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I was considering naming my book "Cherry on Top." However, because this may be hard to search for on Google, I was going to add a subtitle. Perhaps make the full title/subtitle "Cherry on Top: Not so Sweet."

My question is if this is too long or off-putting for a fiction novel. As well, is there a sort of rule to follow for this sort of thing?

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Is this too long?

No. Although typically we've seen a trend towards 3 word titles (or 3 words to differentiate you from your series).

[series identifier] [Clarifier]

  • Harry Potter and the [1-4 words]
  • The Girl Who [1-4 words]

But, most titles that aren't a part of the series, tend to be 1-4 words long. There are exceptions to the rule, always.

Mostly you're looking for something poetic and punchy and the fewer words you can use while evoking the emotion of your story the better.

Is this off putting?

No, it's not off putting. I'd put it in the neutral category. Which is a problem in and of itself; but it's not offensive. It's a problem because as described in other answers here it's not a good enough hook that makes me want to pick it up.

Should you care?

Only if you're the publisher. If you're not self-publishing your publisher will likely rename it. That said, you'll still need to use the title of your book in query letters. If you haven't finished your book do so, and then ask alpha readers to write down any short phrases you used that they loved that might make good titles.

This is a problem for the revision and editing phase. "Cherry on Top" is a fine working title.

  • That is true of everything from plays, movies, even song titles. The name of my play changed 5 tiles, and the play before that 8. Sometimes a rewrite will cause a name change. Plays are workshopped, which means they go through a variety of different readings, and the leader of the workshop (and even the actors) will make all kinds of suggestions. When it gets to a director interested in producing it, the title may change again. It is a fact of life. Book agents and publishers often fight over a book's title. Which is why I like plays. It's a collaboration of groups that have hundreds of years. – George McGinn Mar 22 '17 at 15:43
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I'm struggling at the moment to think of a novel which does have a subtitle (beyond "A Novel" to differentiate it from a non-fiction work).

Look at the NYT Best Books of 2016. Not one novel has a subtitle. Easily 85% of the non-fiction titles do.

Does your book need a clarifying subtitle? Might it work better to just find a title which is more distinguishable?

ETA @RobtA correctly notes in the comments that 2001: A Space Odyssey and its sequels do have subtitles, possibly because just the year is insufficient to be memorable.

  • Series or anthologies are the only thing that come close for works fiction, regularly. The convention is clearly no subtitles; but it's probably doable. You'd need a very good reason for bucking the convention and publishers would still resist. – Kirk Mar 22 '17 at 15:39
  • Consider "2001: a Space Odyssey." Title and subtitle, or just title? – user23046 Mar 22 '17 at 16:17
  • @RobtA That's a great example of a subtitle. The three sequels are in the same format (Year: Title). – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Mar 22 '17 at 17:04
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Kind of a vague title. Is it a book on Baking? Children eating cupcakes? Porn?

With such a short title, and a vague one at that, a person looking at books scans the titles, and to tell you the truth, I wouldn't even take it off the shelf. I would probably have more than the three I mentioned running in my head, and none of which I would like to read.

The title, whether it is a play, book, or newspaper article, is what draws your reader to want to pick up the book and read it.

Without knowing where this book will be shelved or what categories on Amazon or KOBO, you need to give us more in your question in order to help you.

If your book is a spy thriller, the title is not appropriate the way it is.

Many established writers, with command of the English language, can pick two words that will force you to pick up the book. "The Bourne Identity" is one such title. Notice the spelling of Bourne.

The book for "Red October" is not as dramatic as "The Hunt for Red October."

"Tin Cup" is an intriguing title for a golfing story.

Here are others that invoke at least picking it up:

"Remember the Titans"
"Tombstone"
"ET"
"Independence Day"
"Dances Wtith Wolves"
"Dead Poet's Society"
"Field of Dreams"
"The Green Mile"
"Meet Joe Black"
"Saving Private Ryan"

I can go on, but unless your one or two-word title has instant recognition, like "ET" or "Tombstone" or even "JFK", you are better off with three or four word titles.

One thing I can tell you from writing plays, is that the shorter, more concise, the better. It can be put in larger type, if the right words are used, people will buy the book, or tickets just on the title alone.

I have a play I have been working on for five years, and right now its title has changed to now a "Hazy Shade of Blue," which was coined long before the series of the same name. My play is about the conflict between the old guard and new way of policing when a 35-year veteran just before he retires must train a rookie police officer.

Besides the words in your book that tell the story, without a proper, rememberable, and catchy title, it will never leave the shelves, and for me, my play may never get picked up and read.

Title sells.

EDITED: Here are some links I just did with a Google Search that will also verify what I said and provide you with more information:

The truth about choosing book titles

How To Name Your Nonfiction Book (Xlibris)

Picking The Perfect Book Title

WRITER's DIGEST: How To Choose Your Novel's Title

These should help. There are many more links if you search.

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Just from the title/subtitle, I would guess that "Cherry on Top: Not So Sweet" has something to do with teen porn. However, if it is a recipe book for organic fruit preserves, then you really need to re-title it.

You didn't say whether your book was print or digital. If your concern is merely finding it via search, I would not worry. The way one searches for books is not directly via a search engine such as Google, but by first going to a web site that sells books. Or, it could be a general merchandise site, which lets you narrow the search to books. Then, "Cherry on Top" will show your book, if someone knows the title. This is quite reliable. But if you search via Google, I imagine that the first few dozen search results will be about how to make a banana split, followed by a few dozen more about fruit preserves.

You can put additional information on the cover, or (better) on the rear cover. I don't know about you, but in a bookstore or library I always look at the rear cover, where the publisher makes the pitch for why I might be interested in that book. Online, many digital book sites allow you to inspect parts of the book, including the rear cover. And, each book will have a short blurb (maybe 50-100 words) describing its purpose or theme. That's where you can state the not-so-sweet part.

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I like the title. I think that the colon gives the reader a pause when they read it, so it's not so fun.

What I want to know is what is the book about? If we don't know what it's about we don't really know if the title fits.

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