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THIS QUESTION HAS BEEN EDITED: KEEPS ORIGINAL TITLE TO MAKE SENSE OF EXISTING ANSWERS, BUT I'M ADDING THE FOLLOWING: I do somewhat regret choosing "farmers" as my fake title, since most people probably aren't curious about farmers. It may be too late to change now, but "The Citizens", "The Habitants" are closer to my own. These are titles/groups of people, that you would not connect to certain traits, which would make it 'odd' that a book used them for their title - Thus making it more obvious that there's more to it. I may have shot myself in the foot using "farmers"


I will work around using my actual title, since that makes it less of a personal "fix my writing"-issue and more of a general issue.

Here's the situation; After reading this question and the top-voted answer to another title-related question, I started thinking. Here's the (potential) issue: (Copied from top-voted answer, let me know if inappropriate)

[...] The first thing to keep in mind is that most readers will decide to buy or pass on your book based on the title alone. Rightly or wrongly, that's what happens. That means that you need to put your marketing hat on when you write your title. You can put it on backwards like the cool kids do, but always remember that the entire reason your title exists is to sell your book. Think to yourself: Out of all of the books in a real or virtual bookstore what is the one title I can choose that will at least make someone stop and take a closer look? (Yes, yes, you're an artist not a businessperson. I know. Let's just say there's a reason the phrase starving artist exists, shall we?)
With that in mind, the first rule is that titles should be interesting, original, memorable and appropriate above everything else. If your book is funny, then the title should be funny. If your book is dark, then the title should be dark. If it's for kids, don't give it an adult title. If you're writing a romance novel, don't make it sound like it's science fiction. [...]

This made a lot of sense to me, so I started thinking. I've been pretty sure about the title of my novel for almost as long as I can remember working on the story, but it may be lacking in some of the areas mentioned above.

This is where I use a random title - almost identical in style, content, theme and so on. This could very well be my title, but it's not:

The Farmers (Alternatively "In Agricolas" internationally, Latin - quick Google Translate)

The novel is a science-fiction story set in today's world. The title of the book refers to a certain (to the new reader yet unknown) group of people within society, that have access to/use "fantastical/futuristic" technologies and science-based knowledge, that is unaccessible to the average population. "The farmers" would be the name that people use when they refer to this group of people, but it is not necessarily how they refer to them self (probably not, since they want to remain unknown). Originally, the title is supposed to be subtle and not give away anything important about the content of story. If we meet farmers in the story, the reader would not suspect or figure out that another group of people go under the same name, and only discover the "fantastical/futuristic" content as it occurs in the natural flow of the story. The story is heavily based on actual science, and should therefore remain believable to the highest extend possible.

Pre-question:

Now, should the author simply trust that potential readers spot the title at think "huh, that's an odd title for a book in the science-fiction section", or would they need a recommendation from someone who actually read, to pick it up?

The author of course expects the completed novel to be amazing, but word of mouth can only do so much... [No data here]

Actual question:

Should the author attempt to make the title more interesting/revealing in itself, even though the subtleness/camouflage is a part of the story, or should he trust the original feeling that it was a suitable title?

Bonus: Adding to the secrecy of the group of people in the story - any web searches or everyday discussions about "farmers" would give a multitude of standard results/answers helping to maintain the unawareness of the story's content. Let me know if this makes no sense when trying to sell a novel.

I've considered adding a character's part to the title like this:

The Farmers: Adrian's Discovery

... or something along those lines. However, the simplicity of "The Farmers" personally is appreciated.

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    I imagine Latin is going to appeal to a sci-fi audience, so In Agricolas is going to make me perk up faster than The Farmers. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Mar 20 '17 at 21:49
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    Your editor/publisher will have plenty to say about your title if you can secure someone. So I wouldn't fret over it unless you think your title is the reason people aren't responding to your work. – Kirk Mar 20 '17 at 21:50
  • I am nowhere near dealing with people not responding to my work, since I'm quite early in the actual writing. I still thought the question could be relevant for others and myself eventually. And thank you @LaurenIpsum . – storbror Mar 20 '17 at 21:54
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    The title doesn't have to say what the book is about. It just has to make people want to pick up the book. For example, nobody knows what the Hunger Games are until after they read the book, yet it's still a good title. – FlyingPiMonster Mar 20 '17 at 21:54
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    The more or less oxymoronic juxtaposition may attract desired attention: The Farmers: Silicone Harvest/Steel Crop or something like that–if you wish to expand on the farming metaphor. – Lew Mar 21 '17 at 13:59
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I absolutely agree with the quote you include.

IMHO, a title should give a clue what the book is about so that someone looking for a book can quickly tell from the title that this is a book that might be interesting to him.

If I was browsing in a bookstore or on Amazon or whatever and I saw a book titled, "Farmers", my first thought would be that this is a book about people who grow crops for a living. I'd guess that farming is not a subject that particularly interests most science fiction fans. So I think most would stroll right past. Okay, if it was in the science fiction section maybe I would indeed say, "Why is a book about farmers in science fiction?" Maybe that would make me curious enough to take a second look. Maybe.

But at the other extreme, consider Heinlein's title, "The Man Who Sold the Moon". From that title I instantly assume that it is probably near-future science fiction and something about business or marketing.

Let's see, another book I read recently was called "Timepiece". As it was in the science fiction section, I (correctly) assumed it was about time travel. That's not a lot, but at least a hint.

At the other extreme, I often see movie listings where the title is just a character's name: "Julia", "Hancock", "Forrest Gump", etc. This tells me absolutely nothing about the subject. (Unless it's the name of a famous person, like "Einstein" or "Julius Caesar", etc.) Maybe if the marketing for the movie is good enough I'll hear what it's about and be interested. But if you don't have a multi-million dollar marketing budget, I think such a title would be a very bad idea.

Of course the title shouldn't give away a key plot development. I wouldn't put the word "clone" in the title of a book if the fact that someone is a clone is supposed to be a surprise revelation. Any more than I'd call a book, "The Murder Committed by Fred Stover" if the story is supposed to be a mystery where we don't learn who the murderer is until the end.

Of course it's good if a title not only gives a clue what the book is about but is also attention-getting. I recently bought a book called "Galactic Explorations". Obvious what it's about, but not very interesting. Still, I bought the book, so I guess it worked.

Given that many people today are buying books on-line, I think it's a good idea if a title includes a word that someone might search for. Like if you're writing a book about vampires, put the word "vampire" in the title. If you're writing a book about space travel, put a word like "space" or "star" or "alien" in the title. Etc. It may not lead to the most creative title in the world, but I suspect it would lead to more sales.

Of course if you're a famous writer, a lot of these rules would not apply. If I see a book by someone I know is a famous science fiction writer, I'll assume that it is probably science fiction, or if it's not, I'll be at least curious what other subjects a famous science fiction writer would write about. But I suspect most of us on this forum are not famous writers.

  • Thank you for your answer! I think what you say makes a lot of sense. I do somewhat regret choosing "farmers" as my fake title, since most people probably aren't curious about farmers. It may be too late to change now, but "The Citizens", "The Habitants" are closer to my own. These are titles/groups of people, that you would not connect to certain traits, which would make it 'odd' that a book used them for their title. I may have shot myself in the foot using "farmers". – storbror Mar 20 '17 at 23:04
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I agree with what Jay stated, but there are other things to think about in terms of title.

Of course the font/coloring of the title could help convey a more futuristic setting even though the title of the books would be Farmers. That would pique an interest in someone seeing the spine of the book on the shelves. Also, if it is an Ebook then the whole aesthetic of the cover could be used to show these are farmers who are cultivating technology and not corn.

The tile is there to let the reader have a hint of what the book might be about (as you mentioned, it would suggest that there are more to these farmers and they are key to the plot)but if the reader purchases the book does not rely solely on the title. It's also there to get the reader to pick up the book off the shelf or click on it. The synopsis and a quick overview of the first couple pages is what solidifies a purchase.

And it's always good to have a working title and you can change it when your final manuscript is ready to go. I've started plenty of times with titles, often the inspiration of my story, that did not seem to fit or portray what my story was about at the end. If you still feel confident that The Farmers, The inhabitants, the... works with what you are going for, then stick with it.

You can also poll your beta readers on how they like the title and look into typical naming conventions for your audience and genre.

  • Thank you for your answer - Good points! I've given a lot of thought to the cover/spine, though it is still too early for me to commit to anything specific. The design would of course insinuate that something was out of the ordinary. Also, the synopsis would make this absolutely clear, hopefully still without revealing too much. So far, my readers refer to it naturally by the name I've given it, but thet may not take it seriously enough to question if it is a proper title for the work. A poll could work! – storbror Mar 21 '17 at 6:35

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