Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Long Book Titles

I was glancing in at Lynn’s Book Blog and noticed this post: Top Ten Tuesday : Long book titles

This caught my eye because recently I was asked to read an upcoming book and see if I could write a blurb. Here’s the title of the book: The Adventures of Rocío Díaz Rossi and Hala Haddad Sosa

Wow, was my first response. That’s a really long title.

So far all I can tell you about the book is that it’s about two female detectives, partners, in a world with craaaaazy worldbuilding. Let me find my favorite detail so far … ah, here:

Hala dated it in the three calendars—La Bene’s: 14 April, year 449; the Ya Empire’s: 12.14.15.14.13 / 2 Ben / 11 kumk’u / Lord of the Night G5; and the Ka Empire’s: Year 17 of the Divine Emperor Lloque.

“Show-off,” Rocío said. Most people needed a calendar converter for the Ya Empire’s system.

I SO wish I had invented the Ya Empire’s calendrical system. I can’t even tell you. That is the best dating system I have ever seen anywhere. If we lived in a properly run world, we would absolutely be typing “12.14.15.14.13 / 2 Ben / 11 kumk’u / Lord of the Night G5” at the top of our pages.

But back to titles. I can think of a quite a few books with super-long titles, such as:

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have To Kill You

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation

I’ve read (or at least started) all the above titles. A couple, I didn’t get too far with, including the Octavian Nothing one. (The beginning was too grim for me.) My favorite is From the Mixed Up Files. But that’s all beside the point — the point today is, Gosh, those are long titles. That’s why I use a shortened form when I’m referring to them.

I guess I would refer to The Adventures of Rocío Díaz Rossi and Hala Haddad Sosa as Rocio and Hala. Or possibly as Adventures. Or conceivably as “the one with the great Ya calendar.”

What do you all think of super-long titles? I think they can be cute and appealing, particularly for YA titles, but mostly I have to say I prefer short titles. Not necessarily one word, but shorter. But my favorite titles can be longish or shortish, as long as they’re poetic. Let me see … okay, I mean like this:

An Unbearable Lightness of Being

Midnight Never Come

There Will Come Soft Rains

I Shall Wear Midnight

A Swiftly Tilting Planet

That’s the kind of title I like best. Of course a title like that doesn’t necessarily suit every book. Even when it does, a title like that is hard to come up with. Really, what I need is an app that will read my manuscript and spit out evocative, poetic titles that fit the story.

I think the best title I’ve ever come up with is:

I’m really glad the publisher decided to use my title for this one.

Now, as for titles I dislike . . . this isn’t a dealbreaker, titles are seldom a dealbreaker for me, but personally, the titles I like least are the ones that go:

The _____’s Daughter

The _____’s Wife

Such a weird thing to do, pull the focus off the protagonist and make the main thing that counts her father or her husband or whatever. Though it can be even worse. I mean, take a look at this one, where the title is even more misleading than usual:

Seriously?

I mean, the protagonist isn’t even Theodora! It’s her son, John! Why not title it “The Empress Theodora’s Son”? Oh, but we can’t have that! All these titles have to end in somebody’s daughter, even if the protagonist is NOT THAT DAUGHTER.

I may not have been great at titles, but I could have done way, way better. Anyone could have done better!

The book itself is quite good, by the way, though not one of Bradshaw’s best. I should do a list ranking all of Gillian Bradshaw’s books from top to bottom. In fact, I probably have, though I don’t remember right now. But if I were ranking them all by just the quality of the title, this one would be at the bottom.

Actually, though I liked the above book, I would REALLY love to see Gillian Bradshaw write a novel about Theodora and Justinian. Alas, I guess she would have already done that if she were going to.

How about you all, what do you like best and least in titles? Long, short, straightforward, evocative, clever? If a title has jumped out at you recently, what was the title?

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9 Comments Long Book Titles

  1. Hanneke

    I rather like long titles, when I’m in the mood for a certain kind of book, though I’ve only read three of the books with long(ish) titles mentioned above. They are generally very expressive, give a clear idea of what the book is going to be like, and can have a sort of oldfashioned vibe for me, which I like.

    From a practical point of view, I find I have a lot of difficulty remembering one-word titles, unless they are very very clearly linked to the contents of the book. I can remember Tuyo (that is who/what the book is about), and Foreigner, but most of the other titles in that series I cannot put in order, or often even remember without prompting.

    That’s a problem I have even with two- or three word titles if the title is only vaguely, abstractly, conceptually linked to the content of the story, but it’s worst with one word titles. Like with some of the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs (some are clear enough, but others are too abstract for me to immediately recall which story this one is), or even worse, the similar sort of titles in the Lupi series by Eileen Wilks – a lot of those seem rather random to me, chosen just because they fit a format (Tempting danger, Mortal danger, Mortal ties, several kinds of magic or titles with blood in them, whatever…). I cannot remember them even though I liked the series.
    Caveat for Rachel: as there are a few couples (not all of them) in there that get magically tied together by the Lupi godess willy-nilly (necessitated by future survival/magical reasons, not some kind of alpha power or pheromone nonsense or whatever) you probably won’t like it, even though after a few books she does get into the problematic side of that, with the trauma caused by an earlier involuntary ‘partner’ committing suicide echoing forward into a new relationship.
    I sometimes like the arranged marriage trope in romance, where people have to get to know one another and grow together after they’ve become hitched together, and read this sudden externally-imposed bond in that way, so it didn’t bother me too much. (I’ve only read this series and the Patricia Briggs books in the paranormal romance genre, and don’t want to read more, so I haven’t been inundated with this special alpha bond trope to make me hate it.)

  2. Elaine T

    Some long titles work; all those listed do. Except that of the one you’re reading for possible blurbing – that’s forgettable. Maybe not once the reader has read it, but I’m having trouble hanging on to it. And the calendar thing just looks complicated, maybe it makes sense in the book but my thought, just looking at it, is how did you get that from anything?

    I like Bradshaw’s Bearkeeper’s Daughter rather more than I thought I did when first reading it. It haunted me, even though I hadn’t been all that engaged by it. It has something that sticks for me. The title… maybe because people are more likely to recognize a reference to Theodora? Or because her presence looms in the background throughout the book.

    The Shape-Changer’s Wife is not the protaganist, nor is her husband. But she’s the catalyst, IIRC for the protaganist’s actions, so I guess that’s why she gets the titular spot.

  3. Rachel

    Hanneke, yes, it’s impossible to keep the individual titles of the Foreigner novels straight, or the individual titles of the Kate Daniels series or whatever — I don’t ever try. I just look them up. Every single time. To be fair, no matter what, keeping all the novels straight in a 20 book series is probably impossible.

    I can like the arranged marriage or forced-by-circumstance marriage tropes just fine, depending on how it’s handled, but it’s true that if the author goes in certain directions with that kind of trop, it’s intolerable.

    Elaine, one thing is that no matter the length, names are usually not going to make for a memorable title. Unless it’s a name like “Octavian Nothing,” I guess.

    I have to say, I wouldn’t depend on readers getting that “the bearkeeper’s daughter” is Empress Theodora. I didn’t, when I first saw that title, and I’m reasonably historically literate. I knew Theodora had a sketchy background, but not the details. Also, a different issue having to do with cover design, I persistently read the title as “The Beekeeper’s Daughter.” I still see it that way, even now that I know what the title actually is. “Beekeeper” is a vastly more familiar term than “Bearkeeper.” Only a font that exaggerated the “r” — or a hyphen — would have made me see that word correctly.

    Evelyn, that is a fantastic title. Made me laugh! This is why I turn the ringer off on my phones sometimes, because when someone says, “Sorry to bother you when I know you’re probably writing, but –” it makes me grit my teeth. I’m like, THEN DON’T CALL ME.

  4. Mary Beth

    I really like the way Gillian Bradshaw examines Great People of History through the eyes of those around them, but I HATE the title for “The Bearkeeper’s Daughter,” not least because the book spends as much time examining the hugely interesting General Narses as it does on Theodora. I bet that title came from marketing seeing the “Somebody’s Wife or Daughter” trend and wanting to capitalize on it. But “The Empress’s Son” would have been a much more clever spin on the trend, and I think more attention-grabbing!

    (“The Empress’s Bastard” would have been the real attention-getter but probably nonviable for people who consider that a swear word unsuitable for titles.)

  5. Rachel

    More time, which is fine, because Narses is a wonderful character and fascinating historical figure.

    And, yes, I would personally consider “The Empress’s Bastard” a vastly more eyecatching title, even though I’m sure the marketing people would nix it.

  6. Vale Nagle

    This isn’t from a book, but the last time I was really unwell a friend brought over all of the Godzilla movies and we’d watch two a week for the entire summer. While I’m generally not for long titles, the absurdity of premise and title for this one made me happy: “Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack!” and yes, the exclamation mark is part of the title.

    It was a fun movie, though. I mean, I like giant monsters as much as the next fantasy fan, but there were probably at least sixteen to twenty Godzilla movies I could have done without. But that one was fun.

    I’ll also shout out the book “Gryphons Aren’t So Great” which tends to get hate buys from gryphon fans who then love it because the premise of the book is that gryphons are, in fact, so great.

    I’m not sure I’ve ever done a great job with titling my own stories, but I usually go for genre clarity. Maybe one day I’ll come up with a title I’m proud of =]

  7. Kim Aippersbach

    I like long titles: they’re fun, certainly eye-catching, and usually memorable.

    You didn’t mention The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, which I think is an awesome title, surpassed only by “To Be Taught, If Fortunate.”

    Lots of fun long middle-grade titles out there, like Sal and Gabi Break the Universe and the one I’m reading now, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky. (Both Rick Riordan imprints … I’m sensing a theme!)

  8. Elaine T

    Apropos of Godzilla movies, my kid has been enjoying a series of fanfictions wherein ” Rodan teaches King Gidorah to communicate. by throwing rocks at them” by ckret2 on Ao3. I had to look as I heard giggling and looked over and saw “Conversational Pterandodon 101.” They aren’t bad. And rather fun.

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