On Writing – T is for Titles

When I tell people I’ve just published a novel, the first question they always ask is.  ‘What’s it called?’ Choosing a good title for my novel was probably one of the most important and most difficult decisions I had to make.  A good title is designed to say or strongly allude to what’s inside the tin, but the problem is, the tin is full of a lot more than just paint. So coming up with a decent title is not an easy task.

I can’t recall exactly when I settled on Painting by Numbers as the title for my debut novel. I was looking for something that was simple enough to remember and perhaps provided a play on words that reflected the multiplicity of the themes in the book. I think it was one of my first choices and I went round the houses a few times, but always returned to it. If you stop to think about, some of the most successful novels over the last 200 years or so have titles that are concise and somehow hard wire straight into the heart of the story – Think of The Great Gatsby, On the Road, The Grapes of Wrath, Pride and Prejudice - They all provide a microscopic and tempting snapshot of what lies behind the cover.

Once I had settled on the name, I checked to see if there were any other works of fiction that used the same title. To my surprise, I could only find one childrens’ book and a WIP by a second kids’ author. As my book is a dark, psychological thriller for adults, there was no potential conflict or confusion.

Finally, it was important to consider not only the phrase, but also the shape and design of the words and how they sit together on a cover. This is strange because sometimes a phrase can sound right but look all wrong when it’s written down, and the whole aesthetic of the cover could be damaged by choosing the wrong combination.


FINALIST – THE PEOPLE’S BOOK PRIZE - PAINTING BY NUMBERS – Tom Gillespie’s critically acclaimed, surreal thriller is available in digital and printed formats from    Amazon UK/Amazon US and all good online stores.

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6 Responses to On Writing – T is for Titles

  1. I always title my early drafts something like “The Untitled Great Canadian Novel” as a note to give it some good thought later on.

    I like how your approach is evocative first, pragmatic second. Sometimes people advise to choose the title the other way around.

  2. Larry Kollar says:

    Checking for similar titles was something drilled into me by my co-op partner. When I had “Chasing a Rainbow” as a working title for my fantasy, she had me do a Goodreads search to see how many hundreds of stories had that title.

    And, after yesterday’s installment, I’d have been sorely tempted to choose a different ‘T’ topic… >:-}

  3. Sheila Deeth says:

    I learned to check for titles after my novella “Black Widow” came out. But I forgot you need to check for similar titles too, so “Flower Child” still ends up listed behind lots of other unrelated books.

  4. Patricia H. says:

    I definitely buy a book on the title – alone!! The story must be labelled – and it must ring true* – otherwise I am not buying it. One author who is a great writer had some strange titles – I won’t name her – but still her books have sold for decades – so the next criteria is the writer and who she/he is. I won’t buy a book if the title is offensive, silly, or stupid or the writer looks like someone who has had a ‘bad hair day’ or just a sad life.

  5. Helen Howell says:

    Well my Jumping At Shadows seems to work perfectly for my fantasy novella and my second one I Know You Know also fits the bill but I agree titles can be the hardest thing about writing a book, short story or flash etc.

  6. I love your title actually.
    I’m gonna plump for ‘Lizzy’ and try to come up with a clever strapline

    Have you read any of it? Would love to hear your thoughts. V-Z are one story in parts :)

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