ONE of the major struggles of an author, no matter their experience or number of published books, is coming up with a title.
This is because, quite often, a title can make or break your book, especially if you are still fairly a new kid on the block in the publishing industry.
There a number of people whose books I have edited and suggested alternative titles.
I don’t know about you, but I am never able to start working on a book until I have a title: maybe even just a working title so that I can get down to work.
While one may have at their fingertips all the information on exactly what’s in the book, squeezing that into a single line title is often not as easy as it seems.
I often love titles that are easy, simple and catchy at the same time. A title can be inspired by many different things, and I often experience this especially in my spiritual books.
For example, my latest offering, Knocking on Heaven’s Door was inspired by a classic Cindy Crawford song of the same title. Since this is basically a book about faith, I felt that title was very apt.
I remember speaking to University of Zimbabwe lecturer, author and literary critic Memory Chirere concerning his latest collection of poems titled Bhuku Risina Basa Nekuti Rakanyorwa Masikati.
Not only quite a mouthful, but this title makes you curious too. Chirere said the title had nothing to do with the book’s contents, but the circumstances under which it was written.
While I may discourage long titles, I also frown upon one-word titles or topics (within the book). A title should be both crisp, compact and meaningful at the same time.
Just recently, I was proofreading the script for a new book by Arthur Marara.
In line with the subject, he could have called it Don’t Rely on A Salary or Establish Multiple Streams of Income, but no, he went for a smarter and chic title, Toys for Adults.
I think Arthur nailed it here! You could never guess, or you could alternatively be led down a false trail.
Sometimes the wisest thing to do when you go for a book title is to avoid the low-hanging fruit!
I once did typesetting for a book with a chapter titled, Time, which I felt it was rather bland, or lukewarm.
What about time? Something like The Secrets of Time or Leveraging on Time would have been sweeter, I think.
Your primary concern is to persuade the reader to see things from a certain perspective. So guide them accordingly.
The danger of repeating an already existing title is real especially for motivational and Christian literature because one can hardly come up with a new subject that has never been written about before.
So the secret is to avoid the well-beaten path. Go for the unique.
If you read Simba Nyamadzawo’s latest book, Emerge, you might say, of course, I’ve read this before. But I can do a money-back guarantee for you that you have never come across a similar book title.
The question writers often ask is: what if my book has a similar title with another book? Of course, that’s very possible, and it has happened a lot, because you can’t possibly know every book that has been published in the world!
The same happens to people’s names. There are many people called Phillip in Zimbabwe. In fact, I know two or three who are called Phillip Chidavaenzi. But our national ID numbers are never the same.
So, books are told apart or identified not by their titles but by their International Syndicate Book Numbers (ISBN).
Titles can be similar, I discovered an American novel titled, Ties that Bind, almost similar to my book, The Ties that Bind but their distinguishing identity features are the different ISBNs.
Once you have picked up a title, it’s important to toy around with it before the final decision.
You must therefore see if you can tighten it, re-phrase it, compress it, and turn it the other way around until you are satisfied that you have nailed it.
Influences vary when it comes to choices of titles.
The titles of two of my four published novels The Latter Rain and Chasing the Wind as well as the forthcoming Sword in the Wilderness are all biblical allusions.
They are derived from the scriptures. So for me, the Bible also provides a cannon fodder for my novel titles.
This is not a new tradition.
Offhand, I can think of Kane and Abel (although Jeffrey Archer played around with Cain to suit his purposes) and The Prodigal Daughter, a clever wordplay on the biblical Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Phillip Kundeni Chidavaenzi
Author | Editor | Literary Consultant
Co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Royalty Books (Pvt.) Ltd
Founder & Administrator Writers Clinic
Phone: +263 77 552 1665
Writers Clinic is a writer training and author empowerment arm of leading book publishers, Royalty Books.