Giving a book a good title is hard. Author’s often struggle with it. Would you read a novel titled Trimalchio in West Egg? That’s what F. Scott Fitzgerald titled his third novel until his editor Maxwell Perkins convinced him The Great Gatsby might work better.
As Michael Hyatt, Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers explains, a book’s title is “…like a newspaper headline: If prospective readers are intrigued, they keep reading. If they don’t, they move on to the next book…”
- How do you make sure you have a good title? Begin by understanding that a good title should do one or more of the following:
- Grab the reader’s attention
- Make a promise
- Create anticipation, intrigue or an emotional response
- Identify a need
- Simply state the contents
As you begin thinking about titles that will do any of these things, Jason Moser, author of Write & Publish Fiction, suggest keeping two things in mind. First, “Clarity beats cleverness.” Short titles are usually best. The most successful titles are five words or fewer. Second, “…most titles do not describe the contents of the book, so your subtitle should explain what the book is about.”
Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner, suggests an excellent step-by-step system she used to help her clients create good titles.
- Find twenty books on Amazon that are in the same genre as yours and whose titles you like.
- Make lists of words related to your book. Put them in columns: nouns, verbs, adjectives.
- Write down anything you can think of that conveys anything about your book. Use visual words that suggest a scene. Other words that evoke an emotion. A sensation. A location. A question.
- See if any of the words would work as a single-word title. Then start experimenting with different word combinations. Adjective-noun, verb-noun.
- From these lists, come up with at least 20 possible titles.
- Go back to your title list. Add any new ideas you’ve had. Then narrow it down to three to five possibilities. Run them by a few people. Take a little more time before narrowing it down to one.
- Remember your list of titles from Amazon? Go back to it. Ask yourself if the title you’ve chosen would fit the list—without being too similar or generic.
The process of creating a good title may take time. Pulitzer Prize winning novelist E.L. Doctorow advises, “You’ll find a title and it’ll have a certain excitement for you; it will evoke the book, it will push you along. Eventually, you will use it up and you will have to choose another title. When you find the one that doesn’t get used up, that’s the title you go with.”