Permission Granted: You May Steal From Yourself
A title works hard for you; it’s a first impression, an advertisement, an earworm, an instruction, an invitation. Especially with book titles, there’s a lot of pressure on your choice, so it’s wise to prepare for a bit of an odyssey as you sift through different ideas. Don’t worry if you don’t have one from the outset. A title isn’t something to be rushed. Let your imagination do its work and take note when something bubbles up.
Quick tips up front:
— One tack is to search for evocative jargon or phraseology that’s related to the story you’re telling or the world you’re describing. One example from my shelf is Geoff Gray’s Skyjack: the Hunt for D.B. Cooper.
— Additionally, as you go (and write), try to be extra alert to compelling phrases in the wild. Collect them from something someone said, from a passage in a book you loved (where many titles come from), or elsewhere. Chloe Caldwell’s Legs Get Led Astray comes from song lyrics, for instance.
— Take note when you come across a title you like — ask yourself what’s working about it? Why did it draw you in? I recently fell under the spell of Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You and Michael Lowenthal’s Sex With Strangers.
— Make a list of ideas and possibilities, however marginal. If you have even a few words that are feeling like a “lead” or a start, write them down and try out different permutations to see what happens.
— If you gin up a decent-seeming title idea, take a second to google it to see if it’s been done before. It’s not a dealbreaker if it has been but that should still be a variable you’re weighing.
Here are the other core tips and lessons — within the context of my own titling odyssey.
1. Run some field tests
It’s wise to bounce a possible book title off of anyone and everyone. That’s how important it is. Ask your buddy. Your mom. Also the dude who makes your favorite sandwich. An Uber driver. Why not? See what they say. Give permission for radical honesty.