Pitfalls of Writing SF & Fantasy #6: McIntyre’s Laws of Titles

Read This First!

McIntyre’s First Law:

Under the right circumstances, anything I tell you could be wrong.

Pitfall #6: Ygdylc‘haafuk’s Revenge,
McIntyre’s Laws of Titles

Never use a title that is

(a) impossible to pronounce; or

(b) embarrassing to say.

Doing either causes people to find it awkward to discuss your book. For example, Superluminal (a book of mine) has been misspelled and mispronounced by everybody, up to and including the New York Times (“…her novel Superliminal, which she says means ‘faster than light.’”)

— Vonda



Pitfalls of Writing SF & Fantasy #6: McIntyre’s Laws of Titles — 11 Comments

  1. This would explain the relative infrequency of science fiction titles using Uranus, versus Jupiter or Pluto. “The Forge of Uranus,” or “Uranus’ Tears” just aren’t going to get the right word of mouth marketing, are they?

    By the way, just saw Green Bank, WV last week and the National Radio Telescopic Observatory — well worth going out of one’s way to see, especially for the 1937 homebrew pioneer radio telescope in the entry area, made with parts that included a Model T axle.

    They have pylons from the visitor’s center along the bus tour that takes you back to the site of the first ‘scope on the site, starting with the Sun at the gate (whoops, capitalized it!), and along at increasing scale distances from Mercury to Venus and the obligatory snickers among the seats when the guide does not even mention Uranus as we drive by.

    Each pylon has the name, a plaque that walkers or bike riders could read, and a colored banner on a pole atop each. Their last marked is Pluto, whose flag is at half staff.

  2. From the sales point of view, a relatively simple title is essential. Consider the average clerk in Barnes & Noble, on minimum wage and overworked. You waltz in at the end of his shift and ask if THE IMPOSSUMBLE SUMMER, by me, is on the shelf. The difficult spelling of the key word practically begs for a mistype; naturally the store computer tells him that the book is not on the shelf. And there’s one more reader gone!

    No — the rule for titles is KISS — keep it simple, stupid!

  3. Jeff — I guess you could go the Carl Sagan route and pronounce it Ouranos (which I’m guessing is from ancient Greek). Pluto’s flag at half-staff: Awwww!

    Amy — SF/F writers do have a habit of sticking apostrophes into words for no apparent reason. If I remember right that would signify a glottal stop, which nobody ever pronounces in the neologisms.

    Brenda — that’s a good rule, too. Can I steal it?


  4. Okay, it’s a good rule. But Superluminal? Really? That one just doesn’t seem very difficult to me. Maybe it’s the difference between growing up reading SF and not.

  5. RLM — Yeah, it didn’t seem like it was that tough to me, either, but it’s been spelled “Subliminal” and “Subluminal” and the aforementioned “Superliminal.” And probably some variations I’ve spaced out. Maybe it just has too many syllables?


  6. It is probably too close to ‘subliminal’. Words that are too close to other words just lead to trouble.


  7. Me, I just search for everything by author. I never trust that I have the title right even when it’s not hard to spell. I don’t even remember my own titles.

    After reading this, I may remember how to spell Superluminal (which I recently reread and enjoyed quite a bit), but if I was looking for it, I’d still just run down all the books by Vonda N. McIntyre until I got to the one with the “super” in it.

  8. Hi Brenda — I expect you’re right. But it was just such a perfect title and a nifty word. I couldn’t resist. I hadn’t invented McIntyre’s Laws of Titles yet.

    Hi Nancy Jane — thanks for the kind words on the book. I’m horrible at remembering book titles. I have to write them down to remember which ones I’ve read, expecially if it’s a series.


  9. I’ve been enjoying your Pitfalls very much, but this entry gave me a whole different sort of pause from the usual, “Wait, do I do that?” moment.

    Superliminal = “faster than light”? That’s inventive. I suppose, stretching a bit, it could work, but I was pretty sure it just meant “Beyond the threshold.”

    Not that it matters, since it isn’t your title, but I feel a plotbunny nibbling on my ear. It’s an intriguing word for someone to toss out by mistake.