Naming a Novel Can Be Tricky Business.
December 15, 2013
J. L. Greger
J. L Greger is no longer a biology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; instead she’s putting tidbits of science into her novels. She and Bug, her Japanese Chin dog, live in the Southwest. Bug is the only non-fictional character in her novels.
In the suspense novel Coming Flu, learn whether the Philippine flu or a drug kingpin caught in the quarantine is more deadly.
In the medical mystery Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight, discover whether an ambitious young “diet doctor” or old-timers with buried secrets is the killer.
In the thriller Ignore the Pain, feel the fear as an epidemiologist is chased from New Mexico to the silver mines of Potosí, Bolivia.
I always name a novel when I start working on a project and then rename it at least twice as I write and edit the novel. How about you? Maybe these guidelines will be helpful or slightly amusing
The title should be short. Most thrillers have titles of one or two words, like Coma or Jurassic Park. Thus I called my first novel, a thriller, Coming Flu. Mystery novels often have longer titles, i.e., Death on the Nile or The Hound of the Baskervilles.
The title needs to be catchy. It is difficult to define catchy. I like titles such as The Man Who Died and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café. Somehow, I don’t think many others would think these titles were catchy so I asked a writer’s group to help me name my second novel. I gave them the choice of Death of a Diet Doctor, Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight, and variations of these two. They immediately chose Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight. Several men have told me this title made my novel sound like a “chick” novel and turned them off. So cuteness can backfire.
Establishing a brand is smart. The best example is Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries, beginning with A is for Alibi. Although James Patterson has given names like Kiss the Girls and Cross My Heart to his novels, he usually manages to mention Alex Cross on the covers and in ads.
Most importantly, the title should tell you something about the book. The Book Seller of Kabul and Jambalaya Justice have informative titles, which tell you the setting of the novel and the occupation of a major character. Most titles are more symbolic, but hint at the topic. Good examples are The Pillars of the Earth, which is about the building of a cathedral, and Angela’s Ashes, which is a memoir.
I include tidbits of science in all of my novels and wanted to show in Ignore the Pain, my new medical thriller, how individuals differ in their response to physical and emotional pain.
As a public health consultant in Potosí, Bolivia, my heroine Sara Almquist learns laborers in the silver mines chew coca leaves to decrease the pains of hunger, thirst, and heavy exertion at high altitudes.
The active ingredients in coca leaves and its derivative cocaine are not analgesics; they do not dull pain. They are stimulants and help users to ignore pain. Thus the title is scientifically correct and addresses the theme of the novel.
So what will you name your next novel?
Amazon sell links:
Ignore the Pain: http://www.amazon.com/Ignore-Pain-J-L-Greger/dp/1610091310/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1385498311&sr=1-1&keywords=Ignore+the+Pain
Coming Flu: http://www.amazon.com/Coming-Flu-ebook/dp/B008WDL84O/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1372715303&sr=1-1&keywords=Coming+Flu
Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight: http://www.amazon.com/Murder-New-Lose-Weight-ebook/dp/B00DFCC3IM/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1372715439&sr=1-1&keywords=Murder%3A+A+New+Way+to+Lose+Weight