On Titles and Originality

Before I start, just a publicity update: Go to Barren Island Books to read an interview with me just before I am banished to a desert island. Fun times, and many thanks to A.F.E. Smith for the opportunity!

Now, let’s to brass tacks.

You know what I find the hardest thing, ultimately, to do for a novel or story? Give it a title.

Seriously, what the hell do you call the whole thing? Me? I don’t know. It always seems like the best titles are already taken. Anytime I come up with a good title – a real zinger, you know? – I make the mistake of Googling it. When I finish, this is my face:

But...but I was being so *original!*

But…but I was being so *original!*

Yep – somebody else had used it. Sometimes numerous somebodies else. Super lame.

You know that book I’ve been telling you all to buy – The Iron Ring, remember? Well, even though it wasn’t my first choice for title, it was the one my editor liked best and, as it turns out, Lloyd Alexander liked it, too. Dammit!

So, anyway, after much hand-wringing and nonsense about the titles of the various books of The Saga of the Redeemed (that one’s original – take that ye gods of Google!), I came up with a system that I felt would create decent titles for my fantasy books. Namely, I’d take a common saying and chop it up. Books 1 and 2 (which are really the same story) were/are titled The Oldest Trick, for instance. As in “the oldest trick in the book.” Right? Get it? Huh, huh? Neat, right? Google that one and you come up with nothing – it’s all mine, baby!

Fast Forward to Book 3 (or Part 2, depending on how you look at it). The working title has always been All That Glitters, as in “all that glitters is not gold.” Pithy, clever, thematically appropriate – I love it. Google it, and all you get is a short-run sitcom in 1977. Ha!

Oh, but wait, it’s also:

  • A VC Andrews novel from 1995.
  • A Michael Anthony novel from 1981
  • A memoir by Pearl Lowe in 2007
  • Some kind of documentary/reality show set to air this year.

And about a million other titles. Bye-bye that title.

Turns out, though, that no matter what I pick, odds are I’m going to step on somebody’s toes. You have to ask, though, whether that’s such a big deal. Like, if the last time somebody used the title was in a different medium (movie, not book) for a different audience (crime thriller, not fantasy) a couple years ago, does it really matter? How much of a chance of confusion is there, really?

In bouncing potential titles back and forth with my editor, the one she liked best was No Good Deed. Yes, yes – it’s the title of an Idris Elba thriller released last year, I know. It isn’t as though anybody’s going to be confused, though. It would be one thing, I guess, if the movie were a big hit (nobody’s walking around titling their novel The Empire Strikes Back or Platoon, I suppose), but even then one has to wonder. What’s in a title, anyway? It’s just one of the umpteen billion handy devices by which we convince people to pick up our books and read. Perhaps the “perfect originality” standard is a bit too stiff for so modest an element.

Or maybe I’m just lazy. That’s also pretty likely.

Nevertheless, I’m going to stick with No Good Deed for now. I’m calling dibs, everyone, got it? It’s mine! Well, for now, anyway, and unless I can think of something better.


About aahabershaw

Writer, teacher, gaming enthusiast, and storyteller. I write stories, novels, and occasional rants.

Posted on March 13, 2015, in Critiques, Theories, and Random Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Agreed. There is nothing new under the sun. Just grab what fits and go.

  2. Simon Ellberger

    I counted 27 Kindle books on Amazon with the title “No Good Deed.” That sounds no good indeed. 🙂 And Amazon still has Book 3 available for pre-order under the title “All That Glitters.”

    A question: When the omnibus “The Oldest Trick” comes out, will the story portion (i.e., exclusive of excerpts and the like) contain the verbatim text of the story portions of “The Iron Ring” and “Iron and Blood”? Or might it include corrections to typos and the like (without the corrections being made to the original volumes as well)?

  3. Simon Ellberger

    Auston: If there are any typos, then yes, they would bother me overmuch. But I don’t know if there are any yet, since I haven’t started reading “The Iron Ring.” When I asked the question, I was trying to decide whether to buy “The Iron Ring” and “Iron and Blood” separately, or wait for the omnibus edition. There’s no point in waiting if the text will be identical. But if there are typos and they will corrected in the omnibus, then it makes sense to me to buy that version instead. After considering what’s happening with Amazon and your publisher, I’ve gone ahead and purchased “The Iron Ring,” but your question back to me has ominous overtones.

    • I was mostly seeing if you were of the opinion that the novel had typos, which it does not to my knowledge and would be surprised to learn that it did in any noticeable quantity. Thank you for your purchase and I hope you enjoy the book.

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