27 February 2013

“the trouble with titles”: coming up with a title for your chapbook

The Our Lost Jungle Chapbook Challenge: "Titles"
We’re almost done with this challenge, folks, and what a journey it’s been! So far this month we’ve gotten a great deal of work organized and sorted, selected a theme(s) for our chapbooks, organized those contents, and began some of the work of formatting our work. There’s one thing we have not yet discussed, however … and that is the topic of titling our chapbooks!

Coming up with a title for any collection of work is never an easy task. There are so many things to consider, and for many of us, as writers, the task can prove even more difficult than trying to create the chapbook in the first place! Just as there is a great deal of importance placed on the first pages of a chapbook, we also know that those aren’t the first things any potential reader will see of our collection. Beyond the stress of finding the perfect cover art (which is not a part of this challenge … covers come later in the process for our purposes), we must face the challenge of generating the perfect title to captivate and intrigue our readers.

Fortunately there are many options for selecting your title. We’ll review just a few of them, but rest assured, there are many, many more!

title from within

If you are working in prose, read through an editing draft of your work and, with a pencil, pen, or highlighter, start marking lines or phrases that stand out to you. It’s okay to be a little “vain” here: be honest with lines, sentences, or phrases you’ve written that you really love. If you don’t trust yourself, have a friend, fellow writer, or beta reader work their way through your work and do the same. Once you have a list of phrases gathered, start working through it and see if you can’t discover within it the perfect (or, at the very least, close to “perfect”) title for your chapbook.

title from a title

Many authors will select a title by “borrowing” it from a title of a piece in the collection. Skim through your collection and see if a title of a piece doesn’t stand out as one that adequately summarizes what your chapbook is “all about,” so to speak. Or, take the title of a piece that you simply like, a well-known piece, or a piece that you know is popular among other readers. In regards to the last suggestion, ask friends or writing- or artist-colleagues you trust if any of your titles stand out as particularly strong or intriguing. Or, round up some beta readers and get their opinions! Remember, you are looking to captivate readers … so having the feedback of some beta readers may be very helpful!

title from without

Think about the theme of your chapbook collection. Do a search for quotes related to that theme, and see if any phrases stand out to you. I promise, you won’t be the first author to use a phrase either from a quote or borrowing from a popular “catchphrase,” slogan, quote, or saying. Of course, if you borrow a title from someone else, you will want to make sure to give credit to the source.

title from the blue

Welcome back to the realm of fairy tale. Just as “Bippity, boppity, boo” is a made-up phrase that gained its magical appeal through the imagination of whoever created it (and the imaginations of those who fell in love with it), your imagination is a wealth of possible titles. Read through your chapbook a few times and let your theme, topics, and ideas really sink it. If anything pops into your head as you read, write it down. If you’re taking a stroll in the country or through downtown or to the mailbox and something comes to you, rush your way to some paper and write it down. If you’re dreaming and a phrase comes to you, wake yourself up and write it down!

However you choose your title, just keep in mind that, for now, it’s a changeable thing. An editor who loves your work will (hopefully) be willing to work with you to “improve” the title if it needs it. If you have three titles in mind you can, as you submit, play with those three and use them for different contests, publishers, and so forth.

Your task for the rest of this week is to think about your title. Come up with a few ideas, but don’t feel the need to “settle.” On Friday, we’ll discuss “what comes next” in this challenge, and you’ll want to have at least an idea of what your title might be by then … but nothing is final yet! Have fun with it, and feel free to share your title-generation-method in the comments below!


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Join in the Our Lost Jungle Chapbook ("CB") Challenge!


  1. One you might want to add is: restate the theme

    1. That's another good one, Barbara! Using the theme as the title is a great idea (especially as it saves from some of the stress of trying to come up with something on the spot)!


Thank you so much for your comments! Please feel free to share your thoughts here; I look forward to engaging in conversation with you!

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