(Originally published on my substack 12 may 2023)

All writers have things they are better at and things they are worse at. My own skills lie in describing really awful things and, I’m told, in dialogue.

I am not good at titling things.

Maybe this is because of how stories grow in my mind. Most things I write start as a scene or two and a vibe, and I expand them into actual narratives from there. Starting like this means few things within the story are born with a name attached, and so it feels in some way inevitable that the story itself goes unnamed. As the story becomes an actual story it often gains a completely unsuitable working title.

An example: MYCOPHILIA, as recently published by Seize The Press, was originally ‘untitled grimy sad man’, then ‘the man upstairs’ and then ‘Asher Fucks The Mould Man’. None of these were right, really, for a story that is 80% bleak, lonely dissociation and 20% tragic mould monster. MYCOPHILIA was suggested by my writers group as the ‘fancy’ take on the latter working title.

Typically when titling a work I resort to naming it for an important plot point or by taking a (short) piece of phrasing from a public domain piece of poetry or music (for music I choose folk songs with no known writer, preferably from at least 150 years ago). I’m not keen on the current trend for very long, very descriptive titles. I prefer to keep mine to less than five words.

But titles are important, they matter. They are the first thing a reader sees! There’s a lot of pressure on a title, a lot of weight. Somehow the title has to set a reader’s expectations for genre, tone, even prose style – it has to make them click on the story and make the publisher not regret buying it from you. We’re in an attention market. In that market, maybe ‘Asher Fucks The Mould Man’ is better. You’d click on that story, even if just out of curiosity.

Of course, if the story doesn’t match the title, the reader is confused, disappointed, even angry. How dare you. They were expecting far more mould sex and much less staring at a ceiling in despair. Like you were, when you clicked on this. Sorry.

I’ve started keeping a list of potentially good titles that come to me when I’m going about my life. It sits there, waiting for me to write something and find a match. It hasn’t happened yet. One day.