Friday, February 12, 2010

Sex With Your Mother...(Writing)

Sex with your mother...

You may wonder why I'm writing such a horrible title at the top of my blog. The thing I’m trying to convey is that a title is important to your book. A bad title, a boring title, or an inappropriate title can kill your book on the shelf before a reader even looks at it.

I'm pretty sure 'Sex With Your Mother' hits most of those.

The only thing worse that a bad title is using 'Untitled'. Even a work in progress needs a working title. Calling your book 'The Worst Book Ever' is better than Untitled. 'Spam' is better than ‘Untitled’.

When you’re talking your book up to agents or future readers, do you want to say ‘Yeah, Untitled will be done next year'. You can explain a name change better than not knowing your story well enough to name it.

But picking an eye-catching title isn't the only consideration. If you're writing a humor novel, you’re going to want to try to reflect that in the title. This is so shelf browsers will know by glancing at your book that it's a funny book.

You might call your funny book about social networking sites something like "Stop Twittering Me, I'm Facebooking!" or "Go Tweet and Die" depending on your tone.

Both of these titles reflect the content (social networking sites), the tone (funny), and garner attention (readers will browse those titles with interest).

Although you wouldn't think so, the title and cover of your book are almost as important as words inside the cover. Don’t believe me? Just ask the major car company that tried to sell a car called 'Nova' in Spanish speaking countries. Nova in Spanish is 'no go'. Who would buy a car called 'no go'?

Exactly. They titled the car wrong.

To help you pick a title, try the following exercises:

A) Reduce you plot down to one log line or a single line introduction. This isn't always possible but get as close as you can. What is important in that line? Then try to capture that in the title words.

B) Think of important dialogue or descriptive phrases from the book. Do any of them reflect the idea, feeling, or tone of the book? If you're character is prone to rolling her eyes and saying 'So What', that may be your title.

C) Avoid titles that are too generic or over used. Have you ever looked at a grocery shelf of formula romance titles? Do you remember a single title? No, you don't. Because almost every one of those titles is similar to eight other titles. "Seduced at Midnight' is not that different from "Seduced by a Duke"" or a "Duke Came at Midnight". They all smoosh together in your head into one big jumble.

D) Let some workshop friends read a few chapters and give you some titles they would pick. You may not use any of these titles but it'll give you an idea of how your book impresses on readers. It may inspire you. I don't suggest you use regular friends or family. Members of your reading circle or workshop group usually have a better idea of what works as a title since they are involved in the industry.

E) Lastly, try to pick a title that has something to do with your book. There is nothing worse than picking up a book thinking you have one thing (drama, comedy, erotica) and realizing you have something else (western, horror, religious).

And just to clear up any confusion, no one slept with your mother. Just ask her (go on, I dare you).


  1. More excellent advice Tirza, thanks.


  2. Great advice. I will come here when I need to make a title.


  3. Some great advice, and as a person who reads a lot, from a readers' perspective, I agree that the title to a book is extremely important.

    A bad title can cause you to simply pass it by, whereas an overused title can make you think, "I've read that already"

    A good title can sometimes sell a book almost all on it's own.

    Wonderful advice!

  4. Scared me with the Oedipal title - lol
    As always good stuff! ;)

  5. Top advice. I was quite relieved that the post did not live up to the title - phew!

  6. Very good point!

    I do most of my book browsing by titles and covers, and only then do I read the back (or the in-sleeve, depending).

  7. Great example. I came to this post ready to defend my mother, but then i realized you've never met her.

  8. Amen sister! The title is what catches your eye. I review a lot of stuff on TNBW because the title raises my curiousity enough to take a look. Great post. :-)

  9. Yup - the title is the hook, like the first sentence before the first sentence.

    Great advice for how to select one that fits!



    Word verification = arsipoo (har!)

    from the desk of a writer