Jul 12 2010
1. Be careful about needlessly long titles, particularly ones loaded with separate phrases. They’re typically less inviting to prospective readers and harder for people to remember. Unusually bizarre titles, like Saddam Hussein and the Hippies from Space, have more latitude here. (Regardless of length, they will be memorable).
2. If your title does not appeal to prospective readers, start over! Some words that rarely mean much to prospective readers include fictional character and place names. Alternately, some authors use puns. If the reader immediately makes prospective readers smile, fine. If readers will only understand the pun after reading the work, they won’t ever find out how witty the pun is… because they won’t open the book.
3. Words unfamiliar to prospective readers are not typically effective. “But The Legend of Bjornistan will really draw readers!” Unless the audience is Bjornistani, it definitely won’t.
4. Avoid words that tell a prospective reader something he already knows. In particular, words like “story” (book, tale, legend, chronicle, ballad, myth, fable and the like) are spectacularly ineffective. Your readers can see it’s a book, so telling them it’s a story is probably an insult to their intelligence. Two exceptions: comedic effect or conveying information that might not be otherwise obvious. For example, a word like “autobiography” or “memoir” may tell us something we didn’t know before.
5. I think it’s generally effective to name chapters. If your chapters aren’t titled, your table of contents will look this bland:
–Chapter One: 1
–Chapter Two: 25
Readers will see this page before the story, and it’s more boring than professional blackjack. In contrast, a list of chapters with interesting titles may show off your style and entice readers to keep going.
1. Don’t Vote! (It Only Encourages Them): 1
2. The Empire State Strikes Back: 25
3. A Hurricane of Coconuts: 47
Are you wondering what I can do with a chapter called “A Hurricane of Coconuts”? Then you’ll probably make it to chapter 3.
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