Saturday, 9 June 2012

Hey you - lay off my title

This post is about something I thought was pretty funny that happened a few weeks ago. But I'm not going to tell you what it is straight away. Today is the first day of a lovely long weekend, and I'm feeling a bit laid back and lazy, so we're just going to meander a bit first.

The topic of this posting is titles - ie book titles, not Sir or Mr or Your Reverence (though I reckon I wouldn't mind of somebody did call me Your Reverence).

Titles for my books are something that I both struggle with and also like to have a bit of fun with (if that doesn't sound totally contradictory). When I start writing, I usually have no idea what the title will be. I usually think of my books as "the fantasy story" or "the insect story" but I know at some point I'll need a title, and I know that title will need to be catchy and interesting while also capturing the essence of the book.

My strategy for title selection is inspired by one of my all-time favourite bands, R.E.M. I've mentioned before how much my writing is "influenced" (I hate that word - sounds so pretentious - but can't think of a better one) by music. R.E.M. is a band that always had fun choosing their song names. I wondered for years why one of my favourites of their songs had the odd title Country Feedback even though that seemed to have nothing to with the song lyrics, till I discovered it's actually a reference to the two guitar styles used in the song. And I love how they could take a catchy little song recorded in 1989 and just title it Pop Song 89.

I began playing with my titles when I started writing short stories. While I was taking a writing class years ago, I wrote a modernisation of the fairytale about the shoemaker and the elves - in this version, a computer writes stories while a writer sleeps - but to maintain the reference I titled it A Shoemaker's Tale. It was interesting to see that while a few fellow students picked the fairytale reference in the title, not one was able to recognise the original source.

I've already gone on a bit in other forums about how my novella Doodling received its title.  A number of readers have criticised it as a choice but to be honest I could never think of anything better - using something like Neville in the Asteroids or Stop the World just wouldn't work for me.

When I choose my titles, I also make sure that they're as original as possible. For Flidderbugs, I did a bunch of Googling to make sure I could find a word nobody had used before. Ditto for Magnus Opum, as I wanted it to be original and catchy. Which is where the funny bit comes in...

Barely a month after Magnus Opum was published, after all the work I put into coming up with an original title, someone else has published a book with the same name. There are now two Magnus Opums on Amazon. I have to say I'm not super upset - it's a free world and you can't copyright a title. And maybe somebody looking for that book will find mine instead. But I do know one thing for sure.

I had it first.

Have a great weekend. 


  1. I also had Stranger than Fiction first. Actually that’s not true. Dennis Wheatley had a book out with that title while I was being born. It was the right title for the book though even if it’s not perhaps the sexiest. I, of course, was one of those who thought—and still think—that Doodling is a bad title for your first book. It’s such a vague title that it won’t do it any harm because people will at least read the blurb and that will pull them in but as a title it just doesn’t work no matter how much of a soft spot you have for it. That another book would come along so soon with the title Magnus Opum is, frankly, amazing though. Maybe she’ll get a few sales from dog lovers looking for your book. Good luck to her. If you ever finish the sequel to Doodling please don’t call it Doodling 2 or Son of Doodling or anything like that.

  2. Hi Jim,

    Nope - it definitely won't be called Son of Doodling. Mind you, I suspect you won't like the title I have in mind.

    Have a good weekend.