It’s no secret that coming up with a great book title can make or break a book. But how can you choose the best book title for your work?
This guide will not only show you how to write a book title, but it will also advise you on how to come up with your own title ideas for your next project in any genre.
Why Are Book Titles Important?
Have you ever bought a book purely because of its title? I know I have. And plenty of other readers have, too.
Books such as A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson have become instant bestsellers thanks to their clever, intriguing titles. In the case of this example, the title not only tells a reader what genre it is (crime), but also sets up a series of questions that the reader will want to read on to answer. How can a ‘good’ girl be involved in a murder?
Word of mouth equates for a huge proportion of books that have achieved a runaway success. If a title is memorable, it’s more likely to stick in the forefront of a reader’s mind when they’re speaking to friends. To use our previous example, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, uses alliteration to great effect, and uses many of the same words in subsequent titles in the series to create a clear and memorable link.
On the other hand, a bad title can be forgettable. Take Stranger from Within for example – have you heard of that? Chances are you haven’t as this title was later changed to Lord of the Flies (William Golding), which is far more intriguing and memorable.
So – what is it that makes a book title great?
What Makes A Good Book Title?
Authors with an established track record can afford to take risks with their book titles. But for new and emerging authors, it’s worth sticking to these tried-and-tested rules:
* Be Unique
That’s not to say that you can’t call your book a name shared by something else, but it will help your title be easier to find by readers if it’s unique.
* Be Memorable
As readers, we can come across hundreds of books every day. Be clever with your use of words to create a title that will stick in a reader’s mind.
* Spark Interest
You can do this by generating a question for the reader, or by clearly signposting what the book is about from the title. For example, The Man who Died Twice by Richard Osman.
* Grab Attention
In a bookshop or online, this is mainly the job of the cover. But what about when the book is being spoken about in a conversation, or on the radio? Choose a book title with impact, for example, Tall Bones by Anna Bailey.
These rules sound simple, but they can be difficult to get right. There are lots of other factors that might turn a reader off, even if your title conforms to all these rules.
How Long Should Your Title Be?
One of the things that concern a writer when choosing the title of their book is its length.
How Does It Look On The Cover?
Titles must be long enough to be clear, unique and intriguing, but short enough to be memorable (and fit on the cover nicely). Most popular book titles are four words long, but a surprising 10% of the Amazon top 100 at the time of writing include titles over eighteen words.
Of course, this will vary according to genre (subject-led non-fiction can stand a longer, more specific title), and also Amazon metadata (including subtitles with keywords can help a book become more searchable). But as a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to be keeping your title in that magic space between too short, and too long.
Language & Clarity
You should also pay close attention to the use of language in your title. With such a small space to pack an impact, every word you choose has to be pulling its weight.
To help, try to avoid jargon and technical terms in your title that might be hard for the average reader to remember. You should aim to provoke an emotional response and provide clarity, whilst trying to avoid making your reader angry or hurt with the use of derogatory language.
It’s also useful to keep the title themed around your book, so that readers can easily associate it with your story long after reading. In the same way, using common genre structures found in the genre you’re writing can help with this.
For example, thriller titles tend to be short, using emotive language: The Silent Patient, Alex Michaelides.
Romantic comedies can stand to be a little longer and can often include a name, such as Lucy in the Sky by Paige Toon.
So how can you use these tips to come up with your own book title?
How To Come Up With Book Title Ideas
Before sitting down to come up with your own title, I recommend making a note of the advice above, so you can keep it in mind. In particular, it’s important that your ideas maintain clarity, relevance, and stay within your genre.
To help with this, the first step to creating a book title is to look at books similar to yours. Make a note of:
- The number of words in the title.
- Emotive words (what emotions do they conjure?)
- Any questions they pose (do they make you want to read on to answer them?)
- Anything else interesting about the title, such as the use of character names.
This step is important, as you’ll want to ensure your title communicates what your reader is to expect from your book, as well as being unique.
I like brainstorming on paper or on a whiteboard, but you can do it anywhere, at any time. For each of the following headings, spend fifteen to twenty minutes thinking of possible titles relating to your specific book:
- Who the book is about
This can be a name, or a description of the character in some way. For example, The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave.
- What the book is about
Think carefully about the themes and motifs you’ve used in your book. Looking at your synopsis can be a useful reminder here. For example, Normal People by Sally Rooney.
- Where the story takes place
This can be interior settings, as well as exterior. Where in this world or the next is the book set? If there’s a journey, can this be used? For example, The Salt Path by Raynor Winn.
- When the story takes place
Think dates, as well as seasons, days and time. You can also use important past or future events as a title. For example, A Week in December, Sebastian Faulks.
When you have some keywords, try mixing them around to create something unique and interesting. Alliteration can be your friend here, as we saw in A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder. You can also employ one of the following devices with your keywords to make it unique:
- Find a synonym
Is there another, lesser-used word that packs a bigger punch?
- Subvert expectations
Twist the meaning of your phrase to assign a new meaning to it, for example, Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng.
- Tell a mini-story
Find the hook of your story and tell it in a small space, such as The House with Chicken Legs, by Sophie Anderson.
- Focus on your USP (Unique Selling Point)
Is there something about your story that sets it apart from the rest? Perhaps it’s that it’s a true story, or perhaps something as simple as a character name. If it’s good, use it in your title! For example, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.
- Try other titles on for size
Is there a title you particularly like? Try mixing that with some of the words you’ve come up with – sometimes this can help you stumble across your own unique version, which contains all the elements of a title you love.
- Look at what’s trending
It’s no coincidence that, like with any product, there are trends with book titles. You may have noticed in certain genres, that once a book has had great success, other similar titles start to pop up. How many thrillers can you name with the word ‘Girl’ in the title? How many fantasy YA books do you know with the word ‘wicked’ in the title, or using the standard ‘A _ of _ and _’ combination?
- Pick out phrases Another trick is to read through your book, specifically looking for phrases that might make a good title. Some of my favourite book titles are ones that are almost small poems in themselves, such as On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. Reading your manuscript on an e-reader can sometimes help you spot these.
If you’re still finding it difficult, then try an automatic word or title generator. Then, it’s just the simple matter of choosing the right title for you…
How To Choose A Book Title
The best book title for your book will be one that conforms to all the rules we’ve outlined here, including that it’s clear, memorable, relevant, and unique. It will also be the one you feel most excited about and are most likely to remember yourself.
Try one or two on for size in conversation. Does it roll off the tongue? What was the reaction?
You may also find that other people can be useful – ask friends who have read the book for their thoughts and include other people in your process. In particular, agents and editors often bring their own thoughts to a title before publication, so be prepared to change it for the market if you’re planning on traditional publishing.
For those who are self-publishing, using social media or reader focus groups can be a great way of testing a title before going forward with it. You may even find that the most popular title is the one you’d least expect.
Whatever title you come up with, your primary goal is to make readers want to read your book and remember it long after they’ve finished reading. Spend time studying book titles, mind-mapping ideas relevant to your themes and then choose the title that you feel most excited by.
More than ready to get the ball rolling with agents, but just need a little push? Or perhaps you’ve had a few rejections but aren’t sure why? Our Agent Submission Pack Review gives you detailed professional advice on how to perfect your submission and increase your chances of securing an agent.
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