The trend toward one-word titles and what I think about how short they are and what they mean

Tucked away in my little studio, writing away at a book that may be published in the future (note the insecurity), I begin to contemplate the title of said book. Yes, I’m that far along with it. And even though I know that publishers usually end up scrapping the original title and stamping their own without a second thought, I want to make as little work as possible for them so they have more time to sell, sell, sell.

So while I rack my brain trying to think of titles, I do a little research and find a fascinating phenomenon. One word. That’s it. Just one word is all I need. How did this trend happen and more importantly, where was I when that memo came out? Did Twilight start this mess, I asked myself? No. You have to go back even further (said a strange, whispering voice) to Jane Austen’s miserly use of words for Persuasion, Stevenson’s Kidnapped, or even Benchley’s pint-sized title with a punch, Jaws. Who needs pesky details in a title, right?

So even though these types of titles have been around for a long time, no other time is it as obvious a trend as today. Just look at a few of the titles out now: Defiance, Slammed, Thoughtless, Wings, Rapture, Predestined, Insurgent, Divergent, Forbidden, Devour, Touch, Twilight, Outpost, Boneshaker, Hemlock, and Room. Lovely words, yes? I’m not sure I know what any of these books are about, except for the few that I have read.

My question, and excuse me if I’m just not seeing it, is the relevance of these titles to the book. Does the title (word) tell you enough about the book to make you want to read it? Is that one word sufficient? In most cases, unless the book takes off and it doesn’t matter what you call it (like Twilight or Jaws), most books will be seen online or a store shelf and have about 5 seconds to grab the reader, intrigue him enough to read the blurb on the back cover or description and then decide to buy. That’s a lot of pressure to put on one word, don’t you think?

The present-day trend of one-word titles brings to mind beloved classics, and just what word would be used if they were being published today.

Farenheit 451 – Banned

The Catcher in the Rye – Defiance

Little Women – Loyalty

The Count of Monte Cristo – Revenge

Great Expectations – Prospects

Gone with the Wind – Avarice

The Great Gatsby – Regrets

The Cat in the Hat – Disillusion

Green Eggs and Ham – Resistance

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It all comes down to having a good story behind the title. People don’t say, “You should read this, it has a great title.”

I’m still thinking of a title that will knock the pencil right out of the publisher’s hand. Oh yeah, and a story to go with it.


5 thoughts on “The trend toward one-word titles and what I think about how short they are and what they mean

    • Thanks. I always appreciate a title that gives the essence of the book. Sometimes one word will work, most of the time I don’t think it does. Of course, that’s just my opinion.

  1. One word titles are OK, if they are compelling. But I think about War and Peace and wonder if it would have been as well received it was just called War. Or even Peace. And Little Women probably would not be the classic it is today if it were just called Women. Even Tolkien knew that calling his book Hobbit sounded dumb so he added the simple article “The” and the book went on to sell over 100 million copies.

    Pretty much other than Jaws and Shogun, the rest of these one-title books aren’t really all they’re cut out to be.

    I say if you’re gonna go with a one word title add The to it “just in case”.

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