Sunday, August 15, 2010

What's in a name?

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
                   Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

Remember that great scene in Shakespeare in Love where Kit Marlowe and Will Shakespeare discuss the titles for their new plays (Marlowe's is Massacre in Paris and Shakespeare's is Romeo and Gertrude: the Pirate's Daughter)?  What if Will had named it Romeo and Gertrude?  I wonder if it would appeal to 14 years old today?

In my literary pursuits I see a lot of bad titles.  The fact is the title is your first taste of a novel.  If you've got a bad cover or a bad title, readers aren't going to pick up your book unless you've got good word of mouth.

Let's look at the covers of some wildly popular YA novels.

It's interesting marketing :
evocative, one word titles 
mysterious, often dark imagery

It would seem that  this is the equation for a bestseller:
one word title+dark, mysterious image.

Of course, walk into any YA section and its all you see as far as the eye can see.  Some are more well done than others, others look cheap, and all in all, you can't be sure what you are going to get when you flip to page one.  A good cover, even a good title, doesn't guarantee a good book.  It does make it more likely that someone will pick it up and read the first page though.

So, dear readers, is the one title, dark cover played out?
What books have you picked up based on the cover?


  1. You make a good point about one word titles. I don't think success hinges on the 'one word' but on a short title. The dark or eerie covers do work but I think it's all about the intrigue. It doesn't matter how the cover accomplishes that as long as it does.

    Great topic.

  2. I love the cover art from "Siren" I would pick up the book and read the back if the cover is interesting enough.

    As far as titles, I think the title has to be interesting. Here are a few:
    Looking for Alaska
    Diary of a Part Time Indian
    Hunger Games (have to admit I did not want to read this book because the cover art looked like it was about Soviets or something, but I was so glad that I read it!)