Guest post by Erastes

We’ve talked about covers, and we’ve talked about expectations but today I’m going to quickly say something about titles.

Do titles have any impact on your deciding to pick up a book?

Be honest now.

They do for me.  I don’t have much time to shop for books and I’ll skim somewhere like Fictionwise and I admit very honestly that if a title sounds dull or evokes the sort of thing I can’t bear reading for pleasure (and no, you aren’t going to get me to admit that, do you think I’m entirely mental? Don’t answer that.) then I’ll simply skim past.  I’m more likely to pick up something like “Feathers in Florence” than “The Weregild of Araminthia” for example, even if they are about the same subject.

There’s a ton of ways that an author uses to select a title.  Sometimes they’ll pick a part of a quote (I have a novella yet to be finished called “Shoulders of Giants” for example.  Sometimes it will be something that describes the theme of the piece.  My “Chiaroscuro” reflects that the main protagonist is an artist, and that the word means the contrast between dark and light.  “Transgressions” is pretty obvious–and my newest, which will be out shortly is called “Tributary” which plays on the theme that the protag has reached a fork in the road of his life.

For impact – how can you be sure you aren’t doing the same as someone else?  Personally, when I decide on a title, I do a bit a research.  I do a Google, and I do a search on Amazon and Googlebooks.  There’s probably an internet page which lists every book ever to ensure you don’t overlap, but I haven’t found it yet.  The good thing about book titles is that they aren’t copyrighted, so if you REALLY wanted to call your book “The Turn of the Screw” or “Great Expectations” then there’s nothing to stop you, but people will probably snigger at you.  There is a book out this month by Ann Herendeen which is Pride and Prejudice fanfic about Darcy/Bingley (among others) which is snappily called Pride/Prejudice.  That’s pretty clever, I have to admit, because slash lovers at least will understand the reference.

An author has to be careful that their title isn’t misconstrued, too.  A well known author in the genre has had to change the working title of three of her books, because they meant different things to her, as an English writer, than they did to American audiences.  It’s always best to ask around, because you don’t want to stuck with a title called “Faggots in the Wood” when you’ve written a story about some guy who lives in the forest collecting bundles of wood, and then offending everyone in the gay fiction universe. (Made up title, entirely tongue in cheek, by the way.)  But with the famous/infamous case of “Beautiful Cocksocker” it is possible to insult people, and the genre was split down the middle with that one.  However–that being said–we’ve all heard of it, even if we haven’t read it!

What’s disappointing for me is that I’m seeing quite a few books with duplicated titles – and for a genre that’s so young, it’s a bit surprising.  There’s two Tangled Webs that I know of, a Lover’s Knot and a Lovers’ Knots, at least two m/m Sins of the Father (not to mention other books of the same title, and a film.)

Again, personally, I prefer to have–if not a completely unique title–then as unique as I can make it.

I don’t think I’ll be using the title from that cover, though….

What do you think?  Perhaps the title is one of the least effective marketing tools, or I suspect it might be (I think book trailers are the very least effective) but a title is something every book has to have, whereas it doesn’t need a trailer.

So readers:  What influence does a title have? Do you care or not about titles with the same as other books?  Are you tempted to read something with a risque title?

Authors: How do you choose a title?

All: What’s the best/cleverest title you can think of?  Or the worst?


Erastes is an author of gay historical fiction. Her novels cover many time periods and locations. She lives in Norfolk UK with demanding cats and never seems to have enough time to serve them.


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