Personal Quirk #99,957: I can't begin a story unless I have some sort of title. No title, no writing. I don't know why. Probably the same English-teacher-induced trauma that rendered me physically incapable of placing a tabbed divider in a notebook until after I fill in the section header on that little slip of paper and shove it in the empty plastic tab.
By the way, kids, if you turn in your English class notebook with Dead Bores on the tab for the literature section, your teacher's not going to think it's funny. Trust me on this.
Decent titles take a while to cook up, so I generally use place-holder or working titles until I read a couple tons of poetry, hit the Library of Congress Online Catalog a few million times to see if any of my title ideas have been done before, and settle on the one I want. It doesn't have to be the title, just a title.
Titles ultimately have to be marketable, so a writer can't get attached to any title until it's in print. I've had pretty good luck with mine, and still about half never make it past the publisher's chopping block. This is why StarDoc book #3 is titled Endurance instead of Skin Games. The original title was my personal metaphor for novel's slavery elements, especially the endless branding Cherijo endured; the editor felt it sounded pornographic (Which illustrates how differently people can interpret the same title.)
Other titles of mine that never made it to the cover:
1. ClanSon sounded too Zane Greyish to my editor, who renamed the book Plague of Memory. I was very happy with this, as her title was better, more interesting, and more clear in meaning than mine.
2. After two years of believing that my publisher was okay with the title Darkness Has No Need (no one raised any objections to it) I was abruptly informed that it was too long a title. I'd already invested a great deal of my series budget in promoting the book by that title, so I fought hard to keep it, but lost that battle. None of the replacement titles suggested by the publisher worked with what I was doing with the series titles, but I compromised again and went with the least jarring, and the book became Dark Need. It cost me, though. Most of the promo for that book was instantly rendered useless, and I had to pay additional fees to retitle what could be saved. But I should have gotten a solid title committment from the publisher in the first place, which I didn't. It was a good (if frustrating) lesson for me. In publishing, never assume silence = consent.
3. My very unromantic title No Stone Unturned apparently committed the additional sin of not being pretty enough for a first romance, which is why that editor changed it to Paradise Island. I then had to change the name of the island setting in the book, because it wasn't called Paradise.
Final titles are a pain in the posterior, but I'm not picky about how I get a working title. I've used online title generators, chemical formulas (H2SO4), fragments of poetry (Do Not Go Gentle) and common brand names (Chips Ahoy!) If I can't think of anything off the top of my head, I'll use my favorite stock working title A Dark and Stormy Night (this also reminds me not to open the book with a damn weather report.)
You can use working titles as nudges, too. One of my current WIPs is working-titled 1918, not because it's set in that year, but to remind me of the year that initiated what will become my protagonist's primary conflict ninety years later in 2008. I also use working titles with version numbers so I can see in a glance how many times I've revised it, i.e. Butterfinger v.4.0
Do any of you writers out there use working titles, or have any special mojo that helps you create a solid title? Readers, does a book's title play any part in whether or not you purchase it? Let us know in comments.