JUDGING A BOOK BY ITS TITLE

How do you decide what to call your book? In this day of Indie Publishing, many of us are doing just that: deciding on the book’s title ourselves. In the past few months two occasions have arisen where I have read books that I wouldn’t normally have picked up based on their titles. I read them because they were written by friends of mine — friends whose writing I trust. Now that I think about it, once I trust an author I don’t care what she or he names her books. “A Big Pile of Crap,” by Ruth Rendell. Yep, I’ll read that. “God Speaks Directly to Me Through My Armpit” by P. D. James. Okay, I’m leary, but I’m reading it. (Leary because I know Ms. James is getting up there and I read she has Alzheimer’s, but I keep reading everything she writes, so maybe this is her sense of humor.) But those titles by unknowns? uh, no. Especially the one with God in the title. Or anything about religion. I’m put off and don’t even want to waste a few seconds looking at the inside flap or back cover. 

Now that I’ve had these experiences with books by my friends — both books were excellent, by the way — I realize I have to change my ways. I’m going to have to look at the flaps, the back covers, the Kirkus reviews, the customer reviews. I’m probably going to have to read a few sample pages.

Oh, the hard life of a reader! But I don’t want to miss out on work that is excellent just because of my biases.

Still, for my own readers, I am going to work hard to try to avoid their biases. With my Shirley Combs series, I think I’m fairly safe in using titles derived from Sherlock Holmes’s tales and adventures. I’ve always struggled to get the right name for my plays. And what will I name my dark novel that isn’t in the Shirley Combs series? I don’t know. I’m still in the research phase on that one.

Readers, what kinds of titles keep you from reaching for a book? Authors, how do you decide what to name your books? Or your series? All comments are appreciated, because they are helpful.

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