Ask a Book Editor: How to Title Your Book
Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, titling your book can feel:
Easy (“I’ve known the perfect title since Day One.”)
Challenging (“There’s a working title but it doesn’t feel quite right yet.”)
SUPER HARD (“Kill me now—this is impossible.”)
For most, it falls between challenging and hands-up despair. Why do these few words create such turmoil when you’re able to otherwise craft entire books? It’s because a title is the work’s most hardworking calling card.
And while a bad cover may turn off a prospective buyer/reader, a bad title can bury your book.
No wonder it feels like a lot of pressure.
Well I’m here to help ease the anxiety as you name your “baby.” You’ve got this.
I find the best method is to allow yourself to freely brainstorm. By that I mean get out pen and paper (or open a fresh doc) and jot down any idea that comes to mind. Try culling imagery or themes that are already in the book. The key is to do it without judgment or second-guessing. The for-your-eyes-only list will be raw, long, and very likely full of stinkers.
BUT once you’ve told that inner critic to move along, something will intuitively start to emerge. Amid what’s clearly wrong—even laughably so—a spark or path begins to push you in a viable direction. A turn of phrase or rising image starts to click.
From there, find different ways of expressing the same thought. Play with variations of word order and use of articles. Try longer and shorter versions. Most likely you’ll be circling an idea that’s close but still not quite there yet.
If so, let your creative brain work on it during what I call Standby Mode. “Sleep on it” is real. Personally, I find some of my best titles occur to me in the shower. Whenever they land, note them quick. It’s a gift and they don’t always wait around.
Once you have a strong contender, follow the checklist below before making it official.
POTENTIAL TITLE CHECKLIST
UNIQUENESS. Look it up on Amazon. Has it been used before? If so, is it for something in the same genre or category? Is the other book recent-ish and high-ranking (or years old with an Amazon Best Sellers Rank of #5,345,234)? Book titles cannot be copyrighted but potential readers can get confused if your book comes up within a list of title doppelgangers. Sharing a title isn’t a deal-breaker, but it isn’t ideal.
EASY TO RECALL. To be found, your title has to be remembered. Stay away from titles that are too clever, super long, or spelled funky.
TOO GENERIC? This one’s admittedly tricky and subjective, as a strong title can be short and simple. It’s more about bypassing a shrug. Ideally, you want your title to be as compelling as your book. That said, fiction—especially genre fiction (thrillers, mysteries, romance)—can appropriately sound more familiar to clue in fans of the particular category. With fiction, the cover helps make it more unique.
INTRIGUING YET NOT TOO CRYPTIC. A strong title piques your curiosity. Fiction and nonfiction do offer different thrills (and nonfiction is often boosted by a subtitle) but a title should never baffle or mislead the reader. Now sometimes titles acquire deeper meaning after reading the work, but it should make sense from the get-go…or no one will reach the a-ha reward.