Sep 21 2008
Cadet Davis reviews and revises the titles of 30 manuscripts submitted to a writing workshop. This will help you evaluate and improve your titles.
- This week, none of them stood out… in a good way, anyhow.
- The Dragon at Davina’s. Dragon is a strong (and very market-friendly) word that identifies this book as fantasy, but “at Davina’s” is not as interesting. Who is Davina and why should we care about here? This title was, however, stronger than something like “Davina’s Dragon.”
- Alien Entrepreneurs. Like the previous title, this uses a very genre-specific word (alien). But why would we care about alien entrepreneurs? What’s at stake? What are the alien entrepreneurs trying to do? Etc. I think this title would be more interesting if it suggested something about the plot, maybe Buying Earth or, for a more technical feel, Short-Selling Earth.
- The Fall of Ganymede. The typical sci-fi reader probably knows that Ganymede is a moon in our solar system, so this is a functional title that competently identifies the genre and basic plot. The only thing holding this title back is a lack of style. How is this book different from other sci-fi invasion stories?
- With a Whimper. This is a reference to a line from a T.S. Eliot poem (“this is the way the world ends/not with a bang but a whimper”). The average reader probably wouldn’t infer that the book is about the end of the world, but it seems effective for literary readers.
- Elijah’s Chariot. This is a biblical allusion to an apocalyptic revelation (God brought Elijah to heaven in a chariot of fire). I suspect that fans of religious-themed fantasy would get the reference, but this title doesn’t tell us too much about the book. If I were writing a chilling book about the relationship between religion and science, for example, I might call it something like “Perfecting God’s Image.” That uses a biblical allusion but says more about the content of the plot and what’s at stake.
- The Transmigration of Herakles Duncan. This is a far more pretentious and arcane reference than “With a Whimper.” Philosophy majors might know that transmigration is a synonym for reincarnation. However, changing this title to “The Reincarnation of Herakles Duncan” would still have been awful. Who’s Herakles and why should we care about him?
- ECE. Acronyms rarely work in titles and this is no exception. I have no idea what ECE is. This title has completely failed to sell the book. Next!
- Halloween: A Cautionary Acrostic of Nine Horrible Fates that Await the Disobedient Child. The main problem here wasn’t the length so much as the word “acrostic.” It mismarkets the work as short poetry, when in fact it’s a 3000 word short story. I don’t think that Halloween adds anything to the title, either. Changing this title to just “Nine Horrible Fates that Await the Disobedient Child” would be far more effective.
- Nukekubi. The word “nukekubi” is not actually invented. It’s a type of Japanese monster. But I doubt that most readers interested in Japanese-themed stories would know that. If I had to write a title for a Japanese story, I’d try something like “Shaming the Ninja.” That’s more accessible and says more about the plot. [B. Mac adds: I thought that the "nuke" syllable is a red herring. At first glance, I figured this was about a nuclear apocalypse.]
- The Edge of Time. Time is a word that ruins titles. It creates ambiguity here. Is this title trying to say that the story is about time-travel or just that the plot features urgency? More elementally, what’s at stake here? Why should I care?
- There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute. This generic phrase doesn’t really say anything about this story. What kind of suckers are we dealing with? Why should we care?
- The Godess’ Pond [sic]. Misspelling the word Goddess would get this manuscript instantly rejected by any professional publisher. Aside from that, I like the word Goddess but why should we care about her pond? What’s at stake? What happens?
- A capella [sic]. Capella wasn’t capitalized, but I think that’s more excuseable. However, this title is still awful because it doesn’t really say anything about the plot or what’s at stake or why we should care.
- A Future Among Demons. I’m having trouble articulating why I hated this one. The story is set in a postapocalyptic, tribal Earth dominated by demons. I think the word “future” was problematic because it suggests a more technological, sci-fi story. It’s a sci-fi red herring in a story that I don’t think would appeal to sci-fi fans.
- Cayden’s Quest/Varnak’s Revenge. I’ve never seen a title with a backslash before. It’s like the author couldn’t decide whether he wanted to name his book Cayden’s Quest or Varnak’s Revenge. Incidentally, either would have sucked. Quest and Revenge are far too generic and his imaginary names are slightly grating. I don’t know who Cayden and Varnak are; why would I care about them?
- Green Reaper. I’m not sure what’s going on here. Is this supposed to be a play on “Grim Reaper?”
- Here and There. I have no idea what’s going on here.
- Crazy Mara. I think this is a really obscure religious reference (either Hinduism or Buddhism). Or Mara could be a person. I love the word “crazy,” but I think that Mara didn’t make the sale.
- Cry of the Sphinx. Sphinx is a very specific and powerful word, but I think that “cry of the” was fluffery. What’s at stake here?
- Element Wars. Better than “Elemental,” which we had a few weeks ago, but not much better.
- Voice of the People. This didn’t say enough about the story or what’s at stake. At a literal level, what is the voice of the people? A character? A newspaper? A communist government? (It sounds like something a Leninist government would call itself). Something more intangible?
- Upstairs. What’s going on upstairs? Why should I care? Why is it relevant that the story is happening upstairs? This is another one-word title that doesn’t work.
- Dead City. I like the use of dead here, but adding details would probably clarify the title. Are we talking about a city that’s been killed (like a nuclear apocalypse)? A zombie story? A city that has withered away (like a ghost town)? A city that has undead inhabitants? A city that’s just very quiet (like Salt Lake City after 9 pm)? These stories would appeal to very different audiences, so clarifying would probably help make the sale.
- Fig. This might be a type of food or a character, but either way I don’t want to read a story about it. One-word titles are very hard to use.
- Tutootsy the Cave Elf. Uhh, yeah. Character names are typically ineffective. I think this character name wouldn’t fly even in a kid’s book.
- Ersatz Balmung. “Ersatz” is pretentious and should be replaced with a word like “Replacement” or “Substitute.” But what’s Balmung? I’m dimly aware of an anime character of the same name. [Jacob adds: maybe Odin's sword? But that would be incredibly obscure, I think.]
This article was the eighth part of a series. If you’d like to read our reviews of other batches of titles, please see the list just below.