With more than 4,500 new books published every day in the U.S., the odds of
coming up with a unique title would seem to evaporate by the minute. No
surprise, then, that when you search for a book by title, you often have to
scroll through a lot of misses to get your hit. Amazon had 10 books with the
same title as a short story collection I recently reviewed!
Temple’s recent Literary Hub encomium on the naming of Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea, she says, notice first
“the incantatory effect of the repetition, the rush of sibilance, the plain
punch of those four syllables,” not to mention, I’d add, the evocation of the
sea itself: sssssss . . . sssssssss. “It just sounds good, and any great title
should sound good,” she says. Beyond that is the title’s provenance, which goes
back to Greek literature. While this distinguished patrimony may not resonate
with most of us, she says, “It’s also, not for nothing, a band name.” More
We can think of any number of novels whose titles perfectly
encapsulate their core: Rosemary’s Baby
(Ira Levin) or, more recently, Below the
Fold (Dick Belsky), and Where the
Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens). Way too many book titles provide no memory-jog
about their contents, as a scan of your own bookshelf will prove.
I’ve reviewed almost 175 new crime/thriller novels for
CrimeFictionLover.com over the past four-plus years, and occasionally need to find
one on my list. Some titles recall the book immediately. Others leave me wondering,
did I read this??
One strategy is to include the name of a person or place in
the title: A Gentleman in Moscow, Wolf
Hall, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Such a title will be distinctive,
but since the prospective book buyer doesn’t yet know who Eleanor Oliphant is,
it may not be memorable. Lincoln in the
Bardo works because you know who Lincoln is, even if, like me, you have to
look up “the bardo.”
Gone Girl and the
cover with the flying hair was suitable and distinctive. Not so the—dozens? hundreds?—of
girl-titles that followed. So many the effect was lost. At least AJ Finn,
whatever his other foibles, had a woman at his window. Similarly, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley (with
a bullet-ridden dust-jacket), suitable, distinctive, even though we don’t know
him yet, has now been followed by The 7
1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. A little too similar for my taste, but both
titles contain a puzzle. Even a cat has only nine lives and one death. A little
snare for your memory.
Being suitable and distinctive are ways of making your book title memorable. Given that word of mouth is one of your most potent marketing tools, you want to make sure the title of your book springs to the tongues of your many fans. When their friends seek it out, you want them to find your book, not twelve other people’s. Those right few words on the cover are hard to come by, but worth every effort.