Publishers, readers and book sellers love them. Titles that suggest action, hint at the plot, evoke imagery and set up questions in the minds of readers. Ice Station Zebra. From Russia with Love. I am Pilgrim. King Rat and The Sound of Thunder.
Having been in the position of desperately trying to find a great title, I know how hard it is. Some people resort to the pages of the Bible (Psalms and Proverbs are rich territory), Shakespeare, John Donne and Coleridge work too. The best titles, however, fall out of the sky like gifts, and all you can do is be thankful.
Some authors, like Robert Ludlum, hit on a formula. The Parsifal Mosaic. The Osterman Weekend. Others, like crime novelist Sue Grafton, hit on a gimmick like naming a book after every letter of the alphabet. This works as powerful branding across a writer’s career.
These days you can even find online title generators. You put your theme and keywords in boxes and out pops the perfect title, or so they say. Yet why would you trust much of the marketing potential of your creation to an online gizmo? Every word in the English language comes with generations of baggage—associations, innuendo and subtle undercurrents. These nuances can make or break a book in the marketplace.
The only one of my own novel titles that came easily was Rotten Gods. It evolved from a line of dialogue later in the book. “Oh I believe in gods, I just think they are all rotten.” Savage Tide was initially, Nameless Book Two then The Dark Tide. Lethal Sky started out as Chase the Sun.
Some authors use pseudonyms to work with the title in creating a feeling of power and action. Dean Koontz wrote several novels under the names Owen West and Anthony North, choosing those names because, according to his biography, “A compass bearing provides a feeling of direction and purpose.”
So what’s the best thriller title of all time? There are so many, but for the sake of the argument I’ll nominate The Eagle has Landed by Jack Higgins. It’s emphatic, symbolic, and suggests the plot in an intriguing way. It’s not a bad read, either.
Greg Barron is the author of Rotten Gods, Savage Tide and Lethal Sky, all with HarperCollins Australia. Learn more at gregbarron.com