I’ve been thinking about how I come up with titles for my books. Sometimes the title comes to me even before I start writing. At other times I struggle to find the right title and never do feel satisfied. And sometimes the title I come up with and like turns out to be one nobody else likes.
Titles can’t be copyrighted. You can use a title that has been used by someone else. I think most authors try not to do that, but we don’t always know what has been used and what hasn’t. We can check via Google and Amazon and feel fairly safe if nothing comes up in either place. But sometimes a title that I’ve checked does come up but on an obscure work published many years ago that is not even remotely like the book I’ve written. That has just happened to me. I have a manuscript recently accepted for publication that I called Twice Blessed, Thrice Cursed. The publisher doesn’t like that title and has asked me to come up with a different one. The one I came up with is The Weight of a Crown. I found that there is a book listed on Amazon with the title The Weight of the Crown. It’s an older book, not the same type as mine at all. The Weight of a Crown does fairly well express what my book is about, and the publisher likes it, so I’ll probably go with it. It’s a fantasy novel set in a fictitious eastern European country in the mid-1700s. The protagonist is a young noblewoman who falls in love with a prince and winds up marrying a prince, but not the one she’s in love with (and who loves her). I thought my original title best alerted the reader that this might not be a story with a happy ending. It is, in fact, a tragedy. The Weight of a Crown may hint at this but not so blatantly. Preferences, anyone?
My YA novel A School for Sorcery has the title I originally gave it, but my publisher had wanted me to change the title. I came up with a couple of other options, and the publisher decided that A School for Sorcery was better than those alternatives and let me keep it. And the book has done very well. The prequel to it, A Perilous Power, I originally titled For His Friends, which I was asked to change and did, felicitously so. For His Friends is a blah title, and A Perilous Power really expresses much better what the book is about.
On the other hand, I was not asked to change the title of the sequel to School, When the Beast Ravens. I should have been. I liked the title but I now realize that it probably was a big mistake, because people do not understand the use of “ravens” in that context and may have been put off by that. If I ever get a chance to republish the book, I’ll change the title to When the Beast Hungers. I think that would be much more effective.
Titles do matter. You can’t really judge a book by its title any more than you can judge it by its cover, but in fact people do buy books on the basis of title and cover, and so how to title a book is a matter requiring careful thought.