Jan 24 2009

Your Title is Bad, But You Can Fix It (Part 10)

Published by at 4:35 am under Titles,Writing Articles

Cadet Davis reviews and revises the titles of 30 manuscripts submitted to a writing workshop. This will help you evaluate and improve your titles.

Above Average

  1. Jihad 2115.  This is a very straightforward title for a futuristic counterterrorism story.  It identifies itself to its niche of readers very effectively.
  2. Certified to be Human.  This is more of a head-scratcher, but it’s stylish and I’m pretty sure that the book is about a cyborg trying to be human.  However, it could be smoother as something like Certifiably Human.
  3. Midwife Crisis.  I’m such a sucker for puns.  I think this one works because I know what’s at stake and what the book is about.  Also, it markets itself as a comedy, which is often a difficult thing to show with a title.

Acceptable

  1. We Are Justice.  This is delightfully creepy, but I don’t know enough about what’s going on here.  Is this… a dystopian superhero novel?  A futuristic cop story?  A hard-hitting detective story?  Etc.
  2. A Human Failing.  It would probably help to be more specific about which human failing we’re looking at.  (Lust?  Vengeance?  Something quirky?)  For example, something like “Charity is a Human Failing” would say a lot more about the book.  Also, I think the word “human” may be a red herring.  Are there nonhumans in this book?  Since that sort of detail will help shape the audience, it’s probably something that should be clearer.  In contrast, “Charity is a Human Failing” leaves very little doubt that there are nonhumans in the book, so that will help pick out the right niche of readers.
  3. The Hacker.  This is a character, not a story.  What’s the hacker doing?  Why should we care?
  4. Performance Review.  This needs more style and specificity.  What kind of performance review are we looking at?  Why should we care?  If this were a story about a bureaucratic take on heaven, for example, we could try something like “Halo Needs Shining; Wings Not Much Better.”  It hopefully conveys the feel of a performance review but shows us more about what kind of story this is.
  5. The Junkie’s Promise.  Promise is a very vague word that doesn’t really say anything useful about the plot.  I’d really like to know more about what’s at stake for the junkie.  Junkie is a great word, by the way.  It helps set the setting and attract the right subset of readers.
  6. Ragged Edge of Hell.  I like the style here.  I feel like I know something about the plot (an unpleasant trip into hell), but it might help to show us something more about the protagonist and/or what’s at stake for him.
  7. In the Beginning. This is borderline awful, but I think it’s almost acceptable because it clearly marks itself as a story about Genesis.  It identifies itself to readers, but doesn’t say as much about its style as Jihad 2115 did.

Awful (But Fixable!)
  1. Beware the Fury. What’s at stake?  Why should we care?  What’s the setting?  Don’t know, don’t care.  (You’re going to be hearing “don’t know, don’t care” a lot, so please get used to it).
  2. The Blessing.  Who gets blessed?  In what way?  Why should we care?  What’s at stake?  What’s the setting?  Is this fantasy, real-world fiction or something else?  Don’t know, don’t care.
  3. Tyre’s Bride.  Who’s Tyre?  Why should I care about his bride?  What’s at stake?  Setting/genre?  DKDC.
  4. The Right Profile.  It’s not clear enough what’s going on.  What kind of profile are we talking about?  (For example… criminal profiling, the profile for the right job candidate, or something else entirely).   What’s at stake?  Another detail would probably help this title a lot.
  5. Scare.  It’s very rare that a horror book gets an awful rating from me, but this one says nothing about the book except that it’s horror.  It would probably be effective to be a bit more specific about what happens.  (EG:  Texas Chainsaw Massacre vs. Signs vs. Blair Witch Project).
  6. White Heart.  The word “heart” sucks.  Also, what’s a white heart and what’s this story about?  What’s at stake?  What happens?  Why should we care?
  7. The Sick Man.  Sick in what way?  Specifics will really help this title.  Is this a story about… mental illness?  Coming to grips with a fatal disease?  A psycho serial killer?  An epidemic?
  8. The Second Coming of the Fallen Angel.  The phrase “The Second Coming” is a huge red herring here.
  9. Definitely Warped.  Stylish, but this doesn’t say enough about the story.
  10. Buddy 1205.  I don’t feel like I know enough about what’s going on here.
  11. The Other Body.  No clue.  What’s going on here?
  12. The Omega Climber.  What the hell?
  13. Devour.  One word titles are usually ineffective, and this is no exception.  Adding another detail would probably help make this more specific and stylish.
  14. The Goddess Renewed.  Renewed is an awful word here.  It would have been better to go with something that suggests what’s at stake.  For example, what’s she renewing herself from?  If she’s just trying to overcome fatigue or the heavenly equivalent of a midlife crisis, I’d use something like “The Tired Goddess.”
  15. Legacy Soldier.  I don’t know what the word legacy means here.
  16. Dream Dark, Dream Deadly.  I don’t know…  This just feels really cheesy.
  17. Hair Troubles.  Could be interesting, but I think that it needs to be more specific.
  18. Night Songs.  “Songs” is an awful word for titles.  So is “Night!” Not surprisingly, when you string together two awful words, you get an awful title.
  19. Bjorn the Upstart.  Interesting noun, but the name Bjorn here feels like a red herring.  Are we talking about the rock star or someone else with that name?
  20. Vision.  A vision of what?  Or, alternately, are we talking about someone’s eyes and literally what they can see?  What’s the setting?  What’s at stake?  Why should we care?
  21. With His Own Two Hands.  Who is “he” and why should I care about him?  What’s he doing with his hands?
  22. The Senim.  What’s a Senim?  Don’t know, don’t care.
  23. A Friend in Need.  Too cliche.  Needs more style.
  24. The Real Estate Mogul.  This is a character, but not a story.  What’s at stake?  Why should we care about this mogul?
  25. Keeper of Man.  I don’t know what’s going on here.  It sounds like it might be a Biblical allusion or something, but I’m really tired and I didn’t pick it up.  Next!  (If my reaction seems petty or unfair, keep in mind that publisher’s assistants spend hours each day doing this and they’re looking for reasons to throw away manuscripts.  An unclear title is a great place to start).
  26. Song of the Siren.  Way too bland.
  27. Skinny.  This is a character trait, but not really a story.  For example, what’s skinny and why does it matter?  For example, if this were about a boxer trying to reach a particular weight class, “Making Weight” would be more effective.
  28. The Mad Cave.  Interesting adjective, but I don’t know why I would care.

This article was the tenth part of a series. If you’d like to read our reviews of other batches of titles, please see the list just below.

32 responses so far

32 Responses to “Your Title is Bad, But You Can Fix It (Part 10)”

  1. Ragged Boyon 25 Jan 2009 at 9:49 am

    What do you think of “Sanding Lucifer’s Horns?”

  2. B. Macon 25 Jan 2009 at 12:49 pm

    Hmm, I don’t get it. What’s the story about? And what do you mean by sanding his horns?

  3. Ragged Boyon 25 Jan 2009 at 1:01 pm

    I think a closer one is “Polishing Lucifer’s Horns”, that clears up what side the main character is on. I don’t know what its about. I’m guessing it has to do with a character that works closely with the devil. Maybe his Yesman.

  4. B. Macon 25 Jan 2009 at 1:15 pm

    Hmm, if the story is about one of the devil’s PR people, you could try something like “Selling the Devil” or “Lucifer’s Flack.”

  5. Ragged Boyon 25 Jan 2009 at 1:30 pm

    Oh, this isn’t my story it’s a friend’s. I’m a Christian, but I like to stay away from religous fiction.

  6. B. Macon 25 Jan 2009 at 3:30 pm

    Ah, wish him the best from me.

    As for “Sanding Lucifer’s Horns,” my main concern is that it isn’t clear what sanding the horns means. Like you suggested, polishing the horns makes it more obvious that the character is working for Lucifer.

    Additionally, depending on the audience, STH may cause some confusion with Hellboy. Hellboy sands his horns, shaving them down to fit in with humans.

  7. Reidon 24 Mar 2009 at 5:17 am

    I’ve read your article on words that shouldn’t be used in titles, and pretty much everything here on titles here. I need to come up with a title for a fantasy that I’m working on. I know I don’t want to name it after the main character, because that would be lame. The best I’ve come up with so far is ‘Hearts of Silver.’ Despite the fact that you’ve stated that ‘heart’ brings down titles, but I figure it gets some points for being a spin of heart of gold, however I’m worried that it doesn’t reveal too much about my story aside from the fact that my characters aren’t morally perfect. Could I get some help here?

  8. B. Macon 24 Mar 2009 at 9:18 am

    Could you give me a 3-5 sentence synopsis of your story? That would help me suggest some ideas.

  9. Reidon 24 Mar 2009 at 4:40 pm

    I don’t really have anything in writing yet, but the general plot involves a shapeshifter bred to be at the mercy of his masters rebelling against them to protect his loved one. I want to finalize a name, because I chose make a poster featuring the characters for an art project and I had hoped to have a good title on there. I greatly appreciate the help though and I’m certain that more details would be required to make something truly excellent, is there anything in particular that would help?

  10. Ragged Boyon 24 Mar 2009 at 5:03 pm

    What’s the general feel of the story? Is it dark or light?

    What are some distinguishing traits of the main character?

    So general points about the story will help.

  11. Reidon 25 Mar 2009 at 2:26 pm

    I intend for it to have more of an adventurous feel but with flashbacks to before the story began showing why the character have good reason to try and escape their former lives. These flashbacks will probably wind up being the darkest part, but the rest is in no way lighthearted, aside from occasional comic relief (who can resist it?). The main character is a somewhat selfish guy, but not in the way you’d expect. Basically he would be willing to let the rest of his race die if it meant he could forever protect his love interest. I plan for him to eventually find a way to do both, for a sacrifice.

  12. TheNewHeroon 03 Apr 2010 at 7:01 am

    Is it okay to have a long title? Like…

    The Janitors: Superhumans, Death, Doomsday iPods and Other Teenage Problems

    or

    The Janitors: Superhumans, Death, Doomsday iPods and Other Teenage Problems – Doomsday iPods

    but not

    The Janitors: Doomsday iPods

    including

    The Janitors: Doomsday iPods, Superhumans and Death – Teenage Problems

    and

    The Janitors Book One: Doomsday iPods at Five Bucks and Your Life

  13. TheNewHeroon 03 Apr 2010 at 7:31 am

    In other words, what do you think?

  14. Wingson 03 Apr 2010 at 3:48 pm

    Hmm…I’m not big on long titles myself, although I adore the phrase Doomsday iPods.

    – Wings

  15. B. Macon 03 Apr 2010 at 3:58 pm

    Of the ones you have, I think “Superhumans, Death, Doomsday iPods and Other Teenage Problems” is the smoothest. However, I would recommend taking out Death because I think it’s redundant with Doomsday iPods. (By the way, I agree that the phrase “Doomsday iPods” is kickass). I suspect that Superhumans could be replaced by something more descriptive, like one of the superpowers that a main character has.



    So “The Janitors” is the series name? Based on what little I know so far, one thing that might worry me there is that “The Janitors” doesn’t seem to describe what’s going on very well. (I mean, umm, it doesn’t sound like the same book as “Superhumans, Death, Doomsday iPods and Other Teenage Problems,” for one thing). Getting the series title spot on doesn’t matter as much as the book title, I think, but even so I think this might trip up somebody at a publisher.

  16. Nicholas Caseon 10 Feb 2011 at 7:39 pm

    Is my title good?

    Portentous: The Last Hope

  17. B. Macon 10 Feb 2011 at 10:09 pm

    “Portentous: The Last Hope.”

    Umm, I have several thoughts here.

    My first concern would be whether the reader knows what Portentous means. I’m not sure which definition you’re going for. It has several definitions and I don’t think readers have enough context to know what’s going on. Are we talking about “of momentous significance,” “amazing,” or “self-important or pompous”? Also, what is portentous? I think adding a noun (preferably an unusual noun) would probably help.

    Your target audience is something like ~13 year old action fans, right? Will they know what “portentous” means? (In 99%+ of titles, I would HIGHLY recommend sticking to words that the readers either know or can guess in context).

    In terms of sound and style, I suspect there are more stylish, rhythmic options than “portentous.” For example, I think “ominous” has more of a connotation of high stakes/danger and probably fits the target audience better. (It’d still need a noun or something else going on, though).

    “The Last Hope” sounds pretty generic. It doesn’t differentiate this work from others in its field very much. (For one thing, I think it could be the subtitle for virtually every action novel ever written).

  18. Nicholas Caseon 11 Feb 2011 at 5:37 am

    Yeah, well I think I beat the sh*t outta writers block because I finally found out how the three will have an adventure. That portal wall? Yeah that lead to a second moon the Gargans used to get to Earth. So Haden finds it and establishes a Mideval-like empire there. Nora saves Dunimas from getting killed by Exsusia by transporting him to planet Coreus (Which was sort of a one way ticket because she can only teleport once every two hours on Earth. Coreous’s time moves very slowly and one month there equals 1 hour on Earth. Nora takes him there to train him and get him back to Earth in time before the portal closes between the moon.

    Dunimas just barely misses it until Dunimas comes up with an idea. He instructs Nora to make as much of a rip as she can even though she’s just teleported him to Earth again. He then runs as fast as he can (Now with super speed) around the world (Which takes about 10 minutes but a lot of Dunimas’s energy) and breaks through the rip and onto the moon. (I’m thinking about Haden naming it Exsusia after his son since Earth is named Haden.) The moon has a strang orbit because rather than traveling around the Equator, it travels around the Prime Meridian by solar powered rockets. (Did I mention it was invisible?) I like this because it gives Dunimas a one way ticket feel and his grandparents don’t look bad for letting their grandchild go around comping in woods. Plus there is an extremely long trail leading directly to the castle with guardians and angry towns people and my favorite…the Xians of the rain… *long evil laughter*

    I was thinking about naming it something like
    Hybrid: Wasteland
    originally but I liked Portentous better…is Hybrid a good title? (Since Dunimas is a cross of 3 species)

  19. B. Macon 11 Feb 2011 at 2:04 pm

    “I was thinking about naming it something like Hybrid: Wasteland originally but I liked Portentous better…is Hybrid a good title? (Since Dunimas is a cross of 3 species).”

    Some thoughts…

    –I don’t think the character’s species makeup is interesting or major enough to make the title. For one thing, the character’s species doesn’t feel like it drives the plot and/or the writing besides explaining how the character gets superpowers. Besides the superpowers, are there any ways in which this character is supposed to feel nonhuman? (For several stories where non-humanness played a major role, I’d recommend looking at District 9, maybe White Fang and Call of the Wild, Stranger in a Strange Land, the Martian Manhunter in Kingdom Come, etc).

    –I’m not sure the average young adult will know what a “hybrid” is. If you asked 5 of your classmates, I’d be surprised if any of them came up with something outside of automobiles. (And I’d be impressed if any came up with the biological concept).

    –“Hybrid: Wasteland” –> The word “wasteland” suggests that this is a post-apocalyptic story about surviving in a wasteland. While there are some dystopian elements (such as Earth getting a dictator and two continents getting eradicated), what I’ve seen so far is definitely not post-apocalyptic anything. (Some examples include Oblivion Society, The Road, The Last Man, probably On the Beach, etc).

    –I don’t think one-word titles are usually effective. I’d recommend expanding the title to 3-7 words and removing the subtitle. I think that will make it easier for you to help readers tell what sort of story it is, what’s going on, etc.

    –One recurring issue with “Portentous: The Last Hope” and “Hybrid: Wasteland” is that they throw around adjectives without nouns. I think that makes it harder for readers to figure out what you’re trying to show. (What is supposed to be portentous? What’s the hybrid? Or, if we guess that the hybrid is a character, why should we care about him?)

  20. Nicholas Caseon 11 Feb 2011 at 3:47 pm

    Um, because he’s the main character! Lol I’m just joking. Anyways I could’ve sworn Protentous meant prophetic…meh…

    I was brainstorming during school and I thought of an okay name.

    Genocide: The Brave Coward

    Genocide because the Xian race was almost wiped out by the Gargans and the Gargan race was wiped out by the Xians.

    The Brave Coward because Dunimas is a pretty brave coward-depending on the situation. If danger is obvious (Like when Arre fights Dunimas [It’s a long story] then he’ll probably chicken out but if danger is hidden (Like when Ixsas lures Dunimas and Exsusia away from Arre [They know the only thing stopping them from eating the Human race is Dunimas and Exsusia and they know Dunimas will figure out it’s a ruse faster than Exsusia. Many of the xians of the rain [man I’m gonna hafta find a shorter name for them because that is a mouthful] at once can take Dunimas [at that part of the story] down as well as Exsusia. Oh man I’m rambling again] ) then he’ll rush in head first.

    Oh yeah do you think Arre and Dunimas fighting (Well really Arre [Corrupted by the newly forming Erra] beating the shiz outta Dunimas) is interesting?

  21. FotV/Annaon 10 Jun 2011 at 11:17 am

    What about the titles Freedom of the Void, Fire in the Void, Void Space, or Cosmic Castaways? It’s a series title.

  22. deadmanshandon 20 Jun 2011 at 8:02 pm

    I’m working on a – rewrite actually of an idea I posted here a long time ago – dark modern fantasy about a sorcerer finally being forced to confront his out of control former students. All sorcery is summoning, bargaining, and binding demons. So I call it one of two things in my head. Either ‘Fools Rush In’ or ‘Where Angels Fear to Tread’. I actually like the second one a lot now that I write it out.

    How does ‘Where Angels Fear to Tread’ fall on the name grading scale?

  23. B. Macon 20 Jun 2011 at 9:39 pm

    I’d lean towards acceptable for Where Angels Fear to Tread and ABF for Fools Rush In.

  24. deadmanshandon 25 Jun 2011 at 8:35 am

    SO what might you suggest for turning an acceptable name – “Where Angels Fear to Tread” – into an above average name?

  25. Wolfdude131on 02 Jul 2011 at 11:13 pm

    I currently have plot ideas for at least the first twelve books in my “Jack of Hearts” series (the series title is a play off of his name “Jonathan Reinhardt” and his nicknames “Jack” and “Hearts” as well as Playing cards and Tarrot cards. i.e. a twisted representation of the Page of Cups is on the back of his leather jacket)

    Jack is a modern day wizard working for a PI firm in NYC.

    The first six book titles are as follows:
    1 ‘Divine Rights’, (this one I am having the most problems with, the main plot in the book is that he is trying to catch a rich guys magic raven while his partner (a demigod) investigates a series of murdered teenages where the bodies are drained of blood (the bad guy is collecting life force in order to ascend to godhood/divinity). other options are things like: Sprinkling Salt on the Raven’s Tail, Reaching Rbove the Sky, and Birds of a Feather) I do not know how to tie the title with the plot.

    2 ‘The Secret to Slaying Dragons’, or ‘Nerds hold the Secret to Slaying Dragons’. the main antagonist is a nerdy, awkward guy who knows everything about supernatural society… and has good intentions, he wants to keep dragons alive! and there is a wizard of the council, an old friend of Jack’s, who is trying to take down a cult.

    3 ‘The Compas Rose’, this deals with the four most powerful combat wizards on the planet and is set almost entirely in the wizarding community as aposed to NYC in the other books. one of the newly appointed members is kidnapped and the other three noobs have to save her.

    4 ‘Make a Wish’, the second most important character to the series, Darcy, a Djinni owned by Jack is stolen and jack goes home for thanksgiving.

    5 Wrapped in Wolf Pelt… eh not happy with this one, its about werewolves and Jack finally has a love interest (his high school sweatheart returns after he walked out on her when he was sixteen… which was the morning after they had a good night for the first time)

    6 ‘The Problem with Death’… love this one, Death has a problem, so she imploys Jack and the rest of The Fellowship of the White Rose (thats the name of the PI firm) to solve it.

    Could I have help with these titles?

  26. Sepheron 21 Aug 2013 at 7:49 pm

    I’m a little late to the party here but what do you think about the title HalfHearted?
    Supposedly the word heart is bad but since halfhearted is the actual word maybe it could work?

  27. Wolfgirlon 29 Jan 2014 at 2:09 pm

    Okay new idea for a book.

    “An Assassin’s Guide to Love” or maybe “An Assassin’s Guide to Family”

    It’s about a cold hearted assassin who falls in love and at the same time takes on a young apprentice. This causes her to go through a huge moral and ethical personality change.

  28. Tomason 13 Apr 2016 at 6:04 pm

    What do you think about “Dreamtime: The Council of the Winter Cloud” and “Dreamtime: The Girl With The Fire Feather”?

    It is the same story, just two different working titles. “Dreamtime” is the prospective name of the saga, if I decide to make it into one.

    I think both would work because the first refers to the main antagonists while the second one is about the MC, but what do you think.

  29. B. McKenzieon 13 Apr 2016 at 7:55 pm

    “What do you think about “Dreamtime: The Council of the Winter Cloud” and “Dreamtime: The Girl With The Fire Feather”? Of the two titles, I like Council of the Winter Cloud somewhat better, but I think both could do a better job conveying what the plot and/or characters are like. First, I’m generally not a huge fan of “Girl/Boy/Man/Woman with the _____” titles, unless the ____ is particularly interesting. In this case, I think it presents the character as sort of generic. E.g. compare something like “The Girl with Fiery Eyes” vs. Hunger Games. I think HG does a much better job making an emotional impact and conveying mood and/or genre. Also, I like the element of contrast.

    If you’re not pitching it as a saga, I’d leave that out for now. If you do pitch it as a saga, I wouldn’t recommend naming it in the proposal. (Also, I think that it’s easier to get a publisher on-board for a novel that can stand alone than a project that requires more financial commitment / time).

  30. Tomason 13 Apr 2016 at 8:59 pm

    Well, technically, Dreamtime would be the obvious option for me if I wanted to name the book, but that name is related to concepts that I have not developed much, compared to this plot. I think a good title would be “The Liberation of The Firebird”, because that’s both the major goal the protagonist wants to accomplish and an event that the antagonists want to prevent from happening at all costs. It’s what drives the plot. That happens, and the novel climaxes. (I could shorten it to “The Firebird”, but I think it would not be so appealing)

  31. Andrewon 14 Apr 2016 at 6:11 am

    These are title ideas for comic book arcs I’ve had for my characters. Which span about 8-10 issues each with some based off the antagonists of each

    1: Chill in the Bones
    2: A Serpent’s Tale
    3: God save the General
    4: Rebooted
    5: Tournament of Heroes
    6: Possession
    7: Harbinger’s Call
    8: Reign of Lady Terror
    9: Into the Shadows
    10: In the Face of Darkness
    11: The Greatest Theif of All
    12: Piracy

    Those are just the ideas I had

  32. B. McKenzieon 15 Apr 2016 at 12:12 am

    “These are title ideas for comic book arcs I’ve had for my characters. Which span about 8-10 issues each with some based off the antagonists of each.” I think the titles here are okay. I like “In the Face of Darkness.”



    On a monthly schedule, publishing ~100 issues would probably take 10+ years (depending on delays and startup time). I’d suggest taking on a much smaller project, preferably one that can mostly work by itself, and then leaving some loose ends so that it can be expanded as desired. Especially if you’re an unpublished author, I wouldn’t recommend putting any time/effort into where you’ll be 5+ or 10+ issues from now, instead putting that energy towards finishing something and getting it to market.

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