Advice on How To Come Up With A Title

by Todd Rogers
(Sacramento, CA, USA)

Question: Regardless of length or type of work (article, report, how-to book, vignette, novel, epic series, etc), are there different considerations for giving your work a proper title?

Since Titles of books are the first thing that people see when they come upon your work in a bookstore, online in a gallery or publishing place like Amazon or iBooks, is there a titling convention to adhere to that makes it easier to give a story or work that spark of individuality, it's brand?

Answer: The good news, if you're a writer, is that most often your publisher's marketing department will have the final say on the title - if they don't actually write it themselves - because, as you say, it is an important marketing tool. All you need is a working title. You can try to make it good, but don't get attached to it.

The bottom line is that you want a title that will grab the attention of the reader who likes books like yours. Every genre is different, and often you can identify a genre just from the title (which is a good thing).

With non-fiction, it's common to have a short title that summarizes the core idea and is easy to remember, followed by a subtitle that actually explains what the book is about or the biggest benefit the reader will get from the book, or the most amazing thing the reader will learn. It helps to mention the topic in the subtitle or title so people searching for that subject can find it. Books that teach the reader how to do something usually have titles that start with "How to." Histories often have the word "history" in a title or subtitle.

Fiction titles can also have searchable features, though it is less common. For instance, some murder mysteries have the word "mystery" or "murder" in the title (or subtitle). Books set in an exotic location may name the location in the title.

However, with so many titles in print, tricks like this can become counterproductive, because too many titles show up when you search for a key word. So searchability is more of a bonus than a rule in fiction.

Instead, the challenge is to try to find a phrase that summarizes the theme, atmosphere, or some other distinctive feature of the story. If you're writing a humourous book, for example, a funny title is important. Similarly, it's no surprize how many gothic romances have words like "dark" or "wicked" in the title. Sometimes a memorable phrase from the book works well as a title.

If you want to create a good title, you might start by making a list of titles of other successful books in your genre.

Then go through your book and make a list of the distinctive features, the key ideas, themes, unique phrases, settings, topics, atmosphere, characters, etc.

See if you can pair the structure of titles from the first list with ideas from the second list.

You may want to do this process several times over a period of weeks before creating a short list. Ideas may come to you between sessions.

Then try reading titles to some people and asking if they can guess what genre the book is in. Or you could find some people who like your genre and ask them if any of your titles sound like something they would pick up in a store.

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