How to Choose the Perfect Title
Your novel's title is your first chance to grab a reader's attention. A perfect title will catch the reader’s eye on the bookshelf amidst the hundreds of other books surrounding it, or stop a reader mid-scroll if they are searching for books online.
So how do you craft that perfect title— the one that captures the essence of your story? In this post, we’ll share questions to ask yourself about your story that will help you create a title to draw more readers in!
What is your book about?
Above all else, the perfect title has to suggest to the reader what the story is about and what kind of book this will be. This can be as simple as titling your book after a significant character, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic The Great Gatsby or Mark Twain's novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Or, you can focus on the setting, such as The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, or The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
You can also evoke the central theme or conflict, such as Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, a story in which the narrator struggles to speak up after a traumatic event. Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone's science fiction novel This Is How You Lose the Time War is, as the title suggests, about two secret agents fighting a war via time travel.
What is the tone of your book?
A great title will trigger an emotional response in the reader. It’s important to keep in mind that the emotional response your title elicits should match the tone of your story. You don’t want a comical title for a dark memoir, a serious title for a comedy, or a heavy title for a light summer romance.
For example, The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline and Kristina McMorris’ Sold on a Monday both let the reader know that they are about to embark on a journey that might be sad and difficult. On the other hand, the title of Tina Fey's comedic autobiography, Bossypants, lets the reader know this book will likely have a lighthearted, comical tone. Each of these titles matches the tone of the story, and you want to make sure your title does the same.
What is your writing style?
Your title isn't just a necessary element of a book— it's a chance to showcase your style as a writer. One way you can do this is with wordplay or vivid imagery. For example, Tara Jenkins Reid’s One True Loves catches readers’ attention with the unusual pairing of the words “one” and “loves.” This is an oxymoron, and the reader will be curious to read more about how one love can be plural.
Another great example is Gabriel García Márquez, whose style of magical realism is evident in the titles of his books One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. These powerful titles indicate stories of epic and somewhat otherworldly nature.
A unique title might leave the reader asking questions. E. Lockhart’s young adult novel, We Were Liars, introduces readers to an unreliable narrator, leaving the reader with many questions that can only be answered by reading to the very last page. Who was lying? What were they lying about? What happened because of the lies? Engaging a potential reader's curiosity is a sure way to get them flipping through the pages!
A note of caution: Be sure to use words in your title that are familiar to the reader, ones that are easy to pronounce and understand. Using words that are unique to your sci-fi or fantasy world, such as the name of the planet you have created or mythological creatures specific to that realm, might leave the reader feeling confused, causing them to leave the book on the shelf in search of something easier to relate to.
Can you create a connection in the reader’s mind?
One way to create a memorable title is to connect it to something the reader is already familiar with, such as a poem, nursery rhyme, or song. For example, Gregory Maguire’s Wicked connects the reader to a character they are likely already familiar with: the Wicked Witch of the West.
Sophie Gonzales’ young adult novel, Never Ever Getting Back Together, uses the title of a Taylor Swift song that is instantly recognizable to Swift fans around the world. Any reader who is a Swiftie will be tempted to immediately pick up the book and begin reading!
And then there is Agatha Christie, queen of mystery, who often penned book titles inspired by nursery rhymes, such as Hickory Dickory Dock as well as And Then There Were None. You can do the same with a carefully selected title that makes a connection in the reader’s mind.
Should your title be short or long?
The benefit of short titles is that they are often easier to remember than longer titles. Elie Wiesel’s Night is one example of a powerful one-word title. Toni Morrison's classic Beloved is another. Both these books are powerful, tragic, and deeply moving stories, and their short titles match the poignancy of the narratives.
Longer titles can be unique and memorable as well. Michael Chabon's Pulitzer-prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay perfectly captures the essence of this story about two comic book creators.
Ultimately, it will be up to you (and your publisher if you're pursuing traditional publishing) which kind of title will best fit your book.
Is your title marketable?
If you want to sell your book to readers, it must have sales potential and be marketable. This is why you should try to choose a unique title.
For example, if you’re writing a romance novel and choose the title A Notebook, your novel’s results might get buried in an online search under Nicholas Sparks’ best-selling novel, The Notebook. This will hurt your book in the long run by possibly lowering your book's rank below the well-known book already on the market.
When Elizabeth Gilbert came up with the title for her bestselling novel, City of Girls, she did an internet search for the title, sure the title must have been used before. After much research, she discovered the title had never been used in her genre or any other. It’s important that you do the same research for your title ideas. Browse through Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes & Noble to see if your chosen title has been used. If so, was it in your genre or a different genre? If it hasn’t been used in your genre, are there similar titles that might make your book show up lower in the search engines, and if so, how can you make your title stand out?
Brainstorm your own titles!
Now you’re ready to choose the best possible title for your book. Using the questions above, brainstorm a list of keywords and potential titles. Think about the central theme of the story, the setting, or a significant character. Make sure your title is unique and hasn’t already been used in your genre. Make your title memorable by triggering an emotional response, creating a connection in the reader’s mind, or showcasing your unique style. Finally, consider how you'll want to market your book and if you'd rather have a short, pithy title or a longer one. With these tips in mind, you’ll have no trouble choosing the perfect title for your book!