Why is it so hard to come up with a good title for a novel?

I’ve found that I either know the title from the start (Girl with a Pearl Earring – no-brainer), or I struggle to find one until the very last minute, with publishers breathing down my neck. Often someone else suggests the title (husband, agent, editor).

You would think that as the writer I’d know what the title should be. After all, I know the book better than anyone else. But maybe that’s the problem. I’m too close to the story to make a judgement on what the title should reflect.

What should a title do? It should be memorable but not so quirky that it irritates. It should intrigue. It should hint at something about the book, though it can’t tell you everything. It should conjure up an image that stays with you. How do you communicate the essence of a book in a few words? It’s hard!

Lately there’s been a fad for novel titles that are whole phrases or sentences, and completely unmemorable to me.  Titles like I Let You Go, Everything I Never Told You, When All Is Said, How Hard Can It Be? or All the Light We Cannot See. Some of these are good books, but I struggle to retain the titles because they don’t offera concrete hook I can hang onto.

To me good titles are strong and simple: War and Peace. Or an amazing turn of phrase that may not even mean anything: To Kill a Mockingbird. Or that make you do a double take: My Sister, the Serial Killer. Or make you laugh: Crazy Rich Asians.

For my latest novel, I spent months coming up with literally a hundred titles:


novel titles

None of them worked. The book is about a lot of things: embroidery, bellringing, cathedrals, single women in the 1930s. For me the struggle is to work out which element to emphasize.

At last lovely Ore at HarperCollins UK calmly lobbed one into the ring:


Perfect. It references the embroidery and the singleness of the heroine, while also hinting at the tapestry that makes up a community. And it sets up a strong image easy for the reader to remember.

Why didn’t I think of it? Among the many titles I’d come up with, I’d used “Single” and “Thread” but not together. Thank you, Ore!

A Single Thread will be published in the USA and UK in September 2019, with other countries to follow. Now we just have to come up with a cover - even harder than the title!