The Thing About Titles By Helen Hollick

I’ve found that, sometimes, deciding on a title for your story can be harder than writing the whole thing.

When my first novel was accepted by William Heinemann for publication, way back in 1993, I had called it The Kingmaking. It was about a man who became a king (King Arthur in fact) so it seemed suitable. We went through the long process of editing, copy editing, proof reading, cover design, etc then a few days before preparing to go to print I was told, ‘We’re not keen on the title. Can you think of something else?’

I couldn’t. ‘Can you think of anything?’ says I. They couldn’t. The Kingmaking it remains to this day.

Counter that with my UK published Harold the King and A Hollow Crown. Both books (a duo about the events that led to the 1066 Battle of Hastings) were acquired by a US publisher who decided to change the titles. A Hollow Crown became The Forever Queen (which, I confess, I prefer) but Harold became I Am The Chosen King. Why? Because the publisher said ‘No one will know who Harold is.’ Fair enough – but does ‘I Am The Chosen King’ leave the reader any the wiser? Although it is an improvement on the title I flatly refused to allow: ‘The Man Who Lost England’. Given that the entire book is pro-Harold and is 1066 from the English point of view this one seemed somewhat inappropriate.

I don’t mind the different titles, but it is a huge nuisance to type all four out whenever I talk about the books, and I have had rants from readers about it – that one star review because someone bought both titles thinking they were different books hurts. (The titles were not my choice! Ok?)

Indie B.R.A.G. July 2015 (1) Helen Hollick Sea WitchMy Sea Witch Voyages have titles that automatically popped into my head: Sea Witch, Pirate Code, Bring It Close, Ripples In The Sand, On The Account, and next to come, Gallows Wake. All, although I’m not sure if readers realise this, have double meanings.

Sea Witch – the ship, or the lead female?

Pirate Code – the general code used by pirates in the 18th century, or my pirate’s own code of loyalty?

Bring It Close – trouble getting too close, or the past catching up?

Ripples In The Sand – ripples in time, or ripples in relationships?

On The Account – a term for becoming a pirate, or accounting for past deeds?

Gallows Wake – well I’m not mentioning this one as it could be a spoiler!

OnTheAccount-2016-promo-WEBTitles are usually the second thing readers notice (the first is the actual cover.) You need a title that will draw attention. Fifty Shades of Grey is a good example. It’s intriguing. Titles that immediately tell what the story is about are good: Frenchman’s Creek, Treasure Island, Alice In Wonderland….

It must have impact, be memorable, intriguing and stay in a potential readers mind. But also think carefully, a title may stick for the wrong reason! (‘Cooking with Pooh’ is an actual children’s cookbook featuring Disney’s Winnie the Pooh: it doesn’t exactly sound appetising does it?)

Fancy titles ‘The Ignoble Shelfarious Histrionics of Sonterousterous Hentlefinklepepper’ (I made it up!) might be intriguing – but will you remember it five minutes later? You need a title that readers will remember when they next go into the library, or a bookstore – or are browsing Amazon. ‘A Night Of Dreams’ is going to be remembered ‘Thinking About Things In Her Sleep’ doesn’t quite have the same impact does it? ‘Red’. Intriguing, but what’s it about?

There is no easy way to decide on a title, nor are there any set rules – except be inventive, but not too inventive. Sometimes, being simple is better than trying to be clever.

B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree



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Twitter: @HelenHollick

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The comments, advice and opinions expressed here are those of authors whose books have been honored with a B.R.A.G. Medallion. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the owners, management, or employees of indieBRAG, LLC.

2 responses to “The Thing About Titles By Helen Hollick”

  1. Susan Hughes says:

    Well said, Helen. Titles are tricky indeed and I salute your double meaning titles!

  2. Helen Hollick says:

    Thanks Stephanie – I always enjoy being a guest for Indie BRAG!

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