Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Avoiding Title Trouble

I'm not very good with titles, so when I come up with one I like, I REALLY don't want to let it go. Sadly, sometimes I must. (Note that this is long before an editor gets hold of the work in question.)  Case in point:

Me: "I'm almost finished writing "Web of [insert complicated Latin term here]."

Beloved Husband [BH]: *dumbfounded look on face* "Web of what?"

Me: "[complicated Latin term]. You know... the web story I've been working on."

BH: *shakes head* "Yeah, you can't use that."

Me: *heart doing little flip-flops* "Why not?"

BH: "Cognitive fluency."

Me: "Damn."

So what, exactly, is cognitive fluency? And what does it have to do with titles?

Cognitive fluency is the tendency of people to prefer things that are easy to think about, easy to remember, easy to pronounce, and easy to read. Naturally my complicated Latin term isn't any of those, so out the window it goes.

Does it really matter that much? Yes. In fact, cognitive fluency has been shown to influence the decisions people make when they buy stocks. Stocks with easier-to-remember names do better (might want to keep that one in mind).

What does work?
  • Things that rhyme (Nate the Great)
  • Things written in an easy-to-read font (don't let the publisher put your book title in a crazy hard-to-read font without a good contrast between the font and background; if you're self-publishing, don't you do it, either!)
  • Things that repeat (I think I can, I think I can, I think I can sticks in our minds better than the book title, The Little Engine that Could)

Now, the flip side of the cognitive fluency issue is termed disfluency. Disfluency has been shown to increase people's sense of how novel something is and to make them think about it more. So if the goal of your piece of writing is to stimulate critical thinking or to provide a sense of novelty or innovation, then disfluency can work in your favor.

Just keep in mind that disfluency won't get the book jumping off the shelves. Perhaps that's why so many publishers change book titles prior to publication.

If you want to know more, check out this article.

What are your favorite examples of great titles?

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On an unrelated note, have you checked out the June Creativity Challenge? Join in the fun! Post your creative work on your blog and provide us with the link on June 30 (if you don't have a blog, email it to me; I'll post it for you).

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