Choosing a clever title can be as hard as writing the book itself. Some writers say their title comes to them first, and the story develops from there, while other writers have folders of documents like, “Untitled, fantasy time travel book, name TBD.”
Your title should do three things: Attract readers you want, distinguish your book from others in its genre, and leave a lasting impression on the reader. Here are Lulu’s tips for giving your masterpiece a great name.
- Avoid clichéd nouns like “chronicles,” “tale” and “adventure.” Sure, some of the great classics use them – The Chronicles of Narnia, The Handmaid’s Tale and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn come immediately to mind – but usually these descriptors are unnecessary and over-used. Distinguish your book with an original title, even if it is a chronicle, a tale, or an adventure. John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War could easily be described as a chronicle, but doesn’t rely on that descriptor to be memorable and powerful.
- How to choose a clever title? Consider an important object, character or idea from the book and start brainstorming. Perhaps a line from the book during a critical scene would make a good title. Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, for example, takes its title from a character’s description of time travel to a child – creating a “wrinkle” in the fabric of time to get to and fro easily. The relevancy of the title may not be immediately apparent, but when the reader finally figures it out within the text, the realization can be just as satisfying as finishing the book.
- If your book is non-fiction, consider a subtitle to clarify your clever main title. Readers of non-fiction want to know up-front what they’re going to get from your book. Before it becomes a nationally-known best-seller, a vague title like What Color is Your Parachute? needs a descriptive subtitle (A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers) to appeal to the job-hunters who might need the help this book can provide. The combination of title and subtitle of Deborah Frye and Tracy Mercier’s Our Father Who Aren’t In Heaven: A True Story of a Career Criminal does a great job of telling the reader the subject and tone of the book. Make your title original. Book titles cannot be copyrighted or trademarked, so it’s possible for there to be a hundred different books with the same title. If there’s already an established book with your title, especially in your genre, your readers could buy the wrong book on accident. Do a quick search on your favorite book-buying website to make sure there’s not a book with your title, or a very similar title with your subject matter.
- Use literary devices like puns, alliteration and plays on established titles to make your book memorable. You’ve probably heard of The Art of War; a play on this is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. The slight transposition completely changes the meaning. Robin Amber Kilgore’s In Her Bathrobe She Blogged has a great rhythm and alliteration, and Tom Fishburne’s book of marketing cartoons, This One Time at Brand Camp, turns a known pop-culture phrase into a clever pun.
- Don’t be afraid of long titles. Some of my favorite book titles make an impression because they’re long: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran-Foer; Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? by Raymond Carver; and The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker.
- Call it exactly what it is, even if it’s tongue-in-cheek. Examples: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers and Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart.
- When in doubt, borrow! Did you know some great books have titles borrowed from other works? Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel both borrow their titles from John Milton’s works – Paradise Lost and Lycidas, respectively. Tamra Davis’ Make me Something Good To Eat is a family-friendly cookbook, its title taken from the children’s trick-or-treating rhyme.
- Finally, once you’ve come up with the perfect title, think of two or three more. Run them all by your writers’ group or your most honest bookworm friends to see what they think.
Now tell us, what titles did you consider before deciding on the title of your book?
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