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How to Title Every Book You Ever Write

By posted at 6:00 am on August 17, 2015 4

You’ve decided on a life of letters. You’ve got that manuscript you workshopped getting your MFA, an agent, and a publisher. Congratulations! You’re well on your way to being a critical darling. Now all you need is a catchy title. Lucky for you, this handy guide will help you title your book, and every book you write in your illustrious career.

The first novel you write will be highly autobiographical and small in scope. You’ll be afraid it’s too short, but don’t worry, people will just call it “slim.” It will follow one character from precocious childhood right on to an adulthood of unrequited love, and the sibling characters will be the most fun to write.

The Promising Debut Novel
Title: (Scent of your deodorant or shampoo) on (street you grew up on)
Example: Almonds on High Street

(If neither your deodorant or shampoo have a named scent, substitute the word “Mornings.”)

Now on to the second novel. Hailed as a new literary talent and tired of being asked if your first book’s main character was based on yourself, you’ll set your next book very slightly in the past (like the ’80s or ’90s, don’t get carried away) and it will center around a family secret. You have two title options, depending on whether your protagonist is male or female.

The Disappointing Sophomore Effort
Female
Title: The (your father’s profession)’s Daughter
Example: The Locksmith’s Daughter

Male
Title: Get out your favorite album. Rank the tracks in order of how much you like them. Take the fourth song. Print out the lyrics to that song and black out any that are well known. From the remaining lyrics, choose either the first or second half of a complete thought. Note: It must be meaningless and out of context.
Example: Funny How It Never Felt So Good

Your second novel disappointed a lot of people. You felt pressured to finish it quickly after the success of your first novel and in hindsight it wasn’t ready. Sure it was named a Book to Read this Month by a fashion magazine but that just emphasized how few high-brow publications paid attention to it. Jennifer Weiner tweeted that she read it on a plane. So next you’re going to publish a collection of short stories.

The Reputation-Rescuing Collection of Stories
Title: The (if you could have any animal in the world as a pet, what would it be?) (which of the following was your favorite school field trip: museum, zoo, symphony, circus, farm, cruise, senate, theater)
Example: Owl Circus

Well that worked nicely. Reviewers love pointing out which story in a collection is the best, because it makes them look smart, and that makes the book sound good. And it gave you time to really hone your third novel, which is about a group of adult friends. Some of them are married, there is at least one affair going on, someone else is terminally ill, and one person hasn’t lived up to their potential professionally.

The Legacy-Building Important Literary Novel
Title: The (your first job title)s
Example: The Carhops

(If your first job title isn’t that evocative, like “event planner” or “clerk,” add the county in which you live. Example: The Event Planners of Cook County.)

Wow! Look at those awards roll in! That novel “established you as one of the most important writers of our age,” they all say! Have a little fun with the next one. The advance is big enough that you can hire a research assistant! Set parts of it in places you’ve never been! Give your protagonist a strange and metaphorical hobby, like falconry or watchmaking!

Another Literary Novel to Prove the Last One Wasn’t a Fluke
Title: (your birth month)(third most populous city in the first foreign country you ever visited)
Example: December in Marseille

Your career is really humming along nicely now. Your book tours are only five cities long and you’re called upon to review young authors writing in the style of Almonds on High Street. Time to publish a collection of all those essays you wrote for Harpers and the Paris Review.

Your Agent Pointed Out That You Could Make Some Money Without Writing Anything New
Title: You’ll need a purse or briefcase or, if you don’t have either, open your messiest desk drawer. Close your eyes, reach in and grab whatever is in the very bottom or back. Add “The Wisdom of” before that item.
Example: The Wisdom of Eyeglasses

Time for a final bow. You don’t publish as frequently anymore what with your semesters spent as a Distinguished Writer in Residence and writing introductions to re-issued classics. But you’ve got time for one last book in which nothing happens and you can sneak in your ruminations on mortality. The plot is non-existent and the title is impossible to remember but you’re a household name now so people will just search by that.

The Final, Contemplative Novel
Title: (Your favorite season)(you’re told that someone left a rotten egg in your house; is your first questions who, what, why, where, or how?)
Example: Autumnwhere

Previously:The ___’s Daughter” by Emily St. John Mandel and “Literary Fiction is a Genre” by Edan Lepucki.

Image Credit: Flickr/Jo Naylor.





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4 Responses to “How to Title Every Book You Ever Write”

  1. Chet
    at 12:05 pm on August 17, 2015

    Clever! Now, I wonder how I can adapt this advice to my own plans for a second career as a writer of speculative fiction. I think my debut novel must display my facility at world building, characterization and pacing. Hmm…maybe use your favorite color and the word “Empire” – Blue Empire.

  2. Eliana
    at 1:48 pm on August 17, 2015

    So much joy and inspiration. And hatred for growing up on Town and Country Place which is unwieldy.

  3. Sandra Cormier
    at 6:58 pm on August 17, 2015

    Okay, I’ve been flogging this literary YA for so long I can’t remember when I started. I now have a new title: Winter In Portals.

  4. Shelley
    at 12:36 pm on August 30, 2015

    And over the title, a picture of a faceless/headless woman.

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