February 19, 2021 (Last Updated July 21, 2020)Michael Dull
Judging books by their cover can be an unfortunate reality in the book world. There is a lot to think about when it comes to your cover. Key elements like artwork, blurbs, and cover material all deserve some serious thought. Despite the importance of all of these, choosing the perfect title is most important. Beyond adding meaning, a good title plays a large role in how well your book will sell.
As any author knows, a title often changes during the writing process. Many authors use a working title for months, even years, before settling on one they like best. Once the writing process is over, you may find yourself struggling to pick a title. Below we've created a short guide to help you come up with the perfect title for your book.
Think About Your Book's Content:
First, a book's title should connect to its content in a meaningful way. Before you begin coming up with title ideas, you may want to take one more look at your manuscript. This might involve rereading important passages or the entire book. While you've probably read the book many times, it may help to look at it with the fresh idea in mind to search for a title. Take note of key words, well-put phrases, and over-arching themes that can be used.
Short and Sweet:
Keeping your title short and sweet ensures it's easy to say. Potential buyers may be turned off by a title that is lengthy or difficult to process. Also bear in mind a lot of book marketing is done online today. A quick and snappy title fits easily into social media posts and URLs. Shoot for a title somewhere in a one to five word range to be safe.
Make It Stick:
Your book title will be easy for you to remember, but it needs to be easy for readers to remember. Phrases that feature alliteration are a popular way authors can make titles memorable. An example of this would be Sara B Larson's Dark Breaks the Dawn, or Jim Carrey's new book Memoirs and Misinformation. A single, evocative word on the cover is another method often used since it's much easier to remember one word over six or seven. Use a funny quip or a surprising take on a familiar phrase. By using either humor (who doesn't like a good joke?) or a common saying with a few changed words, you are sure to get your book title stuck in a reader's mind. A great example that uses both humor and a familiar phrase is Carrie Fisher's Wishful Drinking.
Issues to Consider
One Word Titles:
Using one evocative word taken from a central theme, character or place in the book are all popular title choices. Examples of this include Michelle Obama's Becoming or Stephen King's It. These books benefit from the mystique and power a one-word title offers. There is one issue to be aware of with these titles, though: customers may not be able to find your book on a search engine or bookseller's website. Several books with that word in their title will pop up. If a potential reader can't find your book quickly, they may give up looking. If you are set on a one-word title, consider adding a sub-title.
There are two main benefits to having a sub-title. First, a sub-title offers further context not covered by the main title. Second, they make the entire title more unique, allowing customers to find the book easier online. Both of these advantages can also lead to better sales. However, be sure the sub-title is useful and necessary. Avoid extending your title for the sake of it. Sub-titles should add essential information (think a series name or number) and/or context.
Study the Market:
Look at the titles of similar books, or books in the same genre. Put on your consumer cap and ask yourself, “Which titles attract me and which ones don't?” What do you like about those titles and how can you adapt what they did for your own book? Pay attention to whether or not another author already has a book with your exact title, or a title that's similar. Even if it's close, it's best to rethink your title.
Now that you've done all of the research and are familiar with title norms, it’s time to start coming up with ideas. I'm sure you already have a few in mind. Get those down first. Creativity works best in-motion. Once you've exhausted those initial ideas, consider the following exercises to keep possible book titles flowing.
If you get stuck, think about what the book is really about. Try composing a quick blurb you might use for the back of the book. What are the various themes you explore in the book? Perhaps think about the mood or a specific subject. If location is central to the book, write about why the place is so important. By exploring these topics further and simply writing, you may stumble into a phrase or word that could be adapted for the title.
Lastly, think about looking through the dictionary, or especially the thesaurus. This works best when you like a phrase, but it lacks the punch for a title. Perhaps you can find a better word that describes the same idea in the thesaurus. This method carries the added bonus of learning new words, which for a writer is never a bad thing.
After you've compiled your list of potential titles, it's time to decide! Some people use social media polls and ask followers to vote on which titles they like best. Theses kinds of options are good to get broader public opinion, but don't forget that you're the author. You could also create a ranking, or bracket system to see which you like most and least. This is a good option for narrowing possibilities down. Once you have a handful of titles that you like, turn to your most trusted friends and family, especially those familiar with your book. Ultimately, it's your choice to make, so above everything, make sure YOU like the title.
To wrap up, you want a book title that is relevant to the book and catches a potential reader's attention. You can do this in a number of ways. Deciding whether your choice is short and easy-to-remember are good first tests of an effective book title. A lot of this guide is about the sales side of a book title. But remember, your book is your work of art. You're the one who will be selling it, talking about it, and writing about it. Be sure you like it too!
Once you’ve chosen a title, start thinking about how to highlight it on your book cover. At 48 Hour Books, we specialize in to really make your book stand out on the shelf.
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