What’s in a title?

After an intense study session today for my online class (one reason I’ve been busy lately and less often here), I stopped by the library to pick up my holds. I was particularly jazzed about one of them: The Design of Everyday Things (DOET). (Well I was also jazzed that The Goonies finally came in but that’s another story.) I’d put DOET on hold so many months ago, I’d forgotten I had, and was debating buying it last week (it dovetails with my online course and is a must-read for anyone interested in design or human-computer interaction).

Naturally I started reading it tonight.

What’s interesting is that it was renamed: DOET used to be POET – The Psychology of Everyday Things. Why the change? Well it turns out that when the title had “Psychology” in it, it automatically got shelved in – you guessed it – the psychology shelves and design students wouldn’t think to look there. Then too it implied that the book was about the psychology of the user, not about the design of products – it was misleading.

Donald Norman says in his intro to the 2002 edition: “In titling my book, I had been guilty of the same shortsightedness that leads to all those unusable everyday things! My first choice of title was that of a self-centered designer, choosing the solution that pleased me without considering the impact upon readers” (x).

Wow. Think about that from just any author’s perspective and think about how often you’ve read a book that was nothing like what you expected from the title. I’ve had that happen way too often. It’s good to be clever with your title but if it disappoints your readers once they start reading, what’s the point of that?

I’ve heard it often said that you shouldn’t get too attached to the title you picked for your manuscript because it’ll often get changed by the publisher. Probably true, and yet I’ve recently heard several writers who got to keep their titles because they fit their novel. (That is one of my go-to questions for writers’ panels now: “How did you come up with your book title?” The answers are always interesting no matter who came up with it or how.) So. I will still care about what title I come up with – and really, my title hasn’t changed in over a year.

No, you can’t know what it is because I’ll probably change it before I’m done. And because I don’t want to tell.

Out of curiosity though, when choosing a book to read, how important is a book’s title to you?

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About thewritingblues

I'm a writer working on a YA dystopian novel and blogging on my progress - or lack thereof - and other cool writing stuff.
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2 Responses to What’s in a title?

  1. Vivian says:

    Hmm . . . While titles can be interesting, they aren’t what makes me pick up a book. I tend to cruise the sleeves or back covers for the book’s description. And, I must confess, like wine, if it has interesting art work on the label/cover, I’ll pick it up and at least read the back. Now with e-books, I can get the first chapter free to determine if I will be interested. I really like this feature. Many books I’ve read the title, description or reviews of, just don’t come through in the first chapter to me. While a friend may love a particular book, I may loathe it for subject, plot or voice ( dear God, please no more YA whiny teenage girls – I didn’t put up with whining from my daughters when I raised them; I’m sure as heck not going to read 300 pages of one!).
    While a good title can’t hurt, I think like with all old standards of publishing, it may be a less weighted factor than it has been in the past.

  2. thewritingblues says:

    That’s a really good point about ebooks, Vivian, and how covers – might matter less. I agree though that in general, the cover itself will attract me first, but only if I can see it. In my head, writing this, I was thinking of seeing the spines of books on a shelf or being recommended a title by someone. Then I’ll pull the book and look at the cover art; if it still pulls me in, then I’ll read. And that’s where I’ve been disappointed. *sigh* And yeah, I’ve found that tastes can be SO individual when it comes to reading so that when people ask me for recommendations, I hedge a bit or send them to Goodreads ;)

    Thanks for reading :)

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