Saturday, October 22, 2016

How Important Are Titles?

Cover images and story titles are what readers see first so they act as the first agent to attract readers. I think the two work together instantaneously on a reader’s perception, so I imagine most authors spend time considering a title. This can be a futile effort, for a publisher might change it to fit a particular line or sub-genre in which they want to publish the story. This shows titles are tied to sales. Still, it gives the author some control for attracting an audience.

Titles (along with the cover image) give the reader an indication of the genre, mood and theme, era, and possible storyline of the novel. They certainly attract my attention when I am selecting books. I have fairly specific genres I read, and while they vary greatly, the titles are what catch me, leading to me stopping to read the blurbs.

My book titles tend to be very short, three words or less. I’m satisfied with them. For me, longer titles tend to indicate quirky storylines aimed at children, chic lit, or humor.

Titles for my stories often come during the writing process as an indication of the main character or the plot’s purpose, popping into my mind. The longer they stay there, the stronger they become—I think that might be good but not necessarily well thought out. I expect other authors do the same.

In a Balance website article, “Can a Book Title be Copyrighted?” it says titles cannot be copyrighted. According to the August 2016 article’s author, Jean Murray, “The U. S. Copyright Office does not typically allow someone to copyright a book title because titles are not considered intellectual property, but are only 'short slogans,' which are not eligible to be copyrighted.” The writing itself is copyrighted from the moment you write the words. Greater protection comes with filing it with the copyright office. However, I wouldn’t think anyone could get away with using any Harry Potter title other than J. K. Rowling. Some titles are too well known to be used again, and some like Harry Potter, can be copyrighted or even trademarked due to the fact they are tied to other products such as movies and toys.

Then there are the generic type tiles my books hold. Nope, can’t be protected, and I cannot be held liable for infringing on another writer’s identical title. The interesting thing I discovered was I could trademark my name. Do I really want that
© after my name? Right now it kind of makes me uncomfortable.

Writing this post has given me some pause because perhaps I should pay more attention to the title and spend more time thinking about the proposed title after the initial concept. I’m not sure I would, for once my mind is tied to a title, I tend to be obstinate.

Check these sites to see what other authors have to say on this topic:


  1. The same thing sometimes happens to me - I'm writing a story and something tied to my hero or heroine pops into my mind and sticks and that title just "feels" right. That happened with Worry Stone which my editor changed and I still mourn its passing. My time travel that will come out in March 2017 has been Iain's Plaid in my mind for a very long time and I am praying they don't change it, but who knows? I'm stubborn, but I don't argue with my editor very often.

  2. I find it easier to come up with good titles for other people's books than my own. Perhaps it's because I'm so close to the story that I can't see the forest for the trees sort of thing. I've called my current WIP "Red Dawn," but it won't stay that. For one, there's a famous movie that bears that name. Second, it doesn't really tell you it's a shapeshifter romance set in China during the Great Famine. LOL So, yeah, it'll go, but probably not until I finish it. :)

    I loved this topic. Thanks for organizing this once again.

  3. Rhobin, I save my work in a cloud, so the first thing I do for a new project is name the folder I'm going to save everything in. I have an unfinished novel in a folder named "Martin's second book," because if I finished it, it would be the second novel with Martin as the main character. Fortunately, I only have to come up with something better if I actually finish it.

  4. Rhobin, you don't need to copyright your name. It's distinctive and unique as it is.

    As I skip along the contributions to your round robin, I am amazed at the variety. You surprised me by focusing in on the legal aspects more than on the creative ones.

    And so many commenters have said they find naming someone else's baby easier that I wonder if we should set up a club for that purpose?


  5. Hi Rhobin, I didn't know that titles aren't copyrighted. How interesting. I wonder if any author has deliberately released a book with a famous title, such as Gone with the Wind or Anne of Green Gables. It would be interesting to find out what would happen.
    Thanks for the great topic!

  6. Rhobin, I didn't realize titles couldn't be copyrighted. Never occurred to me. I cannot imagine why anyone in their right mind would title their book "The Lord of the Rings" etc., however, unless they just wanted some quick notoriety. :P

  7. It seems to me that a common denominator from all the posts is that everybody prefers short titles. According to the longest title in English was 42 words long. Now that would put me to sleep before I even started. I've been lucky in that my publisher has never changed one of my titles, although my current WIP's title was arrived at with her help, the first time I've ever consorted on a title. I, like Rhobin, tend to be obstinate!


  8. Several of us mentioned copyrights. It's important to choose a unique title, or at least one long out of print if you are picking something already printed. I wonder how many two to four word combinations English has? Words that everyone would know. Will we ever run out of "original" titles. Scary thought, isn't it? Hope I've stop writing by then.
    Good post!

  9. I did know that titles couldn't be copyrighted. My recent release, Courting the Countess, shares its title with at least three others in those words and countless in slightly different combinations. C'est la vie. anne stenhouse

  10. I sometimes like to discover new posts on blogs. Camila