with a name that will make a publisher interested and later make the book sell. Even if you name your novel late in the writing process and know your book inside and out by the time you know the name, other people will see the name first—and if they don’t like the title, they won’t ever pick up your book.

No pressure.

Some ideas come with their titles. Some books present their names to you between the third and seventh chapter. Some you must grab a pencil and paper and write out several dozen names before finally deciding on the correct one; and some, it seems, will never have a name at all.

Fear not, O ye brave writer. There is always a way to find a name for your novel.

Remember your genre.

Your potential readers, agents, and publishers are usually looking out for specific things. They want to know what genre your novel is immediately, and they may feel as though your title is awkward or odd if it feels like a different genre than what your novel actually is.

For example, compare the titles of these two novels: Precisely Terminated, by Amanda L. Davis, and In the Hall of the Dragon King, by Stephen R. Lawhead.

Looking at the titles, one would easily be able to tell that In the Hall of the Dragon King is Fantasy, and Precisely Terminated is science fiction or dystopian. If you tried to write a dystopian book with the title, In the Hall of the Dragon King, some people might be a little less than thrilled with your title choice.

Since the title of your novel is the first impression that people will get, make sure that it will be an accurate impression.

Title using the main plot of your novel as your inspiration.

Brian Jacques’ Castaways of the Flying Dutchman and The Angel’s Command are a good example of this. The first one is about castaways from the Flying Dutchman. That’s simple enough; the second is about the command of an angel. Again, that’s pretty straightforward.

Reference an important theme or sentence in your novel.

In Bryan Davis’s Tears of a Dragon, the title comes from a line in the novel, “How rare were the tears of a dragon!” (Paraphrased because I can’t seem to find that section in my flipping through of the novel) and then nearing the end, “The tears of a dragon were rare indeed, but I prefer the tears of a father.”

In my own novel, Joy of Stars, the title comes from a comment by one of the characters in reference to Psalm 147:4: “He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.” “And that,” he said, “is the joy of stars.”

Use Character Names or Titles

For example, John White’s, The Sword Bearer which uses the title of the main character, and I have seen books with the names of the characters as their title (forgive my bad memory; I cannot seem to be able to recall a single one of the specific titles of these books).

Keep it consistent with the other books in a series.

If you’re writing a series, this is an important one. It may make it harder to find a title, but it may also make it easier if it narrows down your choices.

In well-titled series’, the titles of the novels all match. Whether they follow a definite pattern, such as Donita K. Paul’s, DragonSpell, DragonKnight, DragonQuest, etc., or have the same feel to them, as in J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King, titles in a series should fit together well. I should be able to line up the books in a series and not doubt whether or not the third one was supposed to be in the same series. 

But then, there really are no rules about naming your novels.

Go with what feels like your novel. There’s no formula for coming up with the perfect title, and sometimes you may have to compromise because of different views held by you and your publisher. You may never find a perfect title for you novels; and that’s okay. You’re not alone; most of us can’t find the perfect title, either—but we can try for as close to perfect as possible.

What is the title of your current work-in-progress? How do you come up with your titles?

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