Welcome to story and chai’s “Ask an Author.” Here, we’ll respond to questions we’ve received about the writing and publication process, as well as new questions, which you can ask us on twitter, Facebook, or through email (jazobair AT comcast DOT net). Sometimes we’ll ask other authors to “guest answer” your questions as well. We hope this is a helpful feature for writers at all stages of the process!
Question: I have a completed manuscript that I’m ready to query, but I cannot for the life of me come up with a good title. Any suggestions?
Aisha: Picking a title is difficult. I’m the mother of two children and naming my children was far and away easier than choosing the title of my novel. A title is the first step towards enticing someone to pick up your book so the pressure to come up with something amazing is definitely high. For me, the key is: does the title reflect a general mood of your novel’s subject matter? It doesn’t have to be concrete or didactic about what the novel is about, but it does have to get across the tone or emotion behind the story while remaining interesting. Because it is so difficult I typically don’t worry about what the title of my book will be until I’m done with it. If I’m lucky, the title will come to me as I write, but if I’m not, these are a few things I do to try to come up with the best title I can:
1. Sit down at a desk with a journal [or your laptop]. Set the timer for 5-10 minutes and write down, stream of consciousness, all the things that come to mind when you think of your book. Don’t hold back. Write down all verbs, nouns, adjectives that come to mind. Once the time is up look at what you have, does anything stand out? Do any combinations therein hold the key? If nothing feels right, put it aside for a few days and then brainstorm some more.
2. Read your book again and keep an eye out for evocative lines that could shed a hint to the novel and be a great title. Often, my favorite titles evolved from sentences in the novel itself.
3. Once you’ve tried both options 1 and 2 and created a list of titles that stand out, send them off to trusted friends. Ask them to either choose their best one or come up with an alternative based on the titles they see.
These three steps are the methods I use to come with a title. It takes me weeks, sometimes months to go through the process but sooner or later you will find something that works. Different strokes for different folks, but this is the tried and true method for me! Good luck with titling your novel!
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Aisha Saeed is a contributor to story and chai, focusing on YA books and writers. She is also a mama, lawyer, teacher, and maker and drinker of chai. She is a contributing author in the New York Times featured anthology Love Inshallah. Aisha has been blogging for a decade at her website, and her writing has also appeared in places such as The Orlando Sentinel, BlogHer, Muslim Girl Magazine, and Red Tricycle. She also writes a monthly column, Literary Mama, at LoveInshallah.com. Her debut YA novel WRITTEN IN THE STARS will be released in 2015 by Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books. She is represented by Taylor Martindale at Full Circle Literary Agency.