The Title Will Tell

Long before the prevalence of internet keywords to help people narrow down a search, the concept applied to book titles. To be more accurate, it applied to books in popular fiction. Literary fiction has its own thing going. You pretty much know if you see a book with a title like As Grow the Wild Tulips, or A Garden in Antioch, you’re probably looking at literary fiction.

With popular fiction, the keywords become genre-specific. You can be pretty sure if you see words like heart, song, secret, or forever that the book is a romance novel. As with all rules, there are exceptions. Other keywords also play a role, so Cannibal Heart might not necessarily be a romance. Neither is this short list all-inclusive. I’m sure there are romance titles that don’t include any of the keywords I mentioned, but those words are strongly representative and indicative of the romance genre.

In the horror genre, the same considerations apply. Words like dark, dead, evil, and blood abound in horror titles. Stephen King, the dark lord of horror, himself has never really observed this convention. That’s probably what’s held him back all these years. (ahem)

If you see the words dragon, crystal, sword, or quest in a title, you can be pretty confident the book is of the fantasy genre.You don’t have to be a detective to figure out the words murder, case, files, and missing usually go with the mystery genre.

Science fiction is a little trickier, but you can still pick them out. Lots of sci-fi titles have numbers in the title (2001 A Space Odyssey; Fahrenheit 451; Slaughterhouse Five; 1984, etc.). Another common feature of sci-fi titles is to use a made-up word that is the name of a planet or alien race, but it has to sound distinctly sci-fi and not fantasy. Nebulac or Kremulon would be good ones. Finally, the words chronicles and space are often used in science fiction.

So, what can we learn from this? It seems to me that if the use of one keyword is good, more would be better. Let’s face it, while lots of authors can write a lengthy manuscript, they run into trouble when forced to economize words. This is why so many book descriptions either ramble around aimlessly or are so vague as to be pointless.

Titles are another trouble spot. A lot of people are just bad at this. So, why not make use of the extensive research I just made up for this article? If you’re writing a science fiction novel, consider titling it The Space Chronicles of Zagnog Seven.

Are you a fantasy author, but nobody seems to know it? Grab Quest for the Crystal Dragon Sword for your next title. Nobody will tuck that baby into the wrong section of the bookstore.

Did your last romance fall flat? You’ve got a guaranteed winner with a title like, Secret Song of the Forever Heart.

Sorry, but I’m calling dibs on this title for my horror epic: Dark Blood of the Evil Dead.

What? I haven’t helped enough already?

Author: Stephen Hise

Stephen Hise is the Evil Mastermind and founder of Indies Unlimited. Hise is an independent author and an avid supporter of the indie author movement. Learn more about Stephen at his website or his Amazon author page.

11 thoughts on “The Title Will Tell”

  1. With all due respect, EM, you forgot one: If you’re writing a fantasy series, be sure to get Chronicles or Tales or Book into the series title. (I didn’t pick “The Pipe Woman Chronicles” out of thin air, y’know. 😉 )

  2. Slaughterhouse Five, if memory serves, was actually about WW2, not Sci Fi. Apart from that, an astute piece which I need to bear in mind for my next book – and maybe consider for a revamp of my existing ones!

    1. Frank, the Amazon editorial review says, “Kurt Vonnegut’s absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut’s) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.”

      I think the time-travel elements qualify it as sci-fi.

  3. Call me unconventional- which is probably why my sales are dodgy:
    Project: Dragonslayers, Dragonslayers: Mind Games, Dragonslayers: Battle Rhythm, Dragonslayers: Kill Box– military thrillers
    Cowboys and Olympians– contemporary romance
    The Hall–Supernatural thriller/horror
    Silks and Sand–contemporary romance

    OK, I will buy on the Sci-fi:
    Space Crazy
    Space Junk
    Space Available
    Space Invaded

    Great post! I does get me thinking…

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