What’s in a name?

Lots of names

When it’s the title of your novel, a great deal, if you plan to publish on the web. A writer has only four chances to attract readers. These are:

~ the cover

~ the title

~ the story as revealed in the blurb on the back cover

~ the first 3 pages.


These are all the chances a writer has on the internet where short is the new black. My thanks to Judith Briles for the term. See http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2015/05/short-is-the-new-black-your-shrinking-reader-attention-span/

Of course, when writers are so big that their novels sell on their name, the title of the work doesn’t matter very much. For the rest of us who are producing an e book version of our work, the search engines need to be able to direct anyone looking for a work of the kind we’ve written to our book.

So your novel’s title needs to reflect the content of the work. It also needs to be accessible – don’t call it something the reader has to look up; they won’t.  If at all possible, the title also needs to be  engaging. Achieving all this is not an easy task, especially if you’re a beginner, but take heart: if your book has a sub-title, you have two bites at the cherry instead of one to help you get the basic idea of your novel across.

In the grand old days of traditional publishing, where the only outlets were bookstores, writers were able to use wonderfully obscure names, such as The Sound of One Hand Clapping by award-winning Australian author Richard Flanagan. These days, if you are an unknown writer just starting out to publish on the web this luxury is not available to you.

Suppose you write a novel about a woman who lives in Holtwhistle in the middle of the UK, and who likes to take on risky romantic partners. This behaviour is sometimes called “surfing” in psychological parlance. Suppose you are so in love with the term that you call your work Surfing in Holtwhistle.

Sounds neat, doesn’t it? But what will happen?

The search engines will interpret the title as being about surfing and/or the UK town of Holtwhistle. They are, after all, only machines, without any understanding of literary references, unless the reference is so well known that it already exists on the web. But your book is about risky relationships. Someone wanting to read a novel about this subject is unlikely to type in surfing.

Personally, I think having to consider search engine optimisation (SEO) when naming your novel will lead to a lack of subtlety in the titles of books, but that’s how it is. Even books published traditionally now have to consider SEO, as most traditional publishers these days also put versions of their books on the web.

So make sure your title truly reflects the subject of your book, and that it contains words the search engines can use to find it. And don’t overlook the possibilities inherent in the sub-title. Remember the search engines look at that, too.

More on titles next week.



About Danielle de Valera

Award-winning Australian author. Editor, mentor. manuscript assessor since 1992.
This entry was posted in advice about writing, advice for writers, Choosing a name for your novel, manuscript appraisers, manuscript assessors, titles of novels and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What’s in a name?

  1. Great post. I hate to admit it but occasionally I’ll have a great story idea but for the life of me can’t think of a spectacular name and unfortunately that doesn’t bode well for the story. It really matters though.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks so much for the comment. Just changed computers and in the ensuing chaos, it’s taken me this long to be able to reply – alack, I’m not digital. Got to admit I really dislike having to think about SEO, prefer poetic, kind of ‘literary’ titles, which of course, the seach engines wouldn’t be able to make head nor tail of.


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