I encountered this problem when I was seeking publication of my first book. I picked my title during the writing of the first draft--but it wasn't my first choice. My original title made my sister feel so turned off that she begged me to find another (I think her exact words were "I'd NEVER read a book called that." It was all the incentive I needed.) Very begrudgingly, I took her advice to come up with another title, one that was inspiring enough to find itself written into the story. By the time I finished the first draft, I knew "Bleeding Hearts" was the title I'd keep.
When I signed with my publisher, my editor suggested I should try to make the title stand out a bit more, since there were several books in print with that particular title.
My first response was "WHAT? You've got to be kidding me!" I quickly logged on to Amazon where, sure enough, there was a list of books titled "Bleeding Hearts".
That lead to my second response: Why hadn't I done my research?
When I was an aspiring writer, I spent a lot of time plugging my name into search engines. In fact, I would brag that I measured my fame and fortune in Google hits and token payments from online magazines. For as often as I Googled myself, it never once occurred to me that perhaps I should search my proposed title.
Part of that failing was largely because I didn't set out to become a career author when I settled on the title for my book. At that point, it was my project, my comfort zone, my book baby. It didn't matter if there were a million other books with the same title because it was my story and goodness only knew if anyone besides me would ever read it (considering how subjective my own sister could be.) It never occurred to me to search the marketplace because who knew if my book would ever make it that far?
At the very least, I should have done so when I first decided to make a go at publishing. I went through the trouble to join writers groups and community forums and even sought (and signed with, for a short time) an agent--proof that, back then, I was thinking business. That's when I should have paid attention to my title and the impact it would make in the crowded marketplace.
Picking a Winner
The good news is that titles cannot be protected by copyright. If the title you chose is the one you have your heart immovably set upon, then be sure you are ready to work hard to make it your own. One way to make a well-used title sound new and appealing is to couple it with a great series name.
In the case of my book, we added "Book One of the Demimonde" after the original title. It was a logical solution since the book was planned as the first of a series. The word demimonde also alluded to the world of demivampires around which the story is centered, as well as the heroine thinking of herself as a "kept woman". Both the publisher and I were very pleased to come up with such a multi-taker of a word--it made the title much more intriguing.
Goodreads further simplified it as "Demimonde #1", which sounds way too cool for me to have thought up on my own. It also led to my blog taking on the identity of "Ash Krafton's Demimonde". Enhancing my former imitable and unremarkable title has led to good things all around--including a useful platform. It also ensures that when someone looks for my book on Amazon, searching my title and series makes the book pop right up to the top of the list.
The old cliched-title-with-a-nifty-series-name trick won't work for a stand alone book. So what's an author to do?
A sub-title might come in handy. A book you are determined to call Unchained Melody can become:
- Unchained Melody: The Night the Crooning Killer Broke Free
- Unchained Melody: A Story of Song and Surrender
- Unchained Melody: Tapping Your Inner Song-Writing Muse
Sub-titles are commonly used for non-fiction but that doesn't mean they can't be skillfully applied to fiction. It takes good judgment and real skill--of course, a bit of opinion from beta readers wouldn't hurt, either.
And when a sub-title won't do it, think hard about that title you are fighting so hard to keep. What else can you do to make it unique? Can you put a fresh spin on it, a twist to the cliche?
If not, it may be time to go back to the drawing board.
Here is a list of most unusual book titles--guaranteed there isn't much competition for them. (A second list from less-known authors is here.)
Annie Neugebauer presented a list of unique titles that she loves, as well as her thoughts on choosing a title.
The point is that if our book title doesn't stand out in the crowd, how is it going to sell? A title is more than metadata--it's a calling card. It needs to accurately represent the book within the covers. It needs to capture a reader's attention. It needs to stand tall in the crowded marketplace so that it gains its proper attention.
Yes, it's a fight...but it's one you can win.
Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer. Visit Ash's blog at www.ash-krafton.blogspot.com for news on her urban fantasy "Bleeding Hearts: Book One of the Demimonde" (Pink Narcissus Press 2012) and the follow-up "Blood Rush" due May 2013.