Novel Experiment · writing

Wonderings When Writing: Working Title vs Final Title


Titles are tricksy things.

Since beginning my current Novel Experiment, I’ve used the same working title. Unfortunately I have a sneaking suspicion that I shouldn’t use that title as the final appellation of the book. This leaves me in an uncomfortable place. I’ve casually polled my readers and editors, and they have a mixed reaction to the working title. Some react very positively to it, and others hope that I’ll come up with something else.

So I’ve started brainstorming. I currently have a list of 30+ potential titles for this darn book, and I don’t like one of them. Normally in situations like this, I simply find the book’s name from somewhere in the text. There is typically a theme, or an idea, or a pithy phrase that I can use somewhere in the words, but I am having trouble finding one this time. (It doesn’t help that I feel the urge to Google every potential title to make sure that someone else hasn’t used it already; often someone has.)

Though I am probably overthinking this title business a bit, it remains true that titles are desperately important to a book’s success. A good one will cause a reader to purchase a book. A bad one will prevent a person from so much as cracking the cover. The title needs to simultaneously reflect the book’s contents as well as intrigue potential readers, and that can be a difficult balance to master.

Which means I will continue to explore titles until I find one that satisfies me.

I suspect that I am not alone in this struggle to find a title. How have you dealt with the issue? Have the words come down in a heavenly beam of light an settled on your page? Did you pick the name out of a hat? Did your cat walk through a pile of spilled flour and end up writing a phrase in the dust? I’d love to know.


Image Attribution: Fragment de sarcophage: Muses et Masque de Tragédie,  Musée royal de Mariemont in Morlanwelz, 2016.

34 thoughts on “Wonderings When Writing: Working Title vs Final Title

  1. I feel your pain… I rarely end up with the title that I started with – and as I haven’t yet unleashed any of my offerings to an unsuspecting public, I’m unsure how effective my titles are. But I’m also aware that titles are extremely important. The only consolation I garner is that a number of newly published books I’ve been reviewing on Netgalley share titles with other books, too. So some publishers are clearly not so concerned about that issue.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Usually, for me, the clouds part as the wind whips my hair into a frenzy and then cloud Mufasa appears to tell me that I have forgotten him and therefore I have forgotten my title. And then he just tells me a good title. No muss, no fuss…no really titles are probably one of the hardest parts when I write. It’s going to sound weird, but if I’m really stuck, after I make my big list (your 30+ should work excellently), then I take a nap. I think about all the titles as I go to sleep and usually right before I fall asleep or when I wake up, I know which one I want to use. Of course that doesn’t mean it’s one everyone likes and sometimes I have to go back to the drawing board (or napping couch), but it’s that or shower ideas and it helps me not to lose my mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’ve got to give me Mufasa’s number. I think I got stuck with one of the hyenas. (Who are inspirational in their own way, I suppose.)

      I probably need to come to terms with the fact that no title is perfect, but some titles are perfectly good enough.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Well the hyenas are certainly easier to contact. Calling Mufasa involves a fairly drawn series of events, usually kicked off with a wildebeest stampede, but I have faith that you’ll come up with a great title! I think everyone has perfectionist expectations when it comes to titles, so you’re not alone!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I like to start with a working title because I feel like it takes some of the pressure off me.
    As I write I keep a “scratch” document, where I jot down interesting phrases. If nothing emerges by the time the story is done, then I try to write out the back cover blurb, and then reduce it down to a few key phrases. Eventually it’s just me swapping out and reshuffling words until something clicks, and checking Amazon/Google to make suse I’m not sharing it with any others. Sometimes it takes a while, but I know the words are out there.

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      1. Thank you. I think a certain amount of faith is needed, in the face of writing’s steep incline.
        I forget where I heard it, but someone once said “Whether you believe you can or believe you can’t, either way you’re right.”

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  4. For me, this is an intuitive process (but then, I am an INFP). I can’t create something analytically and when I try to do that I just feel bad or stuck or frustrated. Meditation works for me. I need to clear the cobwebs and leave a space to hear the magic words. It’s like flowing downriver instead of fighting the current.

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  5. I think you should go with your intinct. Find a phrase that is repeated or brings significance to a theme, idea, etc. I had the same problem while writing mine. Many of the guys in Vietnam in the 60s & 70s when they had less than six months left on their tour, would start a count down. I used the theme several times in the book and then entittle my book, “One Month, 20 Days, and a Wake Up”. It’s catchy and it works. Try it.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Weather it’s a book or a post I am writing I always give it a temporary title and as I write I see what feelings emerge from me. After I am finished I wait a few days and go back and read it again. If I get the same feelings from reading it then I go with something that matches my feelings and the book of course. Just my way. That doesn’t mean all will like it but if I feel strongly about it then I go with it.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Hmm, a tricky problem. We’ve all been there, though. I found what I thought was a perfect title for a kids’ book only to be told it’s too much like another, recent, (now award winning) title. But I agree with the general sentiment here that you need to step away for a while. Then ask the geniuses to send you one. They’re usually pretty helpful 🙂

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  8. Working titles are that necessary evil LOL. I use them sparingly though because I must admit I am one of those creative people who obsesses over the “perfect” title. I’m so picky and dismissive that I could never amass a long list like that. I’m terrible. Someone could suggest a pretty good one and I’ll shoot it down because it didn’t come from my own head. I’m a mess LOL.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t quite know yet! I’ve never done it before and with where I am in my current novel, this might be a bad year to start. I’ll have to bite the bullet one way or another in the next few days though.

        I think I saw that you’ll be participating this year, correct? I’m interested to see how the process works for you. (And I’ll be eagerly awaiting any updates you share.)

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I initially started with generic fantasy-sounding titles with symbolic meanings, but I didn’t like any of them (The Lost Owl was my working title for this book in NaNoWriMo 2014.) The Warden of Everfeld came to me as I was trying to pinpoint the overarching themes of my book. It has dual meanings for the story, and can be easily used as a catch-all title for a series. So “The Warden of Everfeld: Memento” is just this with a simple, short subtitle that also has layered meanings in the story. It definitely helped my decision when nothing is called “Warden of Everfeld”, since Everfeld is a word I made up! I would recommend looking into the usage of your titles or ones close to them so that it can stand out a bit more.

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  10. Huh. I find this to be an interesting topic as I have a few different novels in various stages and some (most) have titles I plan to keep, a few of the newer ones are still on the edge. I stare at the first name I gave it, but it doesn’t always sound the catchiest. I use the working title more as a place marker in my brain to know which novel/series I’m talking about. Though, I don’t think I’ve ever really stressed about a title. Perhaps it’s easier to pick something short and simple? I have one or two word titles for most of my books, which I honestly think makes it easier for fiction. Though, I usually implement some piece of the world-building or major plot point into the title. For non-fiction, I can’t even imagine coming up with a title.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. At this point, I’ve put the title on hold in the hopes that I will have a moment of brilliant inspiration sometime in the next month. (My brain is not known for its acts of spontaneous inspirations, so we’ll see how that goes.)

      Liked by 1 person

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