What’s in a name?

With two works-in-progress, both starting to come together, I’m currently stumped by that age-old issue: the title.

Should it be short and sweet, or descriptive? Should it be tantalisingly obscure? Or bare bones simple?

This was an issue that I grappled with a bit when naming my novel ‘The Artemis Effect’, and I think it’s fairly clear that I went for the hopefully tantalisingly obscure in that case! In fact, there wasn’t a simple word or phrase which would sum the story up, so I looked for a unifying theme: in that case, the goddess Artemis, who is not only sometimes associated with the Moon, but is also a protector of women in childbirth, of wild places, and has a hunting aspect which seemed quite appropriate.

Both the new works are collections, so it’s a little more tricky. The first, which has been taking up a great deal of my available time, is an anthology of women writing about their experiences of motherhood. It’s a diverse, exciting project, with artwork, poetry, essays, short fiction and interviews. But should we stick to a simple descriptive word for the title, or go for something more descriptive of the contents?

The second is my own collection of short stories. They are generally fantasy / sci fi based, but again fairly varied. I’m thinking vaguely of plumping for a title which is lifted from a line of poetry, but perhaps that’s just a bit too artsy-fartsy. Other great collections I’ve read are either straight down the line “Collected works of….”, which of course rather assumes that you have heard of the great ….., or are pretty obscure. Think ‘Kiss Kiss’ by Roald Dahl, or ‘Sexing the Cherry’ by Jeanette Winterson.

I’d really love to know what you think. Does an intriguing title ever grab you forcefully enough to make you want to read a book? Or would you prefer to know what you’re getting? Can a long title be a turn off as you browse the multitude of work out there? All help appreciated!


12 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. I’ve struggled with the title problem myself – still struggling with it, actually, but I thought I’d worry more about it after I was actually a few more chapters in.

    An interesting title will certainly draw me in. I like to browse in stores and quite often I’m picking up books that aren’t as widely known as bestsellers. A good title would make me more inclined to pick up the book, but poor writing or a topic that doesn’t interest me will still make me put it back down. If I pick an averagely named book that feels like the real deal, I’ll read it just as indiscriminately as I would a uniquely named one.

    Long titles don’t necessarily turn me off, but they do make me assume things. I love to read fantasy action novels, and they tend to have short powerful titles. I also love chick-lit, and the title length for those can vary. Most are short but some can be long phrases. Humourous books are more likely to have long titles. I even have the strange and bad habit of reading a long title and wondering if it’s written in the perspective of an autistic character (think I got that from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, although the title is actually quoted from Sherlock Holmes). If a long-titled book turns out to be an awesome adventure novel, I’d still go for it. It’s just that I expect it less and don’t exactly zoom in on it if I am looking for such a novel. If I’m looking for chick-lit, long titles can be on my radar. That’s the quick subconscious system I’ve been using to help me find books quickly.

    Good luck with your writing! They sound like very interesting projects 🙂

  2. I thought ‘The Artemis Effect’ was a great title – it draws me because it suggests those titles from a classic era of science fiction and that it might have a sense of history of those classics… and it immediately asks a question, I want to know what the effect is! Plus the myth aspect suggests something quite symbolic. Personally, a title is quite important when browsing – I do tend to like something like a Tennessee Williams’ title, which although a little melodramatic perhaps (‘The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore’, ‘A Streetcar named Desire’, ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’) they’re indirect and you want to know why that’s the title – which I guess is why lines of poetry work. I think poetry also suggests a bit of weight, that the author has read around a bit, but it could get pretentious very quickly!

    • Thanks! Glad you liked ‘The Artemis Effect’. I like your suggestion of Tennessee Williams-esque titles – they are rather intriguing. Rather like knowing an in joke!

  3. I find coming up with titles fairly easy. I think with collections it’s perhaps best to use a title of something in the collection, for example “Title of a Story & Other Stories.”

  4. Hi Kasia,
    I am so glad that you are doing so well, and producing so much when I know you are leading a very full life as a new mom. I really liked the title, “The Artemis Effect.” If you are doing a collection, is there one story within that collection that might encompass the feeling of the material, or that is particularly catchy and would be an appropriate book title? I have done that with storytelling anthologies, and also I titled a storytelling anthology after a reference to a proverb about storytelling. You can always choose a phrase or proverb or reference, write an introduction to your book that includes a reference or proverb or idea, then use that for your perfect title.

  5. I think titles are important enough to not mislead your reader. Like the cover design, you want something that says a little something about your book. I usually struggle with titles whether it’s a short story or novel. I hope something just sticks in my mind. Hopefully something will strike you as being right. Not much help I know 🙂

  6. Hi Kasia, thought I’d leave a wee thought on the matter too…As you know, I’m no writer,(although I did flirt with the idea in my misspent youth, and still have three shabby notebooks full of angst-ridden poems to show for it). I know, poetry is different to writing a novel., but you get the drift… Anyway, while short and sweet rarely fails, I’d say, as an ex-bookworm turned page flicker, who has hardly read a novel from cover to cover since number 3 arrived, by the way! I’m always drawn by the more intriguing title. Something to draw you in, as you say. But doubtless, it’s a quandary. Love that word, and just wanted to get it in there.

  7. Pingback: Title reveal! Our new Anthology | Writer's Block

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