The first was just prior to my debut book being published. I’d phoned a book shop to enquire about events and on hearing the name of the story alone, the seller proceeded to tell me that my book would never sell. Apparently, the title would put parents off buying it, and children off reading it, too!
MYTH NUMBER 1: DO NOT INCLUDE WORDS CHILDREN WON’T UNDERSTAND
The seller had, and still has, a very valid point. Your writing needs to be carefully matched to the age of your target readership. However, there is also an argument for using stories to explore and extend a child’s language and understanding of concepts. Indeed, it could even be the selling point. Baby 101’s series of books, including ‘Architecture for Babies’ and ‘Economics for Babies’ are good examples.
I'm actually glad I stuck with my title. The picture book in question, ‘Aerodynamics of Biscuits,’ (illustrated by Sophia Touliatou) has been reprinted twice, turned into a theatre show and was runner up in the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award. There’s also a brand new edition coming in 2020! My advice would always be to make sure your writing is appropriate for your age of reader, but if there’s an opportunity for more complex vocabulary to be embedded and explored, don’t be put off including it.
I thought it might be interesting to unpick some further myths about titles.
MYTH NUMBER 2: KEEP IT SHORT, SNAPPY AND SUCCINT
It’s generally advised that your titles should be short, snappy and succinct. Shorter titles leave more room on the cover for bigger font. Also, since picture books tend to sell on concept, a title can act as a mini pitch, communicating the concept to readers and buyers.
However, long titles can be memorable and distinctive. I love the title of Emma Perry’s debut picture book, illustrated by Sharon Davey. It’s a longer one, coming in at 8 words, but it communicates all the voice, character and concept I need to want to read it! (Unfortunately, I’ve got to wait until it publishes later in the year). Here’s another example that’s a whopping 10 words long!
Of course, if your picture book manuscript has an overly long title, it could suggest that story is too vague or too complicated. Interestingly in Time’s list of 100 best-selling children’s books, the average length of the picture book titles was 3-4 words long.
MYTH NUMBER 3: DO NOT USE CHARACTER NAMES
Character names can be short, but the worry is that they give very little information about story. The risk is that you fail to hook your readers. If my story with Olivier Tallec, How Rude! had been named after the characters, Dot and Duck, you could argue it wouldn’t have been as strong a title. Titles are a promise to the reader; of humour, adventure or something else. So don’t miss out on the opportunity to sell your story.
However, I do think it is possible to name books after characters, especially if the names give us a lot to go on. Take something like the Little Miss and Mr Men stories, for example. Similarly, titles like Supertato work because the characters have great names that are also the concept! If your character's name is the USP, why not use it?
MYTH NUMBER 4: WORD PLAY, RHYME AND ALLITERATION DON'T TRANSLATE
It can be tricky to translate puns, rhymes and phrases from English into other languages, which could be an argument to avoid them in titles. However, that’s not to say it can’t be done.
Perhaps the title would work in enough English-speaking territories to make the project financially viable anyway? Or maybe the publisher would change the title to something else when any co-editions are translated?
Lucy Rowland talks more about this in her post for Picture Book Den, ‘What’s in a Title?’ Her story with Ben Mantle, ‘Little Red Reading Hood,’ relies on word play, but yet here it is translated into French! https://picturebookden.blogspot.com/2018/08/tips-for-titles-whats-in-name-by-lucy.html
MYTH NUMBER 5: YOU CAN’T USE A TITLE THAT’S ALREADY BEEN TAKEN
I had to seek some advice on this one! But I guess the bottom line is that books with the same titles do exist. However, you’d probably want to be as original as possible. If you did use a title that had already been published, you’d certainly want the subject of the texts to be suitably different to avoid confusion. You wouldn’t want to duplicate a title if it had been published recently, either.
It would also be important to check that the title wasn’t under copyright. Whilst I believe that, generally speaking, it isn’t possible to copyright a title since it is considered ‘a short slogan,’ some concepts and characters are copyrighted. You wouldn’t be able to include Rudolph, for example, without seeking the relevant permissions. More about this here.
I hope these thoughts are useful when naming your texts! Don’t underestimate the impact of a great title. It can be the difference between someone picking up your book …and not. I’ve heard that picture books can and have sold on titles alone, if they’re that good. Contrary to the popular idiom ‘Don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ – we do! The title will be one of your most important selling points, so spend time getting it right.
Now it’s your turn!
Which are your favourite picture book titles and why?