Coming up with a killer book title is hard. There’s a lot at stake in a title: It’s your readers’ first impression of your work, and it’s got to be evocative, unique, and precise. The pressure can be overwhelming!
But we at Writer’s Relief have got some great tips to help you come up with the perfect title for your novel or your nonfiction book. And you can apply these concepts to your short stories and poetry as well. With a little preparation and brainstorming, you’ll land on the perfect title for your book!
Elements Of Great Book Titles
Poetic language. Some of the best titles—the ones we remember—use evocative language to make a statement. Sometimes, the language verges on poetic. Consider elusive and somewhat vague titles like: Gone with the Wind; Of Mice and Men; Grapes of Wrath; Snow Falling On Cedars; The Fault in Our Stars.
Action words. Titles that showcase strong verbs leap off the shelves. Things Fall Apart is clear and haunting. Gone Girl is energetic and in-your-face. A Game Of Thrones sets a precedent for tension.
Inherent mystery/conflict. Great titles hint at the story to come. They point to the main conflict: What’s at stake? When a title can concisely encapsulate action, you’ve got a great shot at getting a reader’s attention in just a few words.
Consider Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: It’s a long title, but it’s so good. It suggests an epic battle between powerful archetypes, but it also offers the quiet, quaintly creepy image of a garden at night. The Light in Ruins does something similar.
Character’s names. Often (but not always) titles that make use of character names have an element of mystery attached to them as well. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; The Secret Life of Walter Mitty; The Picture of Dorian Gray; Harry Potter And The [Fill In The Blank Here]. Books with character names can also be whimsical, such as: Where’d You Go, Bernadette?; Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day; Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
Place names. If your book has a great setting (a setting that has strong branding), you might want to use that to your advantage. The Last Time I Saw Paris showcases the City of Lights with a touch of nostalgia (it also hints at conflict, at something lost and longed-for). Death Comes To Pemberley makes great use of the estate that’s familiar to all readers of Pride and Prejudice, but adds a modern layer of mystery and drama.
Quirky titles. Some titles embody contrasts that make readers say, huh? And, of course, that leads them to read the back cover to find out what’s going on: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; One of our Thursdays is Missing; Pineapple Grenade; Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
The one-word title. These titles tend to work best with really strong cover art. Here are a few one-word titles: Slammed; Affliction; Stranded, etc.
Titles And Book Genre
If you’re writing in a commercial book genre, be sure you have a good understanding of how titles within that particular genre work. And we wouldn’t recommend straying too far away from the conventions of genre book titles; fans of specific genres use titles as a kind of shorthand when they’re deciding what to buy and whether a book will live up to their expectations.
For example: Your thriller might be called Death At First Light. Your romance might be To Kiss A Lady. But you wouldn’t want to switch those titles around.
Just for fun: Check out this book title generator. And here are Goodreads users’ favorite book titles.
Title And Copyright Law
As of this writing, authors can’t copyright their titles in America (which is why if you plug certain titles into Amazon, you’ll come up not only with multiple movies but also multiple books of the same title).
That said, we don’t recommend using the same title that someone else has previously used. It makes it more difficult for your book to stand out.
When In Doubt, Get Help
If you’re coming up with a title, ask friends and family for help. Host a brainstorming session. Sometimes, a new perspective is the best way to hit on just the right title for your book.
But remember: If you’re hoping to publish with a traditional publisher, there’s some possibility that you might not be able to keep your title anyway. Publishers tend to change them (and, don’t worry, your publisher will fret about the perfect title right along with you).
Photo by Trevor Coultart.
QUESTION: What’s one of your favorite titles?
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A good book title can mean the difference between a bestseller and a lifeless shelf-dweller.
If you don’t believe me, look up First Hundred Million by editor E. Haldeman-Julius. He explains that changing just the book title can rocket a book from selling 6,000 copies a year to 50,000 copies a year.
In this post I’m going to give you a list of great book titles, but I’m also going to give you some information that will help you choose the best title for your book.
The title is what people see first. It’s what they remember when they go home to look the book up. It’s what they say when they recommend the book to others. It’s the most important marketing decision that a writer can make because, while a good title can’t make a book popular, it can certainly keep a book from getting sold.
Yes, a book’s cover art is important, but there are some books that, once readers see the title, think, “Hmm, now that sounds interesting.” And they pick the book up.
That is what we’re after. Cover artists and publishers can decide on the art, but you are responsible for your book’s title – especially in the case of self-publishing.
A Good Book Title Is:
A unique title captures the essence of the book, stakes out new territory in the arms race of book naming, and provokes curiosity. Upon reading or hearing it, a person should get an idea of what your book is about without entirely knowing what’s inside.Example: The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Have you ever heard of a book like that? And don’t you want to find out more?
- Catches the reader’s attention
Think of Dave Egger’s book You Shall Know Our Velocity. I love that title! It’s so energetic. Imagine someone walking in a bookstore, passing by hundreds of books. How can your title stand out among the rest? How can it provoke curiousity?
- Easily remembered
Unique titles that catch the reader’s attention should also be easily remembered. Most easily remembered books are pleasant sounding to the ear, short, and unique. Pride and Prejudice is a good example. A bad example would be Then We Came to the Endby Joshua Ferris. Nobody could remember that title. Nobody. Everyone came into bookstores asking for “The Office Book.”
- Easily pronounced
A good title is easily pronounced because that plays a part in being easily remembered as well as how often a reader may talk about your book. This is a movie example rather than a book, but remember the Jennifer Lopez/Ben Affleck disaster that was Gigli? That could have been the best movie in the world and it still would have flopped because no one knows how to pronounce Gigli.
- Avoids confusion with other books
Two books last year had very similar titles: “Girl on a Train” and “The Girl on the Train.” The latter was a best seller. The former was not, but got lots of sales simply by confusion. You want to choose a title which is unique from other books, unless you have a plan to draft off a super-popular book. Discoverability is a big deal, especially for self-published writers. You want people to be able to find your book, and not a book that just sounds like it.
- Rates highly on the Bestseller Score
Lulu Titlescorer rates titles on their potential to become bestselling novels based on the titles of previous bestsellers. Here’s a research assignment: Look up bestselling lists, and analyze those titles to help you come up with your own.
Your title may not contain all of these characteristics, but it should at least be a combination of two or three.
Titling Nonfiction Books
Nonfiction titles should get straight to the point of the content (this includes blog posts, articles, etc.).
For example: if you tell someone the title of your nonfiction book and they have to ask what it is about, you probably need to change the title.
If you have a great eye-catching title that doesn’t quite get to the point, consider a subtitle.
Discoverability is the “Good Title” characteristic most important for nonfiction works. Keywords are essential. You want your book to pop right up when someone types in their problem. If you want to tell someone how to plant a garden, consider titling your book, “How to Plant a Garden.”
Check to be sure that your chosen title isn’t already used because that can create unnecessary confusion and competition.
It wouldn’t surprise me if “How to Plant a Garden” is already taken, so consider adding or shifting around the words. This is also where subtitling could be considered.
- The Best Way to Plant a Garden.
- Gardening Made Simple and Easy
- 6 Steps to the Perfect Garden
- Gardening Advice
- The Perfect Harvest: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting the Perfect Garden
Making the title unique without tarnishing its discoverability is probably one of the best things a nonfiction writer can do.
Dale Carnegie achieved this with his bestselling novel, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” This title is much less boring than “How to Be a Leader.”
Titling Fiction (Novels & Short Stories)
Fiction differs from nonfiction in that titles should rarely get straight to the point. They instead should be mysterious and thought provoking, inducing curiosity. Fiction titles should lead a reader to pick up your book, not because they need a solution to a problem or information on a matter, but because they are curious.
Now, whether they buy or not depends on the content, but the title is what provokes them.
Titles come in all shapes and forms.
- The Fault in Our Stars
- For Whom the Bells Toll
- Liberty or Death
- Double Jeopardy
- Till Death Do Us Part
Quotes From Within the Book:
- To Kill a Mockingbird
- Gone With the Wind
- Monsters of Men
- Their Eyes Were Watching God
- Of Mice and Men
- Pride and Prejudice
- I Capture the Castle
- Sally After Sal
- War and Peace
- Love and Hate
- Angels and Demons
There are hundreds of examples. Simply look at your favorite book and ask yourself why that title sounds interesting. Now, think of how the author might have come up with that. Use that same technique.
How to Come Up With a Title
I am going to give you a list, but read this anyway in case you don’t like any of my ideas.
You are a writer. You are your own best source of creativity. Your best ideas are going to come from inside your pretty little head, so use it. Sit down and think of all the interesting titles that come to your mind. Ask yourself what your book is truly about, and give an answer in three or four words. Use lines of poetry. Use song lyrics. Use quotes from your own book. Look up title generators and, while you may not use the exact title, you can find inspiration by combining different words and such. Here’s a list of the best title generators, and they are organized by genre. Ask your friends and family for ideas. Use every resource available to you.
2. Write them all down.
Do this for a couple of days or until your creativity bank has run completely dry, then go back through and pick out the top ten.
3. Next, take it down to five.
Use the requirements listed under “Good Book Title” in the first portion of the article. Is it catchy? Memorable? Easy to find on the internet?
4. You have two choices at this point.
- You can either begin asking others which title they think is best – it’s best to use an unbiased survey with people you don’t know very well who are within your target audience. (See below.)
- Or you can scratch everything and go through steps 1 – 3 again.Some ideas for testing these titles include:
Facebook polls – Find a book group, list your titles, and see which gets the most votes.
Facebook ads – Create an ad for each title and see which gets the most clicks.
Google Adwords – Same as the Facebook ads including the use of keywords to make sure only your target audience is polled.
Rules to Remember
- Don’t use Identical Titles.
While titles cannot be copyrighted, the same rules for using identical titles apply just about anywhere. It is not recommended.Don’t name your book The Holy Bible, Harry Potter, or The Lord of the Rings hoping to catch some readers deceptively. If a reader stumbles across your book when searching for the other identically named book, imagine how upset they may get and what that could mean for your book’s reputation. You may not even mean to copy a title. This is why research is so important because, even if they other identically named book isn’t famous, having the same title will hurt your discoverability.
- Stick with your genre.
A book with the title of “Thy Mystery of the Blonde Lady” should be for a mystery book – not a thriller. Likewise, “The Devil’s Woods,” isn’t a very suitable title for a romance novel. Again, do research. (I know. This is so much more work than just slopping down some words on the cover of your masterpiece.) Find successful books in your genre and see what they are titled.
- Don’t use derogatory language.
You may think that adding some explicit language to your book title will add shock appeal and will do a better job at grabbing attention. It may certainly grab people’s attention, but it may not be the attention you want. Many people become uncomfortable because of this sort of language, and they will avoid your book specifically for this reason. Books with titles like these will probably not get recommended as often because readers may not want to say the words out loud, admit that they are reading such a book, or have to go into a detailed explanation as to why they were reading such a book in the first place.
- Avoid Titles with negative themes.
Names such as: Why Slavery is Necessary, Racism is a Good Thing, and How Murdering My Children Set Me Free are all examples of terrible titles for obvious reasons.
The moment you’ve been waiting for. I’ve composed a list of titles that I’ve come up with over the years by using the exact same tips and rules I’ve given to you. (Sometimes, interesting titles even inspire writers to write something based around it, and how awesome is that?) Feel free to use these, but let me know because I’d love to see if any of my ideas have helped you.
A List of 44 Great Original Titles
- The Stars Tonight
- A Guide to Courteous Thievery
- Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down
- Dark Days Under a Black Sun
- Darkness is Fallen
- Shattered Pieces
- Remember Me
- The Sound of Light
- Long Far Away
- Into the Abyss
- The Kings of Old
- Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves
- Some Nightmares are Beautiful
- Walls of Fire
- The Polite Murderer
- The Windrunner
- Winter Ark
- Blood Roses
- Those Who Play With Demons
- The Friend of Death
- Two Roads
- Crimson Sky
- Emerald Dream
- Ashes and Snow
- Blood Moon
- One Last Hundred Chances
- Heaven’s Demons and Earth’s Angels
- The Stars Have Eyes
- I Heard it Once, Long Ago
- Golden Girl
- Why She Said Yes
- From the Ashes We will Rise
I have no idea if any of these titles have already been used. I hope not, but do your research just in case. Good luck!
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