Brainstorming a brilliant title

June 14, 2009 · 28 comments

A friend recently asked me, “When you find the right title, will it hit you over the head? Will you just know?”

I hope so, because I haven’t felt smacked by one yet. That’s why I’m turning to you: Wanna help brainstorm a title for my travel memoir?

You’ll first need to know what my book is about. (That’s easy for loyal readers of my travel blog.)

Some titles have automatic resonance, which means the reader understands automatically what the book is about. In other words, the title is self-explanatory. Others don’t acquire resonance until after you’ve read the book. I’ll use Eat, Pray, Love as an example because it’s the same genre as my book and many of you have probably read it. When I first picked up the book, I had no idea what the title meant. It wasn’t until after I read her story, and understood that each of those words represented a leg of her journey, that the title had meaning for me.

Why does this matter? Because thinking about titles through these prisms has helped me understand what might work for my book. As I’ve explained in previous posts, I’d like my subtitle to be something like, A woman’s solo journey through Africa. Since that explains the essence of my travel memoir, the main title can have either automatic or acquired resonance.

Several scenes in particular seem like they would lend themselves to a title with acquired resonance, including a few I described on my travel blog: Seeing a bright Milky Way in rural Cameroon; celebrating in that same Cameroonian village when I offer the gift of school; making a special delivery in Madagascar.

Some ideas in my brainstorming file with that don’t quite work:

  • Bush Taxi Adventures: A woman’s solo journey through Africa
  • Madame or Mademoiselle? (too complicated, readers of this blog decided)
  • In Search of Pizza (too light-hearted, though I like the idea of a funny title)
  • My Mozzie Net and Me
  • Bumpy Roads
  • Milky Way Meanderings
  • Dancing with Glowsticks
  • Please Send Pants
  • FuFu for Breakfast
  • African skies (too close to Under African Skies)
  • The Path Left by the Moon
  • Digesting Africa

You get the idea. Plenty of authors wait until they’ve written their entire book to come up with a title, and I may end up doing that. But for now, brainstorming is where it’s at.

So throw your ideas out there! Drop them in the comments section below. Even titles that aren’t perfect, like the ones listed above, help get my brain juices flowing.

What should I title my book?

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Alexis Grant June 14, 2009 at 8:49 am

Got some cool suggestions via Facebook:

Traveling Solo, Not Alone: A woman’s journey through Africa
Traveling Solo, Not Alone: A woman’s journey across Africa
Traveling Solo, Not Alone: One woman’s journey across Africa
Traveling Solo, Not Alone: One woman’s voyage through Africa
Traveling Solo, Not Alone: One woman’s voyage across Africa

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David Hunter Shaw June 14, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Walking Distance, One Woman’s Journey Through Africa

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Elizabeth S. Craig June 14, 2009 at 1:45 pm

Good luck with this! I’m trying to think up several titles right now and it’s not going well—brain is stalling out, apparently.

I like a lot of the title ideas you had, but I know it’s important to project the right image (not too light-hearted, not too confusing, not too serious….)

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

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Peggy June 14, 2009 at 2:19 pm

I love Dancing with Glowsticks because it has a romantic feel and makes me curious. Also like Please Send Pants if your book is funny. These titles each seem to indicate a very different book. I think you’ll want the title to reflect the style of writing inside. Digesting Africa kind of sounds like it will be about eating bugs or something, lol. Can you come up with something clever such as Have (insert intriguing African word here) will Travel? My agent told me that publishers may very well change the title anyway. Just so you know! But a great title will surely catch attention. Your subtitle is perfect!
Peggy

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Alexis Grant June 14, 2009 at 2:45 pm

Thanks Peggy! These are all good ideas…

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Kristina June 21, 2009 at 9:49 pm

I agree with Peggy. I love both Dancing with Glowsticks and Please Send Pants. Both make me want to read every word.

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Stephen Tremp June 14, 2009 at 8:01 pm

The only two that resonated with me are the ones Peggy identified: Dancing With Glowsticks and Please Send Pants.

Sub-titles are tricky to master. I have a subtitle for Breakthrough – The Adventures of Chase Manhattan. I didn’t like it, but I asked the dozen or so people who read my manuscript before it went to print about it, and they all said to keep it. So I did.

– Steve Tremp
Breakthrough Blogs

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Enid Wilson June 15, 2009 at 6:53 am

I acutally like to use the Rhyming Dictionary to find titles. How about something along the line…
– Vistas of Africa
– Auras of Africa

In Quest of Theta Magic

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Alexis Grant June 15, 2009 at 8:16 am

Thanks for the ideas, everyone!

Also got a note on Twitter by someone who liked The Path Left by the Moon, but worried it didn’t tell the reader enough. I like that one, too.

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Jane Kennedy Sutton June 15, 2009 at 8:30 am

How about something like My Purse is a Backpack?

JaneKennedySutton

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Karen Walker June 15, 2009 at 9:38 am

I don’t have any great ideas, Alexis, but I’ll mull over it. Out of the ones listed, I like Please send Pants – with your subtitle, it works really well and grabs reader attention right away – makes me want to open the cover and see what it’s about.
Karen Walker

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Alexis Grant June 15, 2009 at 11:40 am

Yet another friend likes Please Send Pants… But I still think my actual title isn’t in the list above. Getting there, though!

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Peggy June 15, 2009 at 2:05 pm

I’d love your title to have an African flavor. You mentioned that one of your themes is being a strong, independent woman. What is something in Africa that represents something strong and independent to you? You could weave that into a lovely and significant title.
Peggy

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Alexis Grant June 15, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Good prompts… Thinking on it…

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NA Sharpe June 15, 2009 at 7:02 pm

Titles are tough. I don’t know…maybe something like
Marching to a Different Beat: My African Adventure
(probably too long)

(I like Please Send Pants but it doesn’t tell the reader what it’s about)

Nancy, from Just a Thought…

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Alexis Grant June 15, 2009 at 7:31 pm

From Kate… Good one here…

How about:

Ticket for One
A woman’s solo journey through Africa

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Alexis Grant June 15, 2009 at 7:34 pm

I like this suggestion from Kate… Maybe switch it to:

Space for One
Seat for One
Squeeze In One more

because I was riding in so many bush taxis!

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Patricia Stoltey June 16, 2009 at 3:11 am

Was there something universal and different about the women in Africa, maybe a cultural characteristic that you could tie to your own experience. I keep thinking of “Three Cups of Tea” where the author takes one element of primitive tribal culture and makes it the focus of the book as well as the title.

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Ally June 16, 2009 at 6:11 pm

Lexi,

I liked “please send pants” It made me smile. Alot of your blogs had a light and funny feel to them so I assume your book is taking the same path. I thought the craziest and most significant thing about your story was that you quit your job (in this economy!) to dream and travel.. so I think a good title would be

“Your doing What??”
-A womans solo journey thru Africa

…because Im sure thats the reaction you got everytime you told someone of your plan :-) Something along those lines.

It would also be cool if you refernced TX for an instant fanbase of Texans. ie

From Texas to Timbuktu
-A womans solo journey thru Africa.

Thats all I got. But hey Im a biologist not a writer!
Good luck. I cant wait to buy the book

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Alexis Grant June 16, 2009 at 6:14 pm

Ally — these are great ideas! I was actually toying with the idea of:

Are You Crazy?
A woman’s solo journey through Africa

I love From Texas to Timbuktu

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Carrie June 16, 2009 at 6:22 pm

I don’t think you can reference Texas unless you have a whole prologue period where you are in Texas in the book. Or if, during your trip, you spent a lot of time thinking about how African is different from Texas. On the thread of “Please Send Pants” — is there a “please send pants” anecdote in the book? Or, what is the defining anecdote of this memoir? What is the ONE anecdote you talk about the most when you are in that “cocktail party” situation, that encapsulates the feel of the memoir and the journey itself. Then, make that the title. Could be “Please Send Pants” if THAT was the defining anecdote. Could be something else. “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed Along with Our Families” takes its titles from the DEFINING anecdote (via a letter) of that book. “Don’t Lets Go to the Dogs tonight” uses the same idea. So it could be a quote or something someone said during the DEFINING ANECDOTE. I think you get my drift. Carrie

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Alexis Grant June 16, 2009 at 6:42 pm

Carrie,

The people who liked Please Send Pants were avid readers of my travel blog, they knew that my only pair of pants got stolen and I had a hell of a time getting another pair. But that’s not a meaningful enough anecdote prompt to serve as a title, in my opinion.

OK, so thinking about my DEFINING ANECDOTE.

Thanks for chiming in!
Lexi

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Andrea June 16, 2009 at 8:10 pm

Lexi, I love that you’re getting so many great suggestions!

I love “Please Send Pants” and “Traveling solo, not alone” and “Dancing with glow sticks.”

One of the most grabbing titles I’d ever heard was the one we learned about in Paris, in 2004.

“Anyone Here Been Raped and Speaks English?”

(Do you remember that? It was about journalism in a war zone.)

So, your title could be a quote. :)

Love AJ

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Heather June 17, 2009 at 4:11 pm

HAHA – I love “Please Send Pants.” It definitely made me laugh out loud. That’s probably my favorite so far!

Good luck, I’ll keep brainstorming.
– Heather

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Ami June 18, 2009 at 8:23 pm

These are all great ideas. I have a hard time with titles, too. I like the idea of mining your stories for an overarching theme or defining moment. I also think coming up with something that embodies the strength of African women (or your own strength) would work really well.

Good luck, and I’ll let you know if I come up with anything!

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Karen Brees June 19, 2009 at 10:55 am

Please Send Pants – my favorite so far, although the title also needs (imho) some reference to Africa for this to work.

Put it on subconscious auto pilot and let it marinate. You’ll probably wake up at 2 A.M. screaming “Eureka!!”

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Jordan McCollum June 19, 2009 at 6:52 pm

I have the toughest time with titles. For my novels, I often just refer to them by the main characters’ names until I settle on something. Which I change. Often.

Anyhoo, my favorite way to find resonance is to take common phrases (famous titles, axioms, Bible phrases, etc.) and put a twist on them. So like, maybe Into Africa (instead of Out of Africa). That’d still need a subtitle, since there are a couple books by that name.

Good luck!

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Alexis Grant June 22, 2009 at 8:50 am

From Ali G:

Woven Wanderlust: A woman’s solo exploration of Africa.

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