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I wrote a short story long ago called The End of the World. I thought the title was too common so I renamed it to The Kid with the Gigaku Mask and the End of the World. But then, I found that title to be too long, so I just left it as The Kid with the Gigaku Mask.

I'm clear that no Western reader would know what a gigaku mask is, but I think at least, they will know that is something related to Japan.

I'm asking this because at first, I thought it was a bad idea to use a culture-specific word in a title. But judging from the number of views I got in comparison with my other stories, I think I was wrong.

Well, anyway, is this a bad or a good idea to have titles like this (in terms of marketing)?

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3 Answers

I don't know what a Gigaku Mask is, but I had no idea what The Stone Dance of the Chameleon was either, and that didn't prevent me to buy - and love - that book.

Don't forget that the reader buys also by the cover and the resume, and that will probably give them more insight. If I had seen the picture of a Gigaku Mask, I would know it was some kind of theatrical Japanese mask.

I think exotic titles might awaken curiosity more than drive back readers, specially because Japanese culture is somewhat liked by the westerns. Being Portuguese, and with all the relationship both countries had in the past, I must say I'm particularly interested by a lot of Japanese things.

I wouldn't worry at all with that title. I liked it a lot but, on the other hand, if it gets published you editor will, for sure, say if he thinks the title is not good enough.

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It all depends on what you're aiming at with your title.

The title may not be meaningful. Take Nana by Émile Zola or Old Father Goriot by Honoré de Balzac. It's merely the name of the protagonist or just a significant character. It tells nothing about the content, the story, and is too generic to indicate anything about what kind of story it is. Such a title requires a rather reputable author to sell well though.

The title may be just as short but augmented with a subtitle. The full title of Sir Thaddeus by Adam Mickiewicz is Sir Thaddeus, or the Last Lithuanian Foray: A Nobleman's Tale from the Years of 1811 and 1812 in Twelve Books of Verse. That is sure to tell more about the content.

Or the title may be mysterious, hinting at the content - like in your example. "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" - you get a bit of clue it will be about magical themes, and it has a bit of "book for youngsters" ring to it.

There's of course a whole range of other titles, more revealing, completely mysterious by being written in a strange language (even made-up language), or ones outright misguiding. Nevertheless, your fares well mid-way the range, and is actually a rather common (that doesn't mean bad!) approach.

Also, if you want to keep "The End of the World" you can use it as the subtitle, an optional extra. It won't make the title too long but it will add a little for those who hesitate a second before picking it (and you're right, it's too generic - but then nowadays apocalyptic/postapocalyptic stories sell like hot cakes, so it would surely attract audience.)

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I think a title has two purposes: to get the attention of the potential reader, and to give him a clue what the story is about.

Putting a foreign word or a word that is likely to be unfamiliar to most potential readers can attract attention. A natural response is, "What does that mean?", which may get them to look for more information.

If the potential reader doesn't know the word than it can't convey a lot of information to him, but if he can at least guess at the language or the field the word comes from, it still conveys something.

Let's look at your example, "The Kid With the Gigaku Mask". My immediate thoughts are: "gigaku" sounds Japanese or Korean or maybe some other culture from that part of the world. So I guess the story has something to do with Japanese (or whatever) culture. I don't know if "mask" in this context is referring to a mask that might be worn in some traditional theater, or something used in religious or mystical ceremonies, or perhaps something related to some sort of holiday celebration. I'm sure there are other possibilities. "Kid" in the title leads me to believe that it is a story for children. (Of course not all stories with children as main characters are intended to be read by children, but they usually are.)

If you keep the "and the end of the world", then I suppose that the story is fantasy or science fiction. With the reference to the mask, I'd guess some sort of fantasy.

Of course others may not have exactly the same thoughts I do, but I think what I just outlined is what many would assume. If that's right, than cool. If not, you may want to rethink that title some.

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