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?
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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