…Authors… looking for a good title?… Tony McManus has some tips for yeez…

…my irrepressible scribbling pal, Tony McManus has unearthed more fascinating gems regarding  book titles… have a wee peek…





“…that which we call the rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” Shakespeare reminds us. And it’s true of most things in the world, but not in the world of books; especially fiction. Here’s my take on things.

Ernest Hemingway believed a title should have magic. I’ll buy that. A dull title can kill an otherwise good book. An inspiring one can help make it a best seller. In my view, a title should at least hint at the genre and tone of the work. It should be intriguing. It should also be unique; a writer should always check his title against existing works. Type your title into a search engine or Amazon.com and you’ll get to know if your title is original or someone has beaten you to it. I’ve often found several books carrying the same title, so beware.

It may be a single word such as: Retribution, Poison, Vengeance, or two: Bangkok Retribution, Poison Harvest, or a complete sentence: Vengeance Wears Black. It should not be too long as it does seem that short titles work best.

In 1924, a young writer sent off the manuscript of a novel to the publishing house, Charles Scribner’s Sons entitled Trimalchio in West Egg. The editor abhorred the title and suggested the author make a change. The writer came back with several other titles, all getting the thumbs down. They finally settled on The Great Gatsby. A good move don’t you think?

Though not a book of fiction, as a young anthropology student I was introduced to Bronisław Malinowski’s great work: Argonauts of the Western Pacific; a terrific title that. But it could easily have been called: An Ethnography of the People of the Trobriand Islands in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea because that was what it was. Which is the better title?

It’s said that you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. And the word coming in from agents and editors is that a book’s title is the best impression of your work and of you as an author. It’s a manuscript’s title that first captures the publishing house editor’s interest. More than a book’s cover, it’s the title on the spine that impels the bookstore browser to reach out for a book and take it down. And then, if he or she likes the cover and the publisher’s blurb, perhaps buy.

Book titles have always fascinated me. For awhile, I wondered how great writers came up with their inspiring titles. Hemingway, for example, who gave us:

For Whom The Bell Tolls

   A Farewell To Arms

   The Sun Also Rises

And what vision inspired John Steinbeck to create:

East of Eden                

   The Grapes of Wrath

   In Dubious Battle

Then I discovered the mundane truth. They purloined them. They swiped, high-jacked or borrowed them. Take a look.

For Whom The Bell Tolls       Meditation XVII, John Donne

A Farewell To Arms              A Farewell to Arms, George Peele

The Sun Also Rises              Ecclesiastes 1:5

East of Eden                     Genesis 4:16

The Grapes of Wrath              The Battle Hymn of the Republic, Julia Ward Howe

   In Dubious Battle                 Paradise Lost, John Milton

Scott Fitzgerald took Tender is the Night from John Keats poem Ode to a Nightingale. Thackeray got Vanity Fair from John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. James Jones’ first novel: From Here to Eternity was a bestseller, received critical acclaim and won him a National Book Award. Based on his Second World War experiences, it and was made into a successful film starring Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr. Frank Sinatra made a hit record of the theme song. It made Jones rich and set him on the path of literary success. But it was Rudyard Kipling who supplied the title:

Gentlemen-rankers out on a spree,

Damned from here to Eternity,

God ha’ mercy on such as we.

The list of writers who outsourced in this manner is endless and includes Somerset Maugham, George Bernard Shaw, Eugene O’Neil, Aldous Huxley, William Faulkner and so many more.

So fear not. If you’re stuck, just remember that the works of Shakespeare, dead writers and poets and the St. James Bible have proved a mine field for the writer seeking a good title. Writers have even been known to take a well-known phrase or verse and move the words around. David Halberstam did this with his Pulitzer Prize winning book The Best and the Brightest, the title of which he borrowed from Heber’s hymn.

Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,

Dawn on our darkness, and lend us thine aid;

So, if finding a title for your novel is proving difficult go ahead and check out the Bard, ransack the Bible and dig into some old literature and poetical works. You’re in great company.

Would I do it? Would I steal a line from a Shakespeare Sonnet or a poem of Byron’s? Would I lift a quote from Ecclesiastes or Genesis for a book title? You betcha. And with no qualms at all I should add. In fact, I’m doing it now.

The novel I’m presently working on, an adventure thriller once called: The Company of Men has now been re-titled: The Sum of Things. I’ve “borrowed” it from a poem by Houseman:

These, in the day when heaven was falling,

The hour when earth’s foundations fled,

 Followed their mercenary calling,                                                

And took their wages, and are dead.


Their shoulders held the sky suspended;

They stood, and earth’s foundations stay;

What God abandoned, these defended,

And saved the sum of things for pay.


Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries

A.E. Housman

It could be that further down the path I’ll change it again. But that’s how it stands at the moment. Cheers, and good title hunting.

Tony McManus

Chiang Mai


Tony McManus was born in Manchester, England. He worked in many jobs to serve his passion for travel such as English teacher, bar tender, taxi driver, and in southern Africa, construction work in the Transvaal goldmines and the copper mines of Zambia. Tony pursues and advocates good health, via diet and exercise. An outdoorsman, sailor, kayaker and canoeist, he also loves hiking, cross country skiing and snowshoeing.

He is the author of an espionage novel: The Iran Deception based on his time in Israel. He recently published: Down And Out In The Big Mango, a collection of short stories set in Thailand. He resides alternately in Chiang Mai, Thailand and Ste. Adele, Quebec, Canada.

He can be found at: http://downeastern.wix.com/tonymcmanuswriter

Or via his email: downeastern@hotmail.com

Tony is the author of a novel: The Iran Deception. http://amzn.to/1Ppb45P

And a short story compilation: Down and Out in the Big Mango.

On Amazon. http://amzn.to/1FetYVl

Books Mango. http://bit.ly/1ROSkhq


He has published several short stories:

Ray: http://amzn.to/1Ge6jq9

A Bangkok Solution: http://amzn.to/1HpWSzi

A Partner in Crime: http://amzn.to/1ENZpn2

The Bangkok SAS: http://amzn.to/1d5cVMb

He is presently working on two crime novels: Bangkok Retribution, the first book in a series featuring sleuth Mike Villiers.

And The Sum of Things in a series featuring ex SAS hero, James Fallon.

With luck and hard work, he expects both novels to see publication before the year’s end.

…see yeez later… LUV YEEZ!



Filed under Blether, Scribbling & Stuff

31 responses to “…Authors… looking for a good title?… Tony McManus has some tips for yeez…

  1. Great food for thought! I’m wondering if I should rename my books. I’m wondering if it’s possible to rename your books if you self-publish on Createspace…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think coming up with a title was actually harder than writing the book. We went through numerous titles for my book, until we came up with From Cornflakes to Eternity. I like The Sum of All Things – has a nice ring to it!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great tips here. And I like The Sum of Things – good title!! I’m going to favorite this post and remember it as I work on my third book (of which I can’t seem to come up with a good title). Maybe I better go find the bible – I know I have one somewhere around here… ;-0


  4. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    No more excuses for not having GREAT BOOK TITLES – THANK YOU TONY and Seumas 👍😃

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Very interesting post Tony and Seumas this is currently on my mind as I’m considering my title name for my manuscript.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on Author Matt Bowes and the Dog's Breakfast and commented:
    Say… I did this with the name of celtic band I started up a few years back. “What’re we going to call ourselves?” One of the members was memorizing Richard III’s soliloquy so I took a look at it, and then found the title about 20 lines in: “I am not meant for these sportive tricks,” he says. Sportive Tricks was born. (And now all its success comes from the current members, not my paltry contribution in the beginning.)

    I hadn’t thought to do this with a book title. Freakin’ brilliant.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great advice, Tony. I’ve heard similar advice before, but it’s always good to hear it again to help a writer remember. Thanks for sharing Tony and Seumas. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. That’s fascinating. I already steal character names from grave stones so why not?


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