poetry and prose about place

writing a novel – choosing a working title

with 12 comments


So the poet has decided to write a novel…


Title: unknown

Working Title: unknown

Setting: an abandoned church (in part)

Characters: main character a writer

Plot: unknown


This is a first in my experience.  I have no working title for my book!

At the top of the first page of my text are the words ‘Chapter One’.  The file on my computer is called ‘Chapter One’.

Always, when I started a book in the past, I had the title firmly in my head, right from the start.  The title drove the book.  My previous books (not published, although I intend to dust them off someday) were called:

No Stone Unturned

Something the Sundial Said

How Her Garden Grew



Today, it is harder than ever to select a book title.  I challenge you to think of a simple title and then type it into Google.  Probably it has been used before.  The authoritative source for book titles already in use, of course, is Books in Print ®   (

A working title is useful.  A good working title frames the book in your mind and keeps the central idea firmly planted.   So far, I have written 24,000 words toward my novel and somewhere in there, I am sure a working title can be found.  I could tentatively call my book ‘saving the abandoned church’.  It won’t do for the final title since it sounds a little like a ‘how to’ book.

There are several approaches for selecting a final title for a book.

Some people choose part of a quote from a literary work.  Favorites of mine are: Ring of Bright Water (Gavin Maxwell) from The Marriage of Psyche by Kathleen Raine; Far From the Madding Crowd (Thomas Hardy) from Elegy in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray; The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side (Agatha Christie) from The Lady of Shalott by Alfred, Lord Tennyson; and Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck) from To a Mouse by Robert Burns.

Thomas Hardy, ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’, 1967 Edition, Airmont Publishing Company, Inc.

Some titles are from an important central idea in the book.  Blue Castle (L. M. Montgomery) is the name for the main character’s dreamworld, and in the end, she manages to find her fantasy world in real life.  Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier) is the name of a ‘first wife’,  whose memory haunts the protagonist (who is herself un-named).  The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame) is a reference to the enduring music of the river environment where Rat and Mole have their adventures.

Daphne du Maurier, ‘Rebecca’, 1938, Pocket Books, of Canada, Ltd.


Rachel Gardner, a literary agent, has some excellent advice on choosing a title for a book (  She begins by asking a writer to identify the genre of the book and then suggests working with a list of verbs, nouns and other words associated with the book’s theme, setting or characters.

I will follow her advice and see what titles suggest themselves.  I will be sure to let you know when I have chosen a final title!!!


Copyright Jane Tims 2012

Written by jane tims

November 28, 2012 at 7:02 am

12 Responses

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  1. So far, I have written 24,000 words toward my novel
    Congratulations Jane! that’s a lot of discipline. I never thought about the importance of a working title. So interesting.



    November 29, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    • Hi Rosie. I am trying to follow Stephen King’s advice of writing 2000 words per day. For me, that represents about 3 hours. Editing days, I get a lot less – sometimes it shrinks!!! Jane


      jane tims

      November 29, 2012 at 8:57 pm

  2. Interesting suggestion–Like Barbara I find it difficult to select titles. It tends to be the very last thing that I do in the writing process.



    November 29, 2012 at 12:19 am

    • Hi. The title is so important, it’s likely wise to wait until all the information is in before selecting a final title! Jane


      jane tims

      November 29, 2012 at 10:57 am

  3. I read the link to Rachel Gardner’s ideas about coming up with a good title for a book – very interesting. I have read sometimes about authors who were unhappy with the titles the publishers had chosen for their books. And I know of a songwriter who has a devil of a time coming up with titles for his songs. Looking forward to seeing what title you come up with!


    Barbara Rodgers

    November 28, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    • Hi Barbara. It will be a challenge, but I am hoping for inspiration to call. I’ll likely do a post at some point to show the results of following Rachel Gardner’s suggestions. Jane


      jane tims

      November 28, 2012 at 12:44 pm

  4. Great idea and I know what you mean about the title, it can colour the way you write the book. Sorry I haven’t responded lately, have been mostly offline for about a month or so, but just got the internet connection sorted (I hope!).



    November 28, 2012 at 8:09 am

    • Hi. Glad to hear from you again. I thought you were away helping market Milly’s book! The title is very important although I guess an editor can end up throwing it out anyway. Jane


      jane tims

      November 28, 2012 at 9:24 am

  5. I had trouble coming up with a working title for my novel as well. I ended up lying in bed, about to fall asleep, running through how my first scene was going to play out (I’ve only just started) and the title came to me through my protagonist’s dialogue.

    I hadn’t thought to look the title up to see if it had already been used, so I did that. Thankfully, there’s only one book – some sort of B-Grade vampire novel from 1995. Looks like I’m in the clear!

    Good luck with your search for a title!


    Kyra Bandte

    November 28, 2012 at 8:05 am

    • Hi. I hope you had pen and paper beside you to record the ideas you get just before you fall asleep. I think all elements of writing can be quite spontaneous. I am fairly at ease with waiting until the muse opens its mouth about the title. Have fun with your book. Jane


      jane tims

      November 28, 2012 at 9:22 am

  6. I have trouble selecting titles for anything I write, poetry, short stories and blog posts. Titles never come easily. It seems to be the hardest part for me. This post is intriguing and comforting. Thanks for all the suggestions about where to find information about titles. Maybe this will make the whole process easier. Best wishes with finding your novel’s title.


    Carol Steel

    November 28, 2012 at 7:39 am

    • Hi Carol. Thanks for the comments. I’m glad you found this helpful. Jane


      jane tims

      November 28, 2012 at 9:19 am

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