Introducing: Title Tropes!

I am going to run a little series here about Title Tropes – AKA, common themes in book titles. This is mostly an excuse for me to procrastinate, like my upcoming series on book covers, but it’s fun so I’m doing it anyway.

Book titles, coupled with book covers, are the biggest first impression a book can give you. Bigger than the blurb, sales numbers, or praise by some famous author on the cover. Like book covers, we associate different things with different kinds of titles. Let’s perform an experiment. A book called “The Crimson Falcon’s Agenda” calls up a lot of associations.

You'll find out how much I enjoy making book covers. More so than writing books, actually.

You’ll find out how much I enjoy making book covers. More so than writing books, actually.

On which book cover does the title seem most at home? I attempted to throw in a few different genres here, Literary fiction, Mystery/Thriller, YA, “Contemporary” fiction, and stereotypical Chick Lit. I designed these covers to match stereotypes of their genre’s – Ive got the author’s name bigger than the title of the book for my mystery/thriller, a Pretty Dress on my YA, handwritten text and pastel graphics for my chick lit. (I love making book covers and I love these covers even though they have nothing to do with what I write.

Maybe you can technically justify that any kind of book can have any kind of name – it’s the plot and writing that count! Design means nothing! – but I have been distracted by odd title choices in the past. It’s peril if a reader can’t recognize what kind of book yours is when they first see it.

The faux title “The Crimson Falcon’s Agenda” is in itself just a trope, an example of the popular “The (adjective) (noun)’s (noun)” that you see often in mystery/thriller. Tropes and trends are everywhere and one you see two or three titles with similar structure you start to build associations. So the fourth time you see that familiar structure, you will have a precreated set of expectations for that book. As a writer, this is the kind of thing that can screw you over or be used to your advantage. Think critically not only about how much you personally like the title, but what people reading it for the first time might think about it.

So Title Tropes is going to be where I assemble tropes and trends I see in book titles. It’s going to be fun, I promise.

Book Design is Completely Underappreciated – AKA, I Only Notice it When it’s Bad

I recently read to book called something like “The Land of Starbeams and Moonlight” (not actual title btw). The flowery title was accompanied by a dark cover of a woman lying on the ground in a Pretty Dress. At this point the Pretty Dress cover is familiar to anyone who reads YA, and, intrigued, I bought it.

Turns out the title had nothing to do with the book or its story. The lady in the pretty dress didn’t at all resemble the protagonist, who, as a citizen of authoritarian dystopia with problems supporting its population, would unlikely find herself lounging about in evening wear. As such, I instantly forgot the name of the book and when I went to google it midway through reading it, I had to go and look up the title. I had literally no idea what it was called. Seeing the cover again, I was again surprised – it was basically like seeing it for the first time I recognized it so little.

Obviously, these are bad things. You want the title and cover to grab your readers but you also want them to remember them once they buy the book. I picked up this book expecting one thing and getting another – in my case, I was mostly ok with it, but in another who knows. It shook my confidence in the book, and I read the rest of it feeling more like an editor or reviewer rather than someone just reading for pleasure.