I am absolutely the worst person in the world when it comes to creating titles, or naming things in general. When I was a youngster I was in noisy rock bands and whenever it fell to me to name the group, you could rest assured that we'd have a totally lame band name. Don't ask. I was also usually the songwriter for the bands I was in, and I could never come up with good names for the songs, either. I'd end up using the first line of the chorus or the first line of the lyrics or just give them meaningless, dada-esque titles because, as I say, I suck with titles and names.
The first novel I ever completed was called The Jack of Hearts Remembers Me. That's an okay, literary-sounding title. In fact, that title is better than the book itself was. Don't ask.
The novel currently in my agent's hands, that will some day actually go out on submission to publishers, is for now called So Honest A Man. I don't like that title, but I can't seem to come up with anything better. The book is a sort of retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet, from the point of view of Horatio, Hamlet's best friend. Hamlet is not the main character, so I don't really want "Hamlet" in the title, though I've toyed with Killing Hamlet. Other titles have been:
Dead For a Ducat
Death in Denmark
but none of these really do it for me. My friend Alexandra MacKenzie has suggested Hip-Hip-Horatio but that just won't do. Right now, I'm thinking of calling it Eelsinore or Hamlet, Prince of Eels. Other eel-inspired titles would be appreciated.
The book I'm currently writing is called Cocke & Bull because those are the names of the two main characters, I think it's catchy and easily remembered, and I like the ampersand. I like the word "ampersand."
The book I have planned after Cocke & Bull has no title. I don't even have the faintest barest inkling of what I'd call it, and I assume I'll be going through the same sucky torture with it that I've been going through with the "Hamlet" book. It will be a book set partially in Antarctica, so maybe I can work penguins into the title. Penguins are way cool.
After that, I'm going to write a book that will be called The Builder's Wife because it's a good title and it actually makes sense for the book.
There seem to be a couple of ways that literary (at least) authors find titles. We scour the manuscript looking for a good phrase or sentence or image. We read through our favorite Shakespeare or John Donne (damn that Hemingway for already using For Whom the Bell Tolls!). We use the protagonist's name as the title of the book. We Google words or phrases and hope to stumble across a quote that uses them, something from the Bible or the Koran or the Sutras or Dickens or whatever that will be a suitable liteary allusion.
There's also the sort of reverse-title method, which is where you come up with a really cool title that's got nothing to do with the book, and then you go back into the manuscript and slyly insert that title so that it looks like you pulled a reference out of the book to use as a title. This rarely works and when the reader hits the title where you've stitched it into the narrative, it stands out in an awkward, embarrassed manner. That's what happened with my first novel's title. I found a place to put the words "the jack of hearts remembers me" into the mouth of a character, and it made No Sense Whatever but there it was, in the body of the book so Big Win, right? Not so much.
So titles, then. Talk to me about yours. Did the title come first, or did it develop while you were figuring out the story premise, or did you come up with it after you'd written a draft or two, or what? Also, what titles do you think are really terrific titles, and what do you think are really awful ones? I happen to think that "Twilight" is a great title, because I like the word and it seems to encapsulate the space where the vampire world and the non-vampire world meet, so well done Ms. Meyers or whoever thought up the title. I think Under the Dome stinks as a title, but honestly, Mr. King could call his next novel This Book Sucks and I Hate Your Mom and it would be an instant best-seller.