Don't Pick a Title Fight with Cujo
Coming up with a title is not always the easiest part of writing and marketing a story. We've covered what to do and what not to do in our previous article and shown some examples for both. There is another issue that we didn't cover though. That would be the uniqueness of the title you choose for your work.
Let's consider this example. You've written a short story that you'd like to have published. It's good. It's ready to be published and so are you. Your story centers around a distance runner who makes it to the Olympics against all odds. Growing up in Iowa farm land, she has to train running through the lush green fields, the thick weeds providing extra resistance and giving her the edge she needs to win. No title fits better in your mind than The Green Mile.
"What's that? Someone already used that? Well yeah, but that story was about a death row prison and was sad and dark. My story is completely different!"
It doesn't matter. If the title you want to use is already taken by a story that is currently well known, you need to move on. Even if that title is extremely simple.
This brings us to example #2. You write a western about a town where everyone dies except one man. Alone he fights back packs of coyotes, robbers and even rides out a dust storm. The title that keeps running through your mind is The Stand. That title is so simple it could describe 100,000 different stories. Unfortunately for you, some inconsiderate author went and used that title on an epic about the battle between good and evil at the end of the world and now that's all anyone can think of when they hear it. Be mad, that's fine, but be mad while trying to come up with a new title.
Let's give it one last try. You've written a children's book where the main character invents a new game. His name is Gerald. (Some of you know where this is going already.) First title that pops into your mind is Gerald's Game. Simple, to the point and… already in-use by a book that is decidedly not for children. "But it's a completely different genre," you say. "My target audience probably hasn't even heard of the really scary and child-inappropriate book of the same name." That may be true, but the internet has. So even if you start to get some traction for your book, you'll be fighting with the other, more well-known, book for internet search positions. Why try to beat out a former best-seller for the top search slot when it's not necessary?
Regardless of how perfect you feel a title is, if that title is already in use by another more famous story you need to pick another one. This is just one of those times when Misery doesn't love company.