How I write, or Good titles are hard magic

How I write and choose a book title,

or Good titles are hard magic or words mean things!

This has been an interesting topic to follow in the blog challenge, one which I’ve read with a bit of jealousy. How do I choose a book title? The answer? Not so easily.

(And let me apologize now because I got longer and longer as I typed. I had no idea I had so much to say on the topic. Stick with me and you might be surprised at what you learn about my writing and thought processes. 😉 Short attention spans are not us!)

Once Upon a Time, when I was writing books years ago, (things you may or may not ever see) I’d tend to choose my title…I don’t really know how. They just came to me. Sometimes it was an overall theme in the story (think Trevor being an artist whose art comes with a heavy karmic “inheritance” in The Artist’s Inheritance, or Caitlin’s acquiring of the locket embossed with a mourning dove in…well, her latest installment, Mourning Dove Locket), sometimes not. More than once, the working title went by the heroine’s name.(eg. Caitlin’s fill-in-the-blank :))

From about the time I started indie publishing, the title muse left me. Yep. I’d get, or tend to get, downright stuck when it comes to titles. In one case, I had a working title for Passion’s Sacred Dance, that my editor thought might leave people going “WTF?” and suggested I change it, to Passion’s Sacred Dance. I guess she thought it would help. In my opinion, it said nothing about the book (not like, think: DragonFlight, Sailor on the Seas of Fate, Weird of the White Wolf [although, I bet a lot of people outside the field wonder what he meant by “Weird” which is technically, misspelled] etc).

Then other writer friends of mine pointed out an author workshop on titles. The workshop giver claimed keywords were the way to go. Specifically for ranking in Amazon. Celtic, Magic, fantasy, romance, cooking, and Druid. Anything you can think of can be a keyword, if it’s mundane and known enough, so the theory goes. Sure Sailor on the Seas of Fate might have a keyword (your choice as to which one!), Dragonflight might have a keyword. But then, so do a lot of titles. For instance, how many Duke or Viscount or (fill in desperate attempt to copy Jane Austen titles here) this and that’s or The (keyword: Corporate big whig Job Title’s) (keyword: Such and Such) Secret (keyword:What-Not)… book titles can you think of in the Romance genre? And I see it way more in romance than I do anywhere else, to be honest. Do keywords help you rank in Amazon?
I tried it, but I am skeptical because it feels like really dumbing things down (and talking down to people frankly, which I hate as both a reader and a writer). And let’s be honest, when Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone came out back in 1997 when no one knew that author from Merlin, do you really think its target audience knew what the hell the Philospher’s Stone was, let alone what a Harry Pot….er, Potter was? (do you know what a philosopher’s stone is? I do….and I don’t even remember said kids’ novel’s author mentioning that definition but it’s been ages since I read her book.) Or let’s just take another: Rama Revealed or Rama II. Only if you know Indian Mythology do know who Rama is. Would you guess that’s a science fiction novel that has very little to do with the Rama of Indian Mythology? What about Lord Valentine, Majipoor Chronicles, or Valentine Pontifex? Only if you know Majipoor is the name of the world in Robert Silverberg’s Majipoor series and Valentine is a figure in that world, would you know those are some of its keywords. And yeah, I do wonder how often now browsers of “Valentine’s day stories” run across Lord Valentine’s Castle, and Valentine Pontifex and wonder if they’ve fallen off into Alice’s rabbit hole. *gigglesnort*

But getting off the fan girl rant and back onto the subject… I decided to be open minded and do a little hunting. I don’t know about you but I really don’t search titles based on keywords. Genre, maybe, keywords no. It smacks of that “I don’t know but the book is blue” meme.

how I write, what's the name of that book

Do people really do that?? (And if they do, what’s the point of worrying about your title anyway? Except to have something to put in Amazon’s search engine.)

Let’s just take Passion’s Sacred Dance as an example. Guess what? Well, it turns out Dance is a low ranking keyword in Amazon. In fact, it brings up so many books about “Sacred Dance” in the non-fiction aisle I began to wonder if anyone but my small circle of historical buffs knew “dance” was a euphemism for battle? But the “passion” part, I trusted, would get it in front of at least the wider target of romance readers. Surely, my true target audience (those interested in Celtic Mythology [possibly those that like Norse mythology too] based fantasy and/or fantasy romance stories) would get the dance double entendre?
So also Druid, Magic, Fantasy, Celtic, Warrior, and Tarot. All of them keywordy as well as fitting. Some of those words, though, I think turn people off. So in reality, no matter what you pick, you are shooting in the dark.

Stick with me, here, friends, there’s a point to this chatter, I swear.

Fast forward to this December, and I got to kicking around last minute ideas for titles for a new book, and casually mentioned the title of my 2014 novel Drawing Down the Shades to (of all people) my husband. Yeah, this one:

Imagine my surprise when I had to explain to him what “Shade” means in terms of my book.

Do you know?
*flips open copy of Miriam Webster dictionary site*

definition 3: an evanescent or unreal appearance

definition 5a: a disembodied spirit: ghost

Now, that was my first thought when a friend suggested that title: Shade is another word for ghost, and a nice play on words. It never occurred to me that the general populace wouldn’t know that. Particularly, I thought for sure my target urban-paranormal fantasy target audience would know it! (Dear readers, I know you are all educated, and wide-read, with big vocabularies to boot, so please tell me I’m not wrong, here!)

An audience of which my hubby is part having been married to me and seen all the books I’ve collected and seen damn near all the same movies and TV shows I’ve seen. Nope. He said until that day I explained the meaning to him he’d never heard that use of the term. So that left me with the question, if you use a keywordy title and the people who you think will know the keyword don’t know the keyword, what use is using keywords in titles? Maybe I should’ve called it Witching Down the Shades but that sounds stupid, as does Ghosting Down the Shades. (Witch–er, which, by the way, “ghosting” someone or something has the meaning killing, don’t you know?)

And shade these days (here, three years later) means still another thing altogether! Neither of which have much to do with Drawing Down the Shades …. (except ghost=kill might loosely, maybe, point to how the ghost that Caitlin helps in DDTS …*spoiler alert* … got to be the ghost).

I was thinking a bit keywordy though, (before it was fashionable!) as I figured (as I did with Caitlin’s Book of Shadows) that “Drawing Down the” would lead to another target audience trigger: Caitlin being a pagan witch and drawing down the moon, not to mention books of shadows, being a Wiccan/pagan ritual thing!

But never once did it occur to me that “shades” would pose a problem.


(I must admit, I’m a little mystified about why Kim Harrison’s marketing team(?) thought it was a good idea to mimic so many Clint Eastwood titles in her Rachel Morgan series. Yes, they’re adorable, but if you misread “Every Witch Way…”, A Fistful of …, or “The Good, the Bad and…” and think: Clint Eastwood movie, not UF book, you could easily overlook or be annoyed by the fun that is Rachel Morgan. I still love ’em, though).

So how do I pick a book’s title? Basic bibliomancy (choose by pointing at manuscript with eyes closed)? Hope for the best? It’s enough to make a gal mad (by which of course, I mean crazy! ;)). That just leads me back to the post’s subtitle: titles are hard!

And now, you know. 🙂 Sorry for the long rant, er read, but thanks for sticking with this.

So that’s how I write and pick titles. Other indie authors, help me out here, how do you pick a good title?



Juli D. Revezzo is the author of the MOURNING DOVE LOCKET, the latest in the Antique Magic paranormal series, also the Celtic Stewards Chronicles fantasy romance series, as well as the Victorian Romance HOUSE OF DARK ENVY, among others. Her books are available at Amazon and elsewhere.

Copyright Juli D. Revezzo , 2017-2019