04 June 2018

Writing tip & task 7/7: Finding the right title for your novel

Anna Davis, Curtis Brown Creative Managing Director
by Anna Davis Events, Writing Tips

Day 7: OK, so today is me – Anna Davis – back for more. I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to have the last word in our 7th birthday 7-day writing challenge. We’re finishing up with titles. Sometimes they come to you unbidden and perfect, leading you into your story (utter joy!). At others you have written and rewritten a whole novel, and still you can’t get the damn title right (utter hell!). Here is my tip:

A great title is striking and evocative. It steers us TOWARDS your novel, and is right for genre – eg don’t call it The Killing Day if it’s literary fiction. Oh, and don’t base your title on an obscure idea which confuses readers – even if YOU love it!

So, when it comes to titles, think about how it SOUNDS – but also think about whether it really speaks of YOUR novel. The last thing you want to do is to give the book-buyer, agent or publisher a bum steer as to what sort of novel they’re about to encounter. You should be looking to connect with the right readers for your book – so DO take seriously the point I made about genre. For example – don’t call it ‘The Lovesick Year’ if it’s a dystopian thriller – even if that title feels right to you because the story deals with a pandemic causing people to literally die of broken hearts. Sorry, but no: The Lovesick Year is a romantic fiction title – and possibly written with teenage readers in mind.

To pick up on my point about obscure ideas: I’ve had lots of students who’ve come up with really clever titles for their novels, based on – for instance – rarefied information they’ve found out while researching their novels, which which they feel connects interestingly with their subject matter. These students have generally fallen completely in love with their tricky title – but sadly it only works if the reader can identify and understand the obscure reference. And it isn’t enough to say, “ah yes but they’ll totally get it when they reach page 222” – because you need them to pick up the book in the first place …

It’s great when titles are quite visual, as this helps a publisher – or you, if you’re self-publishing – to come up with the right image for the cover. And if you have a ‘high concept’ – a strong and ‘selling’ idea for your book, try to get that into your title too. That way, the title can help to pitch your book. Every now and then, I have a strong conviction about what one of our students should call their novel to give it the best chance – bearing in mind the genre and the idea driving the book. For instance, when best-selling author Laura Marshall was studying with us, I told her she should call her debut novel Friend Request – because that title absolutely nails her colours to the mast and puts us in precisely the right space to read a thriller about a woman who receives a Facebook friend request from someone she’d thought was long dead …

Lastly, I’ll just say that when it comes to pitching your novel to publishers, it’s much better to have the wrong title than to have no title at all. If it isn’t yet right, you can always change it later.

Here’s our final task of the 7-day writing challenge:

Tweet the title of a novel or story you’re writing. Just one! If you’re writing in genre, state it. If you don’t want to share your title, think of an alternative to tweet. If you don’t have a title yet, try one out for size – we might just like it!


Enrol on our six-week online course Edit & Pitch Your Novel for much more advice from Anna on finding the right title – as well as how to get your novel into great shape and pitch it to publishers.

Or browse our full range of creative writing courses here  to find one that’s right for you and your writing process. 

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