Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Choosing a Title

How do you choose a title? What constitutes a good title?

I have no hard and fast rule per say when it comes to naming my masterpiece scribbles of a genius magnum opus books.

But I have learned a few things over the past two years that I try to keep in mind.

1. A title should grab the browsing reader's attention.

This one is a bit really subjective, but there are certainly words that are more likely to snag a reader's attention than others. For me personally, words like thief, prisoner, blue, break, knife would all grab my attention over words like eternal, whisper, aspire, etc.

2. A title should be easy to remember. 

Have you ever read a summary for a book somewhere and wanted to read it, only to forget the title of the book completely when the time came for you to look it up at the library,, or the bookstore? I have the perfect example. The Perilous Gard was recommended to me, and I completely forgot the name before I could get my hands on a copy. If you can't remember the book's name, and you don't know the name of the author or what it's about, how are you supposed to ever find the book? Do readers a favor and make it easy to remember. I think part of my problem is I didn't know what a "gard" was, and perilous isn't a very grabbing word for me, so I had no way of storing that title in my memory other than route memorization.

In other words--what the heck does the title mean? Make it concrete. (I've read the book, and I still don't know. Can't remember!)

3. The title should evoke some sense of what the book is about.

This example bleeds into the last. I read the following example in the book Writing Historical Fiction. The author, explaining about titles, contrasted the first title of her book, Aspire to the Heavens, with the title she eventually replaced it with--Mount Vernon Romance. The first title means nothing, and is difficult to remember. The second is more concrete and straightforward, and gives the reader an immediate clue--this is probably a story about George Washington. According to her, the book sold much better under the second title (I believe it became a bestseller, actually).

I have to take this opportunity to say something about the romance stuff you see at the grocery store. The Millionaire's Virgin Bride, The Oil Sheik's American Mistress, The Garbage Man's Fiery Affair with the Widowed but Still Surprisingly Virginal Lunch Lady ... It is possible to be too descriptive in the title, I think. But then, I don't think that readership is looking for subtlety.

4. The best length is several words.*

I read this online somewhere (the article actually specified three words), and I don't have any data to back the assertion up. But it makes sense to me--three words are three opportunities to grab your reader with at least one evocative word, and there's more chance for your book to be the first thing that pops up in the search engine or on Amazon with a three word title over a one word title (have you ever tried searching for a book called something vague like Murder? Especially from an unknown author? You'd get a gazillion results from the non-fiction section on top of it).

Now, is more always more?

Well, no. I don't think it has to be a hard and fast rule. But I like to keep it in mind. Does that mean if you have a one word title, you need to change it? Again, no. Lots if one-title books have done very well. Twilight, for instance (although when I first encountered the book, the title didn't grab me, and I read it only based on the urging of a good friend**). Just consider what word you have chosen for your book, and how evocative/striking/memorable that word will be.

In Conclusion

Now, traditionally published authors have less control over their titles, I know. And if you're a well-known author, your title isn't selling your book anyway. Your name is, so I don't think it matters much what you call the book. Stephenie Meyer could call her next release Book Number Six or Another Book By Steph and it would still sell millions of copies.

But indies need all the help they can get.

What are some titles that grabbed your attention and then stuck in your mind until you read the book?


Memoirs of a Geisha
The Blind Assassin
The Time Traveler's Wife
The Thief
The Walking Dead
We, the Drowned

Also, some indie titles that grabbed me:

My Blood Approves***

* I wish I still had a link to the website where I read this. I thought I'd saved it in favorites, but apparently not. Sorry!

** In the end, word of mouth is always going to be more valuable than even a very striking title. So write a great story first and foremost!

*** You could argue that this is somewhat vague, but it has the word blood, which caught my attention, and I wanted to know WHAT the blood approved, and that lead to my looking the book up. Bingo. Goal accomplished, Amanda Hocking. It was a book about vampires, but the title wasn't simply a mimicry of Twilight. So it stood out to me.


  1. Great tips. :-) I have a one name title for my WiP, but I think it will stand out, which is why I chose it.


  2. Misha:

    Yeah, I have a couple WIPs with one name titles myself. But they really fit and they have a bit of a kick to them.


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