How important is a book’s title?

The topic of this post is something that concerned me as I began to write my first novel. “Audrey of Farmerton” doesn’t exactly sound exciting, or make it clear that it’s a fantasy. (Adding a series title, “Book One of Andoran’s Realm” in this case, does help some in my opinion.) I tried to think of a better title, but failed miserably. People I asked about it kept telling me they liked the title. Eventually, I just gave up and went with it. After all, the main character is named Audrey, and she’s from a small village called Farmerton, so the title is, at least, not misleading. The second book will be called “The Witch’s City”, and that sounds more like a fantasy novel.

(“Farmerton” turned out to be fairly unique despite its obvious origin of “Farmer Town”. The only real place by that name that I could find is in Scotland. Unique is, of course, good when it comes to people searching for a book by its title.)

Some people are adamant that a book’s title be clear as to the subject matter. For example, Murder on the Orient Express makes it clear that it’s a murder mystery set on a train. But many fiction titles aren’t so clear. I doubt that when Moby Dick was published, if any of its initial readers knew what is was about. Rebecca is a classic work of literature, but the title doesn’t really tell you anything. And, despite the title, To Kill a Mockingbird is not a guide to how to hunt mockingbirds.

The point I am trying to make is that the title doesn’t always have to be transparent. On the other hand, given the shear number of books now being self-published, it can certainly be argued that the title should be informative, because prospective readers may not even take the time to do more than read the title and glance at the cover (which may only be a small thumbnail image). This is especially important for beginning authors as they struggle to get noticed and build a following.