A Story is Only as Good as its Title

By Shane Solar-Doherty

Over here, Betsy Lerner is talking about the importance of a book’s title. She says that an important step in selling your book to a publisher is hooking them with a good title. It’s part of the marketing strategy for your book. She says that a “bulls-eye” is when editors bombard you with compliments about your title, and that this is a very good thing.

In my senior year at Emerson, I wrote a story for my advanced fiction class that I titled “The Final Mission”. The class was unanimous in voicing its approval of the story, and I nodded with a real cool smile, though I was ecstatic because I had worked hard on the story and it seemed to pay off. Then my professor spoke up and said, The title could use some work. Indeed, the story was about the final mission in Iraq in which (spoiler alert!) some of the last American troops to be relieved of duty are attacked on the morning that they’re set to leave the desert. There’s grenades and blood and yes, even some Christ allusions. So so much ambition, so very little worldliness.

Since I started participating in writing workshops six years ago, only a select few pieces of advice have stuck with me through the years. On the day that my story was being workshopped, my professor urged us to give our stories thoughtful titles. He told us that titles should be fitting with the themes and tone of the story, that they should add something to the reading experience. This is advice that I’ve never forgotten. And now, when I read a transcending story, the title always stays with me.

I’ve heard too many writers say that the title is a place holder because they know it will change. Or they say they’re not good at thinking up titles. Or the title is good enough. I beg you to find a great title. A truly great title. You cannot underestimate how much it helps your cause.

That’s from Lerner’s post. She’s still talking about marketing your book to editors, but her message is universal. In the case of her post, “your cause” is pitching your book to editors. In this post, “your cause” is giving your reader an extra little something to consider in the bigger picture or your story and collection. What I’m saying is that, when a reader is done with your story, and they’re flipping back to the beginning to reflect on the first few lines, they’ll probably take another look at the title, and the best thing the title can do next is make them read the entire story again. That’s the power of a great title. Think A Good Man is Hard to Find, Where I’m Calling From, and (appropriately) The Things They Carried. Those are titles that inspire stories. That’s what titles are meant to do.

There now. That’s the end of my lecture on titles.

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