In a Word

At The Millions, Bill Morris takes a look at one word titles and when they work. As someone who stresses over titles, it’s interesting to see this collection of titles ranging from Hamlet to Swamplandia! to Salt. He also notes that “seven of the 32 books on the current New York Times hardcover fiction and non-fiction best-seller lists – a healthy 22 percent – have one word titles.” That’s a solid showing.

The focus in this list is on adult literature, so I was interested in single word titles for YA and children’s books. Looking at the Newbery and Printz lists, my first impression is that children’s books tend toward longer titles. In the last twelve years of Newbery winners and honors, only four have had single word titles (all honors, not winners).

Single words fair a little better for Printz titles–twelve total, with one winner and eleven honors. The inaugural year featured a one word title winner (Monster by Walter Dean Myers) and two one word title honors (Skellig by David Almond and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson).

One guess as to this divide: single word titles tend to suggest a higher level of intensity, which you’re more likely to find in a YA novel. (Monster and Speak aren’t exactly light books.) I think there’s a greater potential for whimsy in Newbery books, which probably works best with multi-word titles. (You can get a little more sass in there.) Obviously that’s not a hard and fast rule, but it was my first assumption. Any other guesses?

The Novel Title Mad Libs Game

Titles are hard. How are you supposed to sum up the emotional content of your work while still making sure it’s memorable and will catch a reader’s eye? Wouldn’t it be easier to turn some lead into gold while we’re at it?

Fortunately, NPR has provided us with a handy guide for how to name your first novel. Not really YA-specific, but here’s the closest match:

If Your First Novel Will Be A Withering Teenage Quasi-Memoir


The memoir part doesn’t really work, but with this in mind, my first novel should be How I Flunked Chemistry But Passed The Four Tops and the Temptations.

I also like:

If Your First Novel Will Be A Harrowing Historical Account


It’s that double color that makes it stick out, of course. Feel free to share your titles in the comments!

Even Blog Post Titles Are Hard

Some people are really good at titles. They can come up with really memorable titles that perfectly connect with their novel/play/poem. These people are also probably visited by helpful elves and ride to work on their pet unicorns.

I am not one of these people.

Either I come up with a title and no accompanying story, or I finish a story and stress about the title for a while. But titles are worth some stress. A good title can capture a reader’s attention right away, while a bad title can make an otherwise compelling book forgettable. Sometimes I’ll remember the plot well but totally forget the title and not remember that I’ve read/seen it until someone describes it more.

To see the difference that a good title can make, check out these alternate titles for famous movies. While I love the sound of The Rebel Nun, it has a very different feel than The Sound of Music.

Are you good at coming up with titles? What are some of your favorites?