August 6, 2015

Tips on titles

Sometimes a title will come to you before the poem or manuscript has been written. If not, these suggestions might help you to find an appropriate, appealing title to which every book, article, story, or poem is entitled.

• Being as brief and as clear as possible, state what your manuscript is about, then consider whether that description is title material. This will be more likely if you can condense the statement to 5 words or less.

• Think about a one-word symbol that might show your theme, purpose, and/or the larger picture you have in mind.

• Give time for thoughts to come. List every cliché, expression, pithy statement, and word play in line with your manuscript. Then change a word of two to make it fresh and, if fitting, add a touch of humor.

• Be playful, inventive, creative, surprising!

• More important than creativity, however, is honesty. Be “right on” in your final choice, so the text develops the main thought in the title, rather than refuting it.

Keep in mine, too, that the names of your manuscripts need to appeal to your potential readers, the first of whom may be an editor who sees the title and wants to read more – or not. For a “not” example, I once wrote a lively piece for children about homonyms, but my short article kept coming back with a rejection notice until I changed its name to “Ring Goes The Homophone.”

Like an aptly chosen word spoken at the right moment, a well-chosen title will serve you, your manuscript, and your readers well.

© 2010, ©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler has placed 27 titles with traditional and indie book publishers and over 1500 with magazines, journals, and e-zines.

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