How To Select A Title For Your Book

I recently watched those who stopped by my book signing at a Borders store.  I watched them pick up my book, look at it and then read the back cover with a summary of the plot.  I tried to pay close attention to what they found interesting enough about my book “Expiation” to pick it up and consider buying it.

Among the comment I heard was “I really like your cover.”  I think covers are very important.  I love the cover design of “Expiation.”  It shows a man and a woman standing side-by-side looking at the fog shrouded Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.  It is mostly blue and black which is consistent with the vibe I wanted to capture in “Expiation.”  It was foggy and wet days in San Francisco and Seattle.  If you asked me “what color” my book is, I would have said black, gray and blue.  I thought the cover perfectly captured that mood.  Two people standing in the fog, seemingly lost in their own world, insulated, just for a moment from all of the turmoil around them.

Other potential buyers also asked “what does Expiation mean?”  That is a question I am often asked.  Expiation means to make amends, to redeem yourself for a wrong doing among other things.  The process I went through to choose the title “Expiation” was interesting.

I wanted to write a story about a man who made some mistakes.  He inadvertently hurt someone he loved.  Then Dan gets a second chance.  A chance to reclaim a long lost love and make amends.  I couldn’t call the book “Redemption” or “Atonement.”  There are many books by that title.   I discovered the word “Expiation.”  It perfectly captured the concept I was after and it is also an interesting word.  It makes an interesting title.

I had the same experience when I was writing my first novel “Sunbreaks.”  I really hadn’t chosen a title yet and I was about halfway through the writing of the story.  “Sunbreaks” is the story of a man who loses his wife in a tragic car accident.  His life becomes lonely and dreary.  Then he meets a woman named Erika who brings him back to life.

The story takes place in Portland, Oregon.  “Sunbreaks” is a term most people who live in Portland or Seattle would recognize.  It is often used in describing the weather.  The Northwest has many cloudy, gray and gloomy days.  Then the gloom is broken by “sunbreaks” when the sun breaks through the clouds.  Everyone is bathed in the warm of the sun, even if it is only for a little while.

It suddenly occurred to me that Erika was the “sunbreak” in Tom’s gloomy life. Hence the title.

Now I am working on a third book.  It is about a man who suffers some unexpected and devastating events which disrupt his seemingly “great life.”  The character in my third book, Marc, has a great wife, a successful career, two good kids who are about to leave the nest.  Suddenly, there are unexpected events which derail his well ordered life.  I ran across a quote which said “the only certainty in life is uncertainty.”   When something unexpected happens to us, we tend to say that the event has introduced uncertainty into our life.   The reality is that the uncertainty has been there in our life all along.  There can be sudden reversals of fortune, marriages can break up, jobs can be lost and friends can forsake us.

The title of my third book will be “The Illusion of Certainty.”   Hopefully the readers in 2011 will find this title intriguing.


About gregmessel

I've written six novels and am working on a seventh. My first three novels were "Expiation," "Sunbreaks" and "The Illusion of Certainty." I'm now working on a series of mysteries set in San Francisco in the 1950s. In 2008, I retired from corporate life and so I can spend more time writing. I spent over ten years in the newspaper business. I now live on Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, just north of downtown Seattle.
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