Developing the Perfect Title

Q: What are some ways you come up with a title for your book or stories? I read the article about “The Perfect Title” but I wanted to know if there were any other important hints to help me with. -David


A:
As my editor likes to say, titles are either very easy or very hard. Either it comes to you from the very beginning and you never have any doubts about it, or else you go through 700 of them and you’re still not sure you have the right one.

I’ve been through both, believe me, and in fact I’m going through the hard way right now on the next book. The title is so important, of course, because it’s like a “tuning fork” that sets the tone for the whole book.

Not only does it have to sound right on its own, it also has to have some meaning and relevance to the book, and ideally it’ll have both an obvious, surface meaning, and a second, deeper meaning. For instance, North of Nowhere, that was one of my easy titles – I had it from the very first day and it never wavered for me. In one sense, it’s just an offhand joke that one of the characters makes – saying that the town of Paradise is so far up there, it’s not the middle of nowhere, it’s north of nowhere. In a deeper sense, that title applied to a certain state of mind that Alex found himself in, being so lost and confused that he was far removed from even nowhere at all. If you can find a title that hits you on two levels like that, you’re in business.

Steve Hamilton, Author of the Alex McKnight Novels
Winner of the Edgar and Shamus Awards for Best First Novel