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For example, you may be creating a beautiful manuscript, so you plan to assign the title “Beautiful.” Not bad. After all, this meets the first rule – a title should be short. But think of the hapless reader poring through a list of titles. Naturally, the reader likes beauty. But what would the reader expect this book to be about. Which brings us to the second rule – a title should tell a reader what the book is about.
These rules are in poetic tension, for longer titles better tell the reader what the book is about. At the same time, sometimes the author wants the title to suggest that the book will do more than it really does. For example, “How to Get Rich.” So there’s another rule – a title shouldn’t exaggerate (unless for humorous effect).
Here’s another approach. Each word in the title can conjure up an image. For example, “Peace and Harmony.” Some readers want peace and others want harmony, while others may feel that either condition is a prerequisite for the other. Thus, the title is acceptable, for it lets the reader know the central question of the work. But if the book, being about harmony, really discusses music, the title is wrong. Thus, another rule emerges – a title should honestly represent the book’s content.
It might be useful to identify a title that fits all these rules. For an example, “Mollusks.” That title is short, descriptive, and honest (assuming the book is really about mollusks). But then, we may object, not many readers are interested in mollusks. So, in attempt to interest readers and buyers, and still be terse, the author may try “Mother of Mollusk.” And we wind our way to another rule – a title should attract readers.
For myself, I’m most bothered by titles which suggest something the author believes in, but does not describe the book’s content. For example, I might give the title “Be patient” to a self-help book on parental problems in dealing with a difficult child. As an author, I might stress patience throughout the book, and this would be very important to my target audience. However, in appealing to a broader audience (i.e., “everyone” – as dangerous as that is) potential readers are likely to skip the title in a list because it says nothing about its subject – the difficult child.
Keep these rules in mind as you chisel away. Eventually – perhaps in the last hours of creation – you will stumble upon (and rejoice in) a title that satisfies all of these considerations and more.
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