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How important is the title?

Friday 16 December 2011

Just how important is the title of a book? When Charles Dickens wrote his novella, "A Christmas Carol" the title on his original manuscript was:

A Christmas Carol
in Prose:
Being a Ghost Story of Christmas

Hmm! No wonder it was shortened to "A Christmas Carol", although the full title still appears on the inside title page.

Anyway, my question is, when you buy a book are you in any way influenced by the title and do you expect the title to have some relevance to the content of the book?

Dickens' full title at least gives a hint of what his book is about. It's A Christmas Carol, so probably a moral tale, it's prose, so it's not an actual carol and it's a ghost story, so maybe not one to read to someone very young or of a nervous disposition. But it's also much more than that. Dickens felt strongly about social injustice and this theme runs through the entire book - but it isn't reflected in the title. Or is it?

Dickens wanted to make a statement and he did so, very cleverly in my opinion. At the time of publication (1843) there was a growing trend for what was seen as the homely or warm hearted festivities of Christmases past and the title "A Christmas Carol" has that feel to it. I think he used it to draw people in, then reminded them, in no uncertain terms, of the poverty surrounding those who could afford to buy the book. (At five shillings Bob Cratchit most definitely could not). Charity donations increased greatly the following year.

But, back to my question, does a title influence you or not? Nowadays, when buying books, we just look in the appropriate sections or categories either in bookshops or online, that interest us. So, if we want a grisly murder we don't look in the romance section - although there are romances that contain grisly murders and vice versa - we look under crime or perhaps thrillers or maybe even horror, depending on our personal tastes. Or perhaps, we just pick our favourite author and see if they have a new title out.

Then, we're back to the title. Do you take any real notice of it or are you more influenced by the cover? I'll talk about covers in a later blog so I won't spend time on them now. Do you like a title to give you a clue to the content or do you just go to the blurb on the back? Would a title stop you from buying a book? I have to confess if a title makes me cringe, the chances are, I won't bother to read the blurb unless the book is written by someone I know, so I can be influenced by a title. (Sad but true)

Unless this is your first visit to my website, you'll know that the novel I'm currently editing has a working title of "The Stag Party". I called it "The Stag Party" because .... well ... it's about a stag party (bachelor, not male deer). At least, it's the stag party that actually throws my heroine Lizzie and my hero Jack, together in the first place. Without the stag party, they probably would never have met (unless you're a firm believer that fate will always find a way - another later blog topic).

So, the stag party itself is a major event in "The Stag Party" but it isn't the only event and it isn't, if I'm going to be honest and accurate, actually a "party". It's a stag weekend, well, long weekend. So, should I call it "The Stag Weekend"? Or "It Happened One Weekend". Or "The Story of how Lizzie and Jack met when Jack and his mates went to Scotland". OK, so now I'm just being silly but do you see what I mean? I could call it "Decisions" - because they make lots of them, or "Choices" or "Moving on" or .... well, that's the issue isn't it? I could call it anything.

My novel is a modern romance with a light touch so the title needs to reflect that, in my opinion. The title "The Stag Party" popped into my head before I'd written the second page and it seemed to fit so I went with it. Now that I'm at the editing stage and deciding who/where to send my novel to, the title seems more important somehow.

I know, of course, that publishers often change working titles anyway so it's not set in stone and if they are interested, they'll deal with that. Clearly, I'll also research which agents/publishers might be interested in the type of novel I've written and only send queries to those I feel handle similar novels. But I can't help wondering whether the title may have any bearing on their expectations of the content and if so, should I have a rethink? Hmm! Yet more reasons to delay.

What do you think? Is a title really important? Does it affect whether you pick up a book or not? If, you've wirtten a novel, have you changed the title of yours prior to sending it to your agent/publisher? Do you like the title "The Stag Party"? I'd be interested to hear your views.

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Coming Home to Merriment Bay
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Coming Home to Merriment Bay
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The Cottage on Lily Pond Lane-Part Four: Trick or treat
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Christmas Secrets in Snowflake Cove
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Be Mine
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Christmas Wishes - Short stories
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