Furry Writers' Guild Forum

How to title your book

This is a pretty simple rule: Titles should be be short, the shorter the better. Two words is great, three is okay, anything over four, avoid.

Now if you look at some of my titles, they’re pretty long, or at least they seem to be long. In fact, they break down pretty good.
Series Title: Portals of Infinity. Three words

Then I list what book in the series, Two Words.

Then the title of the book, which is almost always three words.

Look at all the bestsellers out there, just as you’ll notice the cover layouts tend to be the same, the number of words in the title tend to be short as well. Mark Coker has a piece on this somewhere, he’s done quite a bit of research on it apparently.

Interesting rule, and a very good point. Patrick Rothfuss seems to be the exception in many things, including this x3 It almost seems like he intentionally broke the rule with every book. Even GRRM did if you include prepositions and conjunctions. It’s true though: the shorter the title (with relevancy to your story), the easier for a reader to remember and later on either find or recommend.

I like long subtitles, as a general rule. So, you can skip it, if you want.

So if you see the book: “SIR: The Big Book of Daddy Issues” then you’ve discovered my alias. :wink:

Hurrah, an excuse to link to this very funny blog post by SFF author Elizabeth Bear:

“NOUN & NOUN” shall be the title of my next novel!

Followed by “NOUN & NOUN 2: RENOUNED” :smiley:

My favorite title ever is “The Beast Who Cried Love at the Heart of the World”, by Harlan Ellison. I don’t recall the story at all, except that I didn’t care for it, but that title absolutely gives me the shivers right up to this very day, over 40 years later.

That’s why, whenever I can manage it, I title my work with what amounts to a narrative hook. Perhaps the best examples are “Cheetah’s Win” and “The Wolf of the Hare That Bit Him”.

Ellison is a great (if sometimes exasperating) writer, but he’s absolutely terrific with titles. “I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream” is probably his most famous, but “Demon With a Glass Hand,” “Paladin of the Lost Hour,” “Shatterday” and others are all really memorable.

Honestly, I think memorable is the best thing to shoot for. Being short tends to help with being memorable, so Banner’s advice is good, but you can be short and boring as well as long and memorable. Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice has a short title, but it also catches your eye because those two words don’t normally go together. Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven: also short, yet a bit evocative. (Stations of what? Why eleven?) Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August has a pretty damn long title, but it makes you wonder just what it means.

I have mixed results with titles. Some of what I come up with I really like, whether it’s short or long, but the title needs to communicate something about the story. Sometimes that’s not easy. Kismet is a placeholder title that stuck because nothing else I could come up with really sang, and it manages to have both a literal and a metaphorical hook into the novel.

Remember that Ellison was writing short stories that went in anthologies. You already bought the book, so he didn’t need a title to sell you on. What did Ellison name his anthology? ‘Dangerous Visions’.
Two words, nice and short.

I put a lot of thought into my title structures of my stories, usually. As a general trend, my shorter works get longer titles, and my longer works get shorter titles.

“From Winter’s Ashes” started with an exploration of the scenario of the book: Someone’s terrible life made worse by a very hard winter, but something hopeful comes from that, and thus the “From” before Winter’s Ashes. (Book 2 and Book 3, should they see the light of print, will be “From Spring’s Embers” and “From Summer’s Flames”, respectively. You heard it here first! Nevermind about Autumn. That’s barely even a season where I’m from.)

“Laika Dosha” was pretty easy. Russian for “Laika’s (Spirit/Soul)”. The protagonist’s relationship with Laika defines a lot of the story, directly or indirectly.

“After the Last Bell’s Rung”. A story about the life that comes after boxing, a story about the sweet and serious after in the life of a boxer.

“Eight Seconds and the Grace of God”. That one I can firmly credit my wife for. We were talking about the story ideas I had and she mentioned that she “loved rodeo as a kid. Riders bucking. Nothing between you and the steer but eight seconds and the grace of god.”

“The Years of Living Dangerously Happy”. I uh. Big fan of Carbon Leaf. And I wanted to write a story where the happy ending was the ending of a relationship, without there needing to be villains. It’s a story about the post-mortem of a relationship, and the way they let their happiness blind them.

“EULA” is my first attempt, consciously, to both work a punchline for a short flash fiction into the title, and create a short fiction title that’s, well, short!

Am I the only one who takes titles of individual stories into consideration before buying an anthology, no matter the title of the anthology and what authors are featured? It’s been a habit of mine since I first picked up James Harriot’s Cat Stories. A very lack luster title for a book, but the titles of the shorts told me all I needed to know and it wound up being one of my favorites growing up.

To give my own run down, “Tech Flesh” was originally a working title and a random nickname for the idea that came to my mind. By the end of it, I couldn’t think of a better name for the technology used within the book, so it stuck.

“The Cat Thief” was my story for ROAR 6, and the shortest I ever submitted for an anthology. Again it started out as just a working title, but it just summed up the story into a nice and neat little package.

“Home At Last”, my story for WotA3, started out as " Tied Communications ". I didn’t quite get to the scene with the actual tying before I realized I was approaching novella territory, so the name was dropped and I used the feels in the last scene. I still worry the title is way too generic for a bdsm anthology, but I’m hoping it sticks out Because it doesn’t try to be kinky in the title.

Fragments of Life’s Heart was originally suggested by Dwale, inspired by the book The Prophet- one the both of us have enjoyed. Before then, the working title was The Many Shapes of a Love. I’m hoping the new title will be a bit more memorable because of the mental imagery it inspires. Hopefully the author will make full use of it.

Civilized Beasts was voted on for the poetry collection. It’s a fun and simple title with some easy imagery to play with.

The story I hope to turn into a novella has a simple working title of A Boy and His Dog. No clue if I’ll change it or not, but I’m still open for the opportunity.

All in all it looks like my short stories have short titles and my anthology and story both have the longer titles (for now x3). Though I understand the logic behind the rule, I would like to think the titles relate enough with the works to make up for it.

Somewhat oddly given previous conversation on Mr. Ellison, “A Boy and His Dog” is actually the title of one of his most famous novellas; it won a Nebula and was nominated for a Hugo (and was made into a rather weird low-budget sci-fi film in the mid-70s).

-faceplants- It’s such a generic line too.

I’d love to read “The Girl with the Prepositional Phrase.” It would be a grammarian romance, of course.

I tend to make all of my titles one word long. Parallel, Lucid, Purgatory, I had a few others that I completely forget the names of. I don’t know why, but I’m not creative enough to come up with longer titles. I think it works fine, honestly.

One word titles are more likely to suffer from difficult Google-ability.

Or being already overused

Good response; I might rethink the title of my novel. It may be difficult, though.

So after renaming my book, I can say that your rule is a little bit too simplified.

The name of my book is The Pax Mountains now, and that’s three words, and with the story, it’s great. There are lots of factors to titles. The most important one is most definitely not the size of it, it’s the relevance to the story.

When it comes to title length, I think that your rule should not apply to words like the, of, etc.

My point in all of this is that your rule needs revised a little bit in order to be always true.

Heya. Was planning on staying mute, but that is not one of my strong points. I am wondering if others here have had a great title pop into their head that they are willing to build an entire story growing from that seed. I have about 6 and doubt it going to stop any time soon. They latest is Candles Dream and I ended up with cross profile story that is can be furry, dark, sci-fi, dysphoric, speculative…and suitable for enough markets that I am polishing and sending out into the cold, harsh, soulless greater world of publishers and hefalumps and woozles.

I really feel impressed and grateful for the solid framework that has developed so many resources that were not here when I had to duck out in 2007.

Carry on…