Writing Is Hard Work

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  • Roger Colby

3 Ways to Design the Perfect Title

terrible title

The novel I have written is a story set far in humanity’s future. The Terrans left their home solar system over five hundred years ago after an ecological disaster on a system-wide scale.  They boarded world-ships, trekked out to a far reaching cluster of star systems, but on the way the worst of them took charge, so that when they arrived they became conquerors and brutal dictators…in some cases demigods.  The novel is set 100 years after an uprising, successfully won by the four sentient species that called the Five Rims home.  The small number of Terrans who helped the indigenous species free themselves were given a home on one of the planets while the rest were shipped off into space on their ailing world-ships, a death sentence to a brutal race.  Guillermo March is a security force undercover agent, who after being horribly injured in a botched drug sting, discovers that the remaining Terrans have been massacred by a terrorist’s bombing.  The rest of the novel details his hunt for answers, his  path of grief, and his eventual discovery of the true plot behind the bombing.

The novel was at first titled “Pariah”, but then I found out that there was another series with that title.  I landed on “The Last Terran”, but then that title seemed a little weird and didn’t roll off the tongue.  Besides, people always mispronounced the word “Terran” as the capitol of Iran, which it is not.  I consulted several people, namely my science buddy Michael Dean, who suggested that there is a word used in Environmental Science that means “The Ending” which is what scientists call a species that is the last of its kind.  The word was “Terminarch.”  He spat out several titles, but the one that stuck was “The Terminarch Plot”, which does three things that ever title must do:

  1. Be Interesting – I know this is one of those “well, duh” comments, but what I mean is that titles need to have a word in them that makes the reader want to define the word paired with a word that is ordinary.  The word “terminarch” is something that sounds like “terminate” of which is the root.  The word “plot” is ordinary yet it says something about the main threat in the novel.  The point here is to create a title that makes readers think for the brief second they are deciding on buying the book.

  2. Be Simple – Most experts I read or speak to seem to feel that the shorter the title the better.  Long titles are much more difficult to sell, as readers will usually pause on a shorter title than a longer one.  Some novelists try to stuff keywords into titles when only a few will do.  As a matter of fact, Smashwords did a study on the short vs. long title issue and found that short titles indeed sell better than long titles when it comes to e-books.  Just make sure you write a book that is not too short.

  3. Be Original – I went through several titles, searching around on the internet for days doing research.  I found out that “The Last Terran” is a video game app for iPhone, that “Pariah” was already a novel series, and pretty soon I hit a brick wall.  In searching for a title, make sure that you do the research to find out if it is already taken, calls up too many hits on Google for something else, or is too close to something that is undesirably not related to your book in any way.  This takes time and effort, and usually the title doesn’t come to me until after I’ve reached the end of the rough draft or have finished the book entirely.  I have Michael Dean to thank for helping me find the right title.  Seek out the help of others.  You will be surprised what they might say when you explain the plot to them.  Sometimes it takes fresh eyes.

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