Shut the Front Door

Choosing a title for your literary masterpiece is not easy. That is, choosing the best title … the right title is not easy. How do you capture the emotion, the theme, the personality of your work in just a few words?

Think of your manuscript in terms of real estate: like selling your house, you want to sell your manuscript. And like any real estate agent will tell you, it’s all about curb appeal. That means you need to create a welcoming, inviting entrance to your “home.”

Your title becomes your front door. Just as a plain, hollow door does not encourage potential buyers, unimaginative titles might not grab the attention of potential readers. Conversely, verbose, meandering, cumbersome titles can be intimidating, like having a drawbridge and gates at your home’s entrance.

door1That’s not to say a blatantly obvious title—like a solid wood front door—can’t be appealing. Robin Cook has made a name for himself with one-word titles: Brain, Coma, Contagion, Fever, Toxin, to name a few. Monica Holloway’s Driving with Dead People is about … well, let’s just say it does involve a funeral home. Or that a brazenly outrageous title (think purple door) like Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime or Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics won’t attract readers. They both got my attention.

Yet before you settle on a title that you think is just right—not too short, not too long—do a little googling, Goldilocks! Check out Amazon or Barnes & Noble or other online bookstores. Since titles are not protected by copyright laws, it’s perfectly legal to use one that’s already been taken (unless it qualifies for trademark protection, like blockbusters Twilight, Harry Potter, for example), but why not be unique? With almost 300,000 books published (2012 statistics – not including ebooks), it makes sense to do anything and everything possible to open that door. Your door.

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