By Jessica Curry
If you’re reading this article, you probably either 1) are looking to title your book before you write it, or 2) finally have finished your as-of-yet untitled book. Which means that you can now no longer ignore this looming stumbling block: what on earth is its title going to be?
There’s no recipe for a perfect title. That said, we still all seem to know the good ones vs. the bad ones when we spot them. This post will give you a few hints and tips to nudge you in the ‘good’ direction.
Why are book titles important?
While your book title might be one of the last things on your list—it’s only a few words, after all—it’s worth giving some serious thought. After all, this is the most crucial marketing decision you will make, and it might singlehandedly determine whether or not somebody pulls your book from the shelf in the bookstore. No pressure!
There are certain things to be aware of, like:
- Avoiding overly complex titles, and
- Avoiding one-word titles (for search purposes).
But all things considered it’s your book, and you’ve pretty much got free reign here.
There are dozens of things people are going to remember your book for—like its cover design, characters, and plot twists—but the title is what’s going to intrigue readers, and is the most important aspect of your book’s brand.
For now then, let’s focus on some ways you can nail that all-important title.
How to craft the perfect book title
1. Use your characters
Especially when your characters aren’t just Joe Bloggs from down the road (and they almost definitely aren’t), you can play with or simply use their names as a starting point for thinking about your title.
Sound too easy? Just think of Harry Potter, Jane Eyre, Robinson Crusoe, and more. Using, or adapting (think: Goodnight Mister Tom) your character names for your book title is far from a cop-out, and can be really effective.
In novels where names are particularly important, like The Great Gatsby (even though it’s technically the story of James Gatz), it especially makes plenty of sense for your character to be the focus of your title as well.
2. Take inspiration from other works
You’d probably surprise yourself if you sat down and realised how similar a lot of bestselling titles are to one another—especially if they’re in the same genre.
Set phrases like ‘The ____ of ____’ or ‘_____ the ______’ are worth noting down and seeing if they work for you. Look to The Lord of the Rings, The Eye of the World, and The Sword of Shannara to realise just how prevalent this is, particularly in genres like fantasy.
If you work out how to tread the line so that it’s not completely transparent where you’ve gotten your core idea, this is another great way to get those cogs whirring.
3. Run with a phrase or concept from within the book
We’re thinking along the lines of To Kill a Mockingbird and Before I Go to Sleep here. Is there a particularly striking portion of dialogue in your story? How about a core idea or concept that runs through the whole novel, or is articulated at the end?
This approach, if given a bit of time and consideration, can also be the way into some seemingly obscure but clever titles. Even something relatively self-explanatory like Great Expectations is an overarching idea for the whole book that ends up driving the plot sequence. Slightly more arcane titles like How to Be Both or Parade’s End create intrigue while also making clear central themes within the novel itself.
4. Use a generator
If, after all these brainstorming activities, you’re still drawing blanks, no need to panic. Take the thinking out of the equation and give your brain a rest by trying a title generator. Whether you use these (literally thousands) of options as your title or as a springboard for your own ideas, this could be the answer to the brain block you might be experiencing.
Your book title is, after all, what your book will rely on once you’ve published to convince readers, publishers, and everyone in between to take a chance on picking up and reading your book. Hopefully these tips will have launched some ideas for you, and you’re one step closer to publishing—and to that bestsellers list!
Jessica Curry is a writer based in Bristol, UK. She is a member of the team at Reedsy, the world’s largest marketplace of experienced publishing professionals.