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The Art of Story Writing : CHAPTER XIII The Name of a Book or Story

by Nathaniel C. Fowler, JR   

CHAPTER XIII The Name of a Book or Story

ONE of America's most successful and extensive publishers, and a man who is familiar, from experience, with every department of book publishing, and especially expert in the handling and selling of books, recently told me that it was as difficult to get a good title for a book as it was to obtain a good manuscript of a book.

Thousands of books owe a proportion of their success to their titles, and many a one has failed, or has met with an indifferent success, partly because an inappropriate or unsuitable title was selected for it.

The author, rather than the publisher, may assume the right to designate the title; but he should not insist upon one, no matter how strongly it may appeal to him, if his publisher objects to it. He should counsel with his publisher, and in case of disagreement allow the publisher to select the title.

The shorter the title, the better, provided it properly describes the book itself. A short title lends itself to the cover, and assists in making the appearance of the book more presentable. It is easier for the buyer to remember, and allows increased opportunity for effective advertising.

A long title injures the appearance of the cover of a book.

It is obvious that a short and appropriate title is far more difficult to obtain, than is one containing several words, which is, in itself, a description of the book. Take the title of "The Pit," for example. A better name for the story could not have been procured. Not only did it lend itself typographically to the cover, but it was descriptive, easy to remember, easy to call for, and of striking appearance.

Let us suppose that the author had chosen a title like, "The Success and Failures of John T. Smith, Broker." While this title would have been appropriate, it is altogether too long, would not have been remembered, and would have, undoubtedly, handicapped the sale of the book.

Many successful books have borne the names of their leading characters; like " Jane Bancroft," "John Hubbard," "Jones of Boston," or "Smith of Middlesex"; or short descriptive titles, like "A Country Minister," "The Confession of a Banker," or " The Story of a Bachelor."

There is no objection to beginning a title with some word like "How," if the book gives information ; as, " How to Eat," " What to Eat," "How to Travel," " How to Sell," "How to Buy," or "How to Cook." Queer names, if hard to pronounce, should never be used. The buyer of a book should not be subjected to the annoyance of being unable properly to pronounce the title of the book he calls for.

The best way to proceed is to give your manuscript a proper title, no matter how long or short it may be. Then, after consultation with your friends, write out a number of titles, good, bad, and indifferent, the more, the better. Even an inappropriate or silly title may lead to an acceptable one. Work over them and study them.

Place the best title, according to your judgment, on your manuscript, and enclose with your manuscript a slip upon which are written other titles. Do not fail to consult with your publisher. He is as much interested as you are in the success of the book. Do not be obstinate or arbitrary.

The printed forms of some contracts contain this clause, "Or any other title which may be decided upon." You have plenty of time, because it is not necessary to decide definitely upon the title until you have received the galley proofs, but it must be chosen before the page proofs are made, as the title of the book is usually placed on every other page.