17 Steps to a Reader-Grabbing Title

17 Steps to a Reader-Grabbing Title

Smart readers know better than to judge a book by its cover (or maybe not), but what about judging a book by its title? A book’s title is there not just to identify the book, but also to make a statement about what’s inside its pages. Readers will gain their first impression of your book from either its cover or its title, and that makes your title one of your most important bits of marketing. No pressure, right?

Some authors wait until after finishing the first draft to title the book. Some, like me, need at least a working title before the idea can even begin to gel. Traditionally published authors may not have much say in their book’s final title. Independent authors sometimes have too much say. Whatever camp you fall into, your title shouldn’t be chosen lightly. Today, let’s consider some of the factors that should inform that decision.

5 Elements of a Good Title

Take a moment to consider some of your favorite titles. Write a list. What elements within these titles particularly attract you? More than a few of your titles will probably fall into the following categories:

1. Catchy: Neverwhere 

2. Humorous: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

3. Poetic: Something Wicked This Way Comes  

4. Curiosity Inducing: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? 

5. Genre Reflective: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

7 Questions to Ask About Your Title

As you’re planning your title and throwing around ideas, stop to ask yourself the following questions:

1. Is it unique?

Although titles aren’t copyrighted, you always want to think twice about choosing a title already in use. If nothing else, your title will have to compete for search engine rankings and could confuse readers.

2. How many words is it?

The number of words in a title often depends on the genre. Thrillers and suspense novels often have titles of a single word. Literary and humorous novels might have titles that consist of half a dozen or more words. Shorter titles are often more memorable and more convenient for cover design; longer titles are often more unique and descriptive.

3. Is it specific instead of vague?

Which book are you more likely to pick up—Lunar Colony or The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress? Loving a Scoundrel or Gone With the WindTrouble in a Small Town or What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

4. Is it memorable?

Readers probably aren’t going to snap up your book the first time they see or hear your title. But if that title is an earworm that sticks in the backs of their brains, they’re much more likely to pay attention the next time they run across your book.

5. Is it consistent with your brand?

Remember: titles are marketing. Particularly if you’re writing a series, but even if you’re not, you ideally want to choose a title that fits in with your previous books and overall brand. Consider Janet Evanovich’s use of a number in every title in her Stephanie Plum series or Sue Grafton’s use of letters in the titles of her Alphabet Mysteries.

6. Does it spawn any good cover image ideas?

Your cover image (which may be totally out of your control anyway) may end up having no obvious connection to your title. Indeed, sometimes that very contrast is a good hook. But as you’re brainstorming titles, consider how each one would look on the book cover. What images would you envision seeing beneath or behind each title?

7. Is it cool?

As marketing expert Rob Eager puts it, “Would a reader feel cool if someone saw them reading a book with that title? Readers have egos, and titles that people deem offensive or out-of-date can hinder sales.”

5 Tips for Brainstorming the Perfect Title

Now that you have an idea of a good title’s components, what steps can you take to come up with your own perfect title?

1. Research titles in your genre.

Zoom by Amazon and take a look at your genre’s bestseller list. What do the top twenty titles have in common? Write down the ones that particularly pop out at you and note the elements that make them attractive. How can you replicate their effect?

2. Consider your book’s text.

Your title makes a promise to readers about what they will find inside the book. So why not look inside the book itself to find the title? Are there any lines that pop off the page? Any particularly memorable or unique phrases? What one line in the book best sums up the theme, premise, or protagonist?

3. Look up words in the dictionary.

Grab your dictionary and flip it open to a random page. Do any words pop out? Make a list.

4. Analyze songs/poems/books.

One of my favorite techniques is to pull vivid imagery from songs, poems, and old books (the King James translation of the Bible is particularly full of strong and unique words). Make a list of the best phrases and start playing with them. A little clever wordplay can go a long way toward making your title stand out.

5. Free write.

Scribble down every title, word, or combination of words you can think of. I often cover pages in my notebook with various title ideas. Most are dumb, but there’s always one that finally pops out as the perfect representation of the book.Titles can be both fun and difficult. Don’t feel pressured by their importance, especially early in the process (you can always change titles later on). But don’t discount their importance either.

Tell me your opinion: What is your process for brainstorming a title?

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K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Very true, only one of my books with a title that doesn’t quite make it, but thankfully it’s appeal hinges on the other books I’ve written. Title of next book about to be published, ‘Snakeskin and Failed Feathers’ – have a feeling that this should do well. :0)

  2. I loved this! :D I often have trouble thinking of unique titles that fit with what I’m writing. I especially loved the tip about looking at the top twenty titles in my genre. I’ll have to try that!

    • Newsies Fantatic says:

      I agree! It’s really interesting what titles there are out there that you’ve never heard of. Thanks!

  3. @Carole: “Failed Feathers” definitely piques my curiosity!

    @The Magic Violinist: It’s the most fun kind of research! Who knows what kind of new reading material you may discover?

  4. I don’t have a process necessarily, but usually by the 2nd draft, I’ve come up with something I really am attached to. I do like to cruise by Amazon and see if there’s anything similar… one of my projects had one match–an Orson Scott Card book. I figured I was in pretty decent company there. ;)

  5. Good company – but also tough competition!

  6. Ruth Fanshaw says:

    I’ve been really struggling with the title for my work in progress. I’ve already changed it once, and may yet have to do so again! :)

    I like my titles to resonate with both the plot and the theme – so far, things I come up with seem only to do one or the other! :D

    Anyway – thanks for the tips! I’m going to try the free writing thing right now! :D

  7. It’s hard to find a good title that will do more than one thing. So long it’s good marketing and reflects some aspect of the book, that’s about all you can ask.

  8. I tend to have a preference of two-word titles that sound cool while being relevant.

    For my main YA urban fantasy WIP involving spirits, I call it Manifestation Files. The main issue is that “files” suggest that it’s a mystery, but it does have an Across the Universe-style mystery that the characters are solving.

    My 2011 NaNoWriMo project was Depression Harmonica, due to being in an alternative Great Depression with a magical harmonica being the MacGuffin.

    And an idea I’ve been entertaining recently is Dubious Doppelgangers. Roaring Twenties, shapeshifters, and questions about who’s right and wrong.

  9. Thanks for the awesome post :-) Just what I needed at the moment. I have recently just renamed a trilogy that I’m currently working on, and jeepers it was tough. I think my titles are finally kind of finalised for the moment, and your post really helped me solidify that in my head – so thank you!

  10. A good title should ideally define or encapsulate what the story is about in a word, phrase or word combo, but memorability, pulling-power and the cool factor always trump simple definition.
    For a while before I started the first draft, I wrestled with titles for my WIP. It involves the MC losing her good name and livelihood to ruthless power-wielders, then finding the key to happiness; so the title Restitution was a possibility. Then I realized that, as the story takes place about 70 years from now, the ‘iconic’ Twenty Eighty-Four was the only game in town. Didn’t clash with any other current title, either (smirk).

  11. A very helpful website and love your layout. Titles and book covers make the difference in sales. Good pointers here.

  12. @Chihuahua: I always like it when titles make use of beautiful words or imagery, like your use of “harmonica.”

    @parchmentplace: The hardest thing, I find, is when you have to change a title you really like to make it more marketable (or whatever). If you don’t like the title, changing it is much easier!

    @Trevor: Nice – particularly if your story echoes Orwell in some way.

    @Diana: Thanks for stopping by!

  13. Anonymous says:

    In my last short story I went with a title that reflects an overall feeling you get reading it.I called it MELLOW .

  14. That’s the sort of title that can spawn all kinds of great cover options.

  15. Great post. Glad I found your blog! I followed you. Follow me back if you would like http://mmreynolds.blogspot.com

  16. Thanks for stopping by!

  17. I go on intuition, which might not be the best thing to rely on. My most recent title is “With A Love Like That.” It’s a short story about a 13-yr.-old’s sexual experience. The words for the title come from a phrase in the Beatles song, “She Loves You.” The band is mentioned a couple of times in the story. The boy runs home after a bizarre experience with a girl his age who claims to love him. He sees the band performing the song during their first TV performance in the U.S. The title ties in nicely with the story, but I didn’t realize that consciously until it just popped out at me.

  18. It’s amazing how our subconscious sometimes plants seeds that we don’t even recognize until they bear fruit later on.

  19. This was a very timely post for me as I’m struggling a bit with the title of my second book in a trilogy. Thanks for the creative ideas!

  20. Series can be both easier and harder to title. On the one hand, they’re inter-connectivity will often suggest a theme. On the other, that same inter-connectivity can double or triple the requirements for the titles.

  21. Thanks Katie! I will definitely have all of this in mind :) I think The Queen´s Secret would be the perfect title for my WIP, but doesn´t it sound a bit cliché? I like Eagles over the wind too.
    Hugs,
    M.

  22. Yes, I would probably avoid The Queen’s Secret, since it’s not particularly memorable and definitely sounds like a lot of other titles already out there. I like Eagles Over the Wind. The preposition is unique and gives it a nice flair.

  23. Thanks for the brainstorming tips. Very useful.

  24. Glad they were helpful!

  25. Thanks SO much for your opinion, it was really helpful. I got with “That little something I didn´t tell you” too. I like the eagles one, so I´m ubber happy you like it too (specially the preposition. It being unique is really a compliment).

  26. I prefer short titles for my own books; ‘Back Dated and ‘Soul Trader’, but one of my favourite titles by another author is ‘A visit from the goon squad’ which I bought on the strength of the title alone.

  27. @Chris: Generally, I prefer short titles as well. But some of my favorite titles of other authors’ books are long – either lyrical or humorous.

  28. I’ve noticed many titles pick something minute out of the story and make that the title. Term Limits has nothing to do with any political shortening of term, but since some Politicians were killed off, I guess their terms were limited. Great book. Deception Point-The world was being deceived so. DP. Wizard of Oz is about one character at the end of the story so to speak. More catchy that the Adventures of Dorothy, but then we has The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland. What gives there?
    My new novel is a thriller. The fact the main character seems to never have been able to make choices in his life and his absent Father made them for him; I have titled my book, Checkmate. People need to make choices and there are always concequences… Thus my book.

  29. Titles tend to be very trendy. What works in one era isn’t necessarily what’s popular in the next. Hence, all the character names in the classic era (Emma, Adam Bede, Nicholas Nickleby), which we hardly ever see anymore.

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