Monday, June 28, 2010

What to title your book

by Jane

The question of what to title a book is often an interesting one, and it is also critically important. If the title doesn’t work, the book might not sell, especially if that book is an impulse buy, discovered by a reader browsing in a bookstore—either virtual or bricks and mortar.

A book’s title should do many things:

It should be appropriate for books in its category. You should not, for instance, make the title of a novel sound like a cookbook .

The title should be as descriptive of the book as possible. Yes, I know, so many people cite What Color is Your Parachute? or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance neither of which described their respective books and both of which were massive bestsellers—but these were extremely unusual cases. Titles, as a rule, should not mislead consumers; they should attract and inform them.

A title should also be “catchy.” Examples include The Tipping Point, Outliers, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, People Like Us, and Napoleon’s Buttons. It should invite the consumer to pick up the book.

Titles should be original; try not to choose a title that has been used by others as this can be confusing, especially in cataloging books. By the same token, you also shouldn’t try to copy successful titles in a way that might deceive the book buyer.

The title should be something that you and your publisher mutually agree on; it is very rare that a publisher will demand that the author accept a title they don’t like. On the other hand, I have learned over the years to carefully listen to the publisher’s ideas—after all it is in their best interests (too) to sell as many books as possible. In fact, often publishers will “try out” different titles on the book buyers at the major accounts—these are important and knowledgeable people and if they feel they are part of the decision making process when it comes to selecting a title, they often are more supportive of the book when it comes to ordering and even displays.

I ran across this recent blog entry about selecting a title and hope you will find it informative and useful. It is written by a book salesman—who seems to care a lot and certain knows his subject

Of course, if you have any additional thoughts on the topic of title selection, I would very much like to hear what you have to say.


  1. Oh, this is an issue I will likely have (optimism at its best!)My books are historical romances inspired by constellations, so their titles are the constellations' names. They don't fit in with the "Seduced by a Dashing Duke" titles I've seen the most. :( I know they're probably going to change, but I'll be sad when they do.

  2. I would like to hear your take (if you haven't done so already) on what names you think have been overused. I know that Nathan Bransford did a post on too many books starting with 'Confessions of a...' Are their titles that YOU come across as old or overused, cliche or otherwise?

  3. Ugh. Titling books is the hardest thing for me. I absolutely can't leave a WIP untitled because even if I change it later, a title seems to give me a sense of direction, somewhere that I'm going to take the story. It's like in "The Last Days" by Scott Westerfeld where (it's been a while) one of the characters said it was important to get a band name as soon as they could to give themselves a sense of definition or something like that.

    I like to use the rule of twenty, though.

  4. It's easier to listen to a publisher when a publisher has a reason to change a title. They usually do.

  5. Will a shorter title be better than a longer one?

  6. I've always heard that a book title should tell and sell i.e., give you a sense about what the book is about and be snappy!

  7. Interesting stuff. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Choosing a novel title is really like naming a baby as both novel and baby had lots of effort put into them and parents/publishers want to see them flourish.
    When I first started writing my WIP novel I had a basic title which at the time I thought was cool but as my writing went on I began to think more like a reader and the title although it fitted the story also had a strong sense of vaguness about it as the words used would be fairly unfamiliar to modern readers.
    The original title was 'Valkyrian Ventures' - the reason being Valkyries feature in my WIP so I adjusted it to a collective noun and Ventures suggesting danger, risks and adventure.
    But as I host my first few chapters on my blog and as I finally managed to write a draft blurb and plot briefing of my overall WIP to help give me focus I decided to hold a voting poll for my blog followers and readers to help me choose the new title.
    It was actually quite productive as I gave them five options and it actually became quite a close race with 3 options drawing and the new title only one by one vote.
    The new title was Soul Chaser which is a bit more modern, catchy, quick and intriguing instead of vague.
    I am more happy with my WIP and my writing now I have a decent title to attach to it. I can only hope that come the lucky day I get the attention of an agent/publisher they agree with the final choice. I was suprised by how nice it was to actually get potential reader feedback on my WIP title and why they chose what they did.

  9. I got the idea for my latest novel from the title of another book, called Blood Moon. I got tired of this as a working title and googled a replacement, St. Martin's Moon. Not only was I able to get some additional and unusual background for the story, but I also googled Blood Moon and found a few hundred books with that title! My wife wanted 'Werewolves on the Moon' but my publisher prefers St. Martin's Moon.


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