Guest post: ‘When bad titles happen to good books’ by Catherine Stovall

I’m delighted to bring you this guest blog post, today on the topic of titles by fantasy novelist Catherine Stovall.

‘When bad titles happen to good books’

Your book is well-written, your plot solid, your characters are three-dimensional beings, and the editing is pristine. You chose engaging cover art to draw in the customers. Your networking and promotion is shamelessly blasting your name and book title on every available arena. One problem, your book title is utterly ridiculous.

A bad title can happen to you rather you are the fearless entrepreneur, a well-known name backed by the biggest publishing house in the business, or just a new author starting out with a small company. Perhaps those who were privileged enough to read the book beforehand get it and they are blinded to the disaster that graces the cover but someone who has never heard of you or your books isn’t going to understand why you named your brilliant novel, Book. In fact, they will probably never know that inside the cover lies a masterpiece because they can’t get past the terrible title.

Some good tips for choosing the right title are very easy to find. You can read a ton of books and blogs giving you sincere professional advice on how to choose your book title. Authors, editors, and people in the know will give you lists of proven methods. I have an approach that is a little bit on the fun side. Here are my five sure ways to choose a title that won’t make you a laughingstock.

  1. Talk to friends, relatives, and strangers and get their opinion in a way that doesn’t tell them it is your title. For example, “I saw a book the other day called, My Darling My Hamburger.” If they say, “Oh no, who would call their book that?” You know this is not the title for you.
  2. Find a group of freshmen college students and tell them what your title is. For example, “Hey guys, I wrote this book called Scouts in Bondage.” If a chorus of crude remarks and laughter follows your question or if there are shocked and slightly suspicious expressions on their faces, you should reconsider something a little different.
  3. Make a fake book cover with the title of your book in big bold letters. Carry the book around with you in public for a few days. If you are embarrassed to let the people in the elevator see that you are reading Sex, Lies, and Leprechauns, then it’s time to choose something else.
  4. Do your research! Language barriers between social classes, nationalities, and age groups can cause even the most educated authors to suffer from poor title selection. Most young Americans will do a double-take when they read the title A Girlfriend is a Sister You Choose. Just be careful not to fall into a word warp.
  5. Keep it short, catchy, and understandable. If your reader doesn’t need to read more than the title to figure out the entire scope of your book then you must be the author of the book titled Daniel Radcliffe the story of the not so ordinary boy chosen from, ……and after 1,000-plus words ends with, to his ever royal crown of fame.

I am no expert on book titles. After all, Stolen: Book One of the Requiem of Humanity Series is my first published title and I usually have to explain the definition of requiem. However, I think it is safe to say that I will never earn the Diagram Award for worst book title. I hope that with my not so expert advice, a few other authors out there will be spared the shame as well.

You had me at the title of this piece, and I learned something new – I didn’t know there was a Diagram Award, thank you Catherine!

Catherine Stovall is a new and upcoming author of fantasy fiction. Her novel, Stolen, is the first in the Requiem of Humanity series. Catherine received her Associates of Science in Criminal Justice from Colorado Technical University. After working in the Criminal Justice field for several years, she has decided to dedicate her life to her true passion, creating captivating works of fiction. She currently lives in southeast Missouri with her husband, three children, and pets. You can read my recent interview with her here.

BLOGFLASH!!!!! Catherine’s publisher Untreed Reads is offering a reader of this guest post a chance of winning a complimentary eBook copy of Catherine’s debut novel ‘Stolen‘. All you have to do is leave a comment (hopefully just as complimentary! :)) at the bottom of this page between Mondays 17th and 24th October and you’ll be in the draw. Thank you. 🙂

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with romance / adventure author Caroline Clemmons – the one hundred and fifty-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

6 thoughts on “Guest post: ‘When bad titles happen to good books’ by Catherine Stovall

  1. Yvonne Hertzberger says:

    So true, Catherine. I had a deuce of a time finding the best title for my first book. But as the next is a sequel to the first it came much more easily. I think both title and cover are the two ‘first impression’ elements that either draw us in to look further or leave us cold so that we never look inside.


  2. Patricia Gligor says:

    I enjoyed your post.
    The title for my first mystery/suspense novel, “Mixed Messages,” came to me easily; it just fit. However, when it was time to “name” my second book, I was torn between two possibilities. So, I asked a couple of friends what they thought and, when they told me why they liked my second choice better, I knew they were right. The title is “Unfinished Business,” which is a twelve step term used in AA and Alanon (the main character’s husband is an alcoholic.)


  3. Catherine Stovall says:

    Thank you Patricia and Yvonne. Please add your emails so that you can be entered in the contest to win a copy of Stolen!

    I couldn’t agree more. I was a little weary on my own cover design because of some mixed reviews but in the end I went with what my heart told me and begged my publisher to use it. It’s a custom piece by my very talented sister. She really brought to life what was in my head. What did you decide on for your titles?

    Sounds like your titles are perfect! I will have to check out your book and add it to my TBR list. I love a good mystery!

    Thanks again!


  4. Jane Lovering says:

    Wonderful post! I love choosing titles for books, and sometimes I come up with titles that are so good I just have to write the book to go with it! Most of my recent books have song-title titles, which does make things a bit easier. I now want to write a book called ‘Smack my bitch up’, but probably won’t.


    • morgenbailey says:

      Thank you, Jane. I’ve forwarded your comment. You and Jane Risdon would get on well – she has a 30-year music industry background. I love clever titles and ones like ‘The Brave One’ can let down good books (or films in that case – had Jodie Foster as lead).


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