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Creating a Title

William King

I bet you never thought too much about the title of your story? Maybe it just came to you, maybe it was difficult, or you just decided that will do. After all, it's all about the story you wrote, not what it's called – WRONG

The title can make the difference to whether someone reads your story or not. This was documented by a guy called Haldeman who experimented and chronicled his findings in his book, First Hundred Million. As an example, take the following original book title, Mystery of the Iron Mask, its sales reached 11,000 a year. You're thinking not bad as readership goes. The title was mysterious and to the point. However, the mystery of a mask? Who cares? But what about the man who wears it? Double mystery! A change of title to The Mystery of the Man in the Iron Mask netted sales of 30,000 a year, almost three times as many readers!

The title is IMPORTANT and you don't have to have it when you start, you can take the time to think about it. Maybe your book is all about one character, the hero, and you've given him a great name, that could become your title, like Harry Potter. Your title should intrigue and describe, but might also be clever, even bizarre. Some titles immediately convoke the genre, Life on Mars

Take the title My Incredible Summer, it's a short story by Cole Parker, that title makes me want to read it. I'm thinking what happened in this incredible summer? In contrast, Zombies 4 (I made that up), but unless I'd read Zombies 1, etc., or was really into zombies, I'd just pass it by. However, if the title was something like, In the Dead of the Night, or Return from the Grave, it grabs my attention. Put simply, I would never name a book series XXX book 1, 2, etc., that can be a sub-title somewhere, or simply say book 4 in the series XXX

Do take the time to think about the title, and think about how titles attract you to read a story. You have just one or two words to capture attention from a forest of titles. Of course you may initially be helped by your novel appearing in the current publishing list, but later? A good title can make a book, a bad one can consign it to obscurity.


William has made me think. The first story I wrote was Chris and Nigel. I had no idea what to call it. It was about two boys, one was Chris and the other was Nigel. When I started it the market for gay teenage romance was in its infancy online, and the title was good enough. But, with hindsight, it's lousy!

Today I have a better grasp of what makes a decent title, or I think I do. I leave the title until last almost every time, and draw inspiration from the story content. The exceptions are when I absolutely want to write about a particular topic. And, even then, I try to make the title slightly mysterious. Here's a snippet of my recent catalogue:

I wonder whether you can tell which from the list are the tales whose title came first and which had the tale drive the title? And does that matter to anyone except me?

I suggest that, while these titles might be imperfect, they stand a chance of drawing you in. And that is all the title has to do. It has to make you read the opening paragraph.

And the opening paragraph is a skill all of its own.


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