Ten Tips for Finding Your Book Titles (c)Titles. They are one of the most important parts of our books. Next to cover art, titles are the first things that catch a potential reader’s attention. It’s no wonder we spend hours, days, and sometimes even months searching for the right combination of words to crown our books. We labor over titles as if we were giving birth to twins. We create lists of titles, paring them down to what we think are the best ones, and even then we might change our minds. Some writers finish their whole books with a WIP (work-in-progress) title because they can’t come up with a title they feel is worthy enough.
So what’s an author to do when looking for that perfect title?
- Consider finding your title before you start writing. Norman Mailer said this about picking book titles. “If you have to pick it after the book is done, it’s like trying to buy the right wedding ring.” I don’t know about you, but a lot of my book ideas spring from titles I’ve created when a word or phrase of words catches my attention.
- Look for words that present dissimilar pictures. Titles like Lovely Bones bring interesting ideas to the forefront. Who thinks bones are lovely?
- Use devices such as alliteration. When the title of my book The Nun and the Narc was announced at the ACFW Banquet as a 2007 Genesis Finalist, a murmur, peppered with laughter, ran through the room, and I knew I had a winning title. The use of alliteration and the juxtaposition of two very different people caught the attention of the audience.
- The title should give the reader a direct indication of the books s content or plot. If you picked up The Rum Diary, by Hunter S. Thompson you would expect alcohol to play a big part in the story, and according to the book’s blurb, it does. A book with the word Christmas in the title, such as Michelle Stegman’s children’s book The Christmas Pony or Kay Stockham’s The Crash before Christmas better deliver a Christmas story or your reader will be disappointed.
- Titles should set the tone of the book. If your book is funny let the reader know it through a hilarious title. If it’s a dark, brooding book show that in the title.
- If you are doing a series consider linking the book titles by using something similar like Janet Evanovich’s One for the Money, Two for the … and so on. Several authors have used this trick effectively including Sue Grafton with her Alphabet series.
- One or two-word titles using the main character’s name work well. Consider Cinderella, Snow White, Jane Eyre, Dracula and Frankenstein.
- Make the reader want to know more about your title. Intrigue them. While browsing Amazon for book title examples I came across A Christian Cougar by Vanessa Gray Bartal. The title so intrigued me that I downloaded it onto my Kindle. Vanessa successfully used several techniques I’ve mentioned to capture my attention.
- Use the name of a place. This works especially well when setting is one of your book’s characters. James A. Michener has used this trick with great success with his books, Hawaii, Alaska, and Chesapeake.
- Make a play on words. Homophones, words that sound alike and have different meanings, and different spellings, are great tools for play on words. Made and maid; night and knight; sent and scent; holy, wholly and holey; praise, prays and preys; mail and male; sole and soul; sheikh and shake are a few examples that can be used cleverly in titles.
- If you can’t find any inspiration in the above tips, consider making a list of words that relate to your story; one column with nouns, another with adjectives and a third with verbs. Throw in some prepositions and conjunctions and mix and match the words from the columns until you come up with something that catches your fancy. Then run your choice, or choices, past someone whose opinion you trust.
And last, but not least, don’t get too attached to that title you’ve struggled over. The editor who buys your book might decide to change your baby’s name.
How do you pick your titles? Do the titles come first or does your book?