Naming your book and how Diary of a Penguin-napper came to be

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When I have been tentatively mentioning to people I know that I’ve got a book coming out (in November, by the way, since we’re on the topic), one of the first things I’m asked is, “Well, what’s it called?” When I tell them that it is called Diary of a Penguin-napper, they smile and sometimes even laugh, then ask me more about it.

This, to me, is an ideal reaction.

Firstly, because it is a book that is meant to make people smile and laugh, so the title clearly fits with the genre and gets people in the mood for the book they are, hopefully, in the future, about to read.

Secondly, it is a title that is interesting enough to make people want to know more about it.  It hints at what the book is going to be about and in the style in which the story will be presented.

And thirdly, because it is memorable.  People seem to love the fact that I’ve taken two words – penguin and kidnapper – and shoved them together to make a new one.  At the end of conversations, people tell me that they’re going to keep an eye out for my ‘Penguin-napper’ book on Amazon.

Now, before we go any further, I have to tell you a little secret. Diary of a Penguin-napper wasn’t always the name of the my book.  That has only been the title for the past year.  Don’t get me wrong, the previous title wasn’t bad.  It was catchy, worked well with the story and even had some alliteration (I love alliteration, but that is a whole other blog post.)

But about 12 months ago, I showed my manuscript to a friend who both owns a children’s bookshop and is a writer for children herself.  One of the suggestions that she made was to change the format slightly, from a recount (from 21 days earlier to the present) into a diary format. Her reason for this is that the diary-style might make the manuscript more attractive to publishers, as it is very ‘in’ at the moment. Acting on her advice, I adjusted my manuscript and then realised that the new format really needed a new, more representative title to go with it.  And so Diary of a Penguin-napper was born.

There are a couple of things that I really love about the writing process and one of those is coming up with a title for a new book.  In fact, I often come up with the name for the book as my starting point and then write the story that would go with that title.

If you’re stuck trying to come up with ideas for your book title, here are a few tips for how to get started:

  • Look at other books in the same genre.  You’re not going to copy them (obviously, because that would be bad), but you might well be inspired.  I wouldn’t spend too long looking or you won’t be able to think about anything other than what you’ve already seen out there!
  • Brainstorm key words connected to your book, including characters names, themes and settings.  Does one word keep coming back to you?  Look it up in the thesaurus. Or try rhyming, onomatopoeia or alliteration with it to create a title.
  • Be playful with words.  Is there a common turn of phrase that you could twist to fit with your book?  Could you put two words together to create a new idea? (such as Freakonomics)
  • Ask your target audience.  When I’m not a writer, work as a primary teacher, so I’m always on the lookout for funny things kids say to me or things that are popular with them to use in my stories.  I love to test out parts of a story on my classes and gauge their reaction, so why not let your target audience read some of your book and put forward their ideas for possible titles.
  • Google your potential title and see what comes up. Is there already a book with that title out there? Are the search results the kind of thing that you’d like to see your book sitting amongst?

I’d love to hear about how you come up with book title ideas?  Do you find it easy or difficult?  And how important do you think the right name is to the success of a book?  Leave your comments below!

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