What’s in a Name: Picking Your Book’s Title

What's In A Name_ Picking Your Book's Title

Your book title might not seem like much. Just a few words on the cover. No big deal, right? 

Of course, that’s nonsense. You know your title is important. For some, it’s a touchstone for the subject matter and becomes incredibly personal. For others, it’s a marketing tool, designed to grab the attention of your readers. 

However you look at your book title, you know it’s important. 

Why Does Your Book Title Matter?

Your book title is the very first thing all of your readers will see. As many great writers have said before, the opening line of your book has to hook the reader. Well, it’s arguable that the title is even more important. That opening line might be the difference between someone loving your book and not finishing it, but the title can decide whether they even buy it or not!

With that in mind, there are four primary goals to aim for with your title. 

  1. Grab Attention
  2. Be Memorable
  3. Explain Your Book
  4. Be Simple and Inviting

Grabbing Your Reader’s Attention

First and most important, your title has to make a potential reader stop and look closely at your book. One of the benefits of online shopping is that the title stands out even more than it does on a bookstore shelf. There is no premium on getting your book ‘facing out’ because literally every book on the web faces out. 

On top of that, the title is usually displayed both on the cover image and as a line of clickable text. Here’s a couple of titles currently spotlighted on Lulu’s Bookstore in the General Fiction category:

Note how each book has a well-designed cover with the title prominently displayed, as well as the title listed again beside the book. As I mentioned, both titles are fiction books. And conveniently for me, both use different techniques to grab attention.

In the first, Diggin’ the Dancing Queen: An Adventure in the Land of the Unexpected, the target audience is clearly adventurous readers. The word ‘adventure’ is right in the title! But more than that, the title and subtitle frame us around a question (who or what is the ‘Dancing Queen’?) and at the same time promises adventure (in the subtitle). If you’re in the market for a book that transports you to a wild and unpredictable new world, the Dancing Queen surely will provoke your attention.

On the other side, we have Society Ludvika: Separatists of Smith, Sorcery, and Sea. This title uses alliteration to guide your eye. While the main title is a bit confusing, the subtitle really ups the ‘what’s going on?’ factor. Smith like the name? Or a blacksmith? Sorcery?! What’s that even about? And how will the sea play into all this? 

Instead of promising adventure, Society Ludvika promises a puzzle or a mystery of some kind. If you’re shopping for a book that mixes genres and takes you on a complex journey, you’ll see this title as an enticement. Which brings us to the next job your book title has; being memorable.

Staying In Your Reader’s Mind

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An attention-grabbing title aims to secure a reader’s interest (and ideally a purchase) quickly. You want them to stop browsing and look at YOUR BOOK. 

But if your title is both evocative and memorable, you can catch hesitant readers too. I might not buy your book while I’m shopping this time, but if the title (and the cover, which I talk more about elsewhere) stick in my mind, I may well get your book on my next browse. 

That’s the power of a memorable title. 

Explain Your Book

Now we’re getting into some trickier parts of the book title. A really great title will explain something about the book. For nonfiction, this is usually pretty direct. If you’re written about the migration patterns of Canadian geese, then you’ll probably want to use a title like Study of the Migration Patterns of Canadian Geese. No need to be clever here; you’re just saying to readers “hey, if you’re interested in Canadian geese migration, I’ve got information for you.”

For fiction, it can be more difficult. You don’t want to give anything away or reveal so much that the story loses its immediacy. But you need to give readers enough of an explanation that they’ll feel like they know what they’re getting. 

Your title is going to help promote your book too, of course. So having a title that gives just a taste of what they can expect will go a long way toward those promotional goals. 

Keep It Simple And Inviting

This last one would not have been on my list originally. I came around to the idea of simplicity and accessibility after reading a lot of book titles. 

Here’s how it works: avoid long or complex words and always do your best to avoid controversial language. There is one major caveat to this: if your audience or subject matter demands it. 

Again, nonfiction book titles will need to use very specific language at times that might not seem right for general readers. But in these cases, the audience is well defined. 

What’s important here is that you don’t offend anyone. Avoid controversial terms or language and don’t use phrasing that might put off your intended audience. 

All while aiming for simplicity. You want readers to be inspired by your title and to remember it. That means it should not be a tongue-twister or difficult to pronounce.

Should You Use A Book Title Generator?

I’ve read a number of articles recently that suggest using a title generator. I disagree. Adamantly. 

Here’s the thing; you’ve written this entire book. From word one to The End. You’ve edited and had it edited, you’ve worked with readers to make the story something really amazing. After all that you want to let an AI decide your title? 

I just can not get behind that idea. 

Instead, I suggest keeping a running list of ideas alongside your working title. If you’re publishing a nonfiction book, you might want to do some keyword research and layer that into your title. 

Or better yet, go to your local bookstore and just look at the titles on the shelf. You’re not going to be copying existing titles or anything, but you certainly should use other’s successes as inspiration. Most importantly, the title will come from your ideas, your sense of the story you’ve created, and in the end, it will reflect you. 

Title generators churn out generic titles. Nothing about your book should be generic. 

Book Title Ideas

I touched on this above. There are tons of different ways to find inspiration for your cover. From a bookstore to your friends, inspiration is literally everywhere. But I know, that’s not exactly helpful.

Okay, so first off, I’m going to assume you’ve at least noted a few ideas for titles and that you have a working title. Take those and list them along with your goals for this book. That’s really important. If you’re aiming for financial success, you’ll want to think of your title as a marketing strategy. But if you’re just writing a book to write the book, you’re probably fine making the title something more meaningful for you.

As with almost everything, you have to let your goals dictate how you title your book. 

Want more strategies to find a book title that really works for you? Check out this post from guest author Grant Polacheck, who literally specializes in helping find titles and names.

There Is No Perfect Title

We could probably debate this. I can think of some pretty incredible titles. But still, I don’t think there is a perfect title. What you may find is the right title. 

No matter what your broader goal might be, your title has a job to do it. It has to hit the four points I covered earlier while resonating with the story while your reader is reading your book. The right title means something when a reader first picks up the book and it should mean just a little more once they finish reading. 

That’s the power of the right title; the few words continuously have meaning for the reader. 

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11 thoughts on “What’s in a Name: Picking Your Book’s Title”

  1. I have written a western novel. The main character is a man driven by vengence.
    I have come up with five possible names:
    The Shadow Rider
    Showdown at Indian Peak
    The Outrider
    An Eye for an Eye
    which do you think would attact readers of this genre

  2. Great article! I called my book “Sex, Brands & Rock’n’Roll” which is a huge cliche, but it has certainly got me more attention than a more conventional title might have done. It’s worth having an original title, but it’s also worth noting that common phrases will also arouse some PR of its own.
    While we’re talking about headlines / book titles it’s worth saying that all the copywriters I’ve ever worked with have spent as much time coming up with the headline, as they have writing the actual content – it’s THAT important.

    1. Jeremy,
      Your title certainly got my attention. You’re right on the money about using cliche’s to your advantage. I think it is important for authors to not over use them, but if you can tweak it or make a clever play on words, then more power to you.

  3. Venez découvrir ce que j’ai vécu comme victime survivante de l’acool au volant et je vous invite quiconque qui aurait l’audacité de me regarder droit dans le blanc des yeux et me dire que cela ne vous dérange aucunement et que vous allez continuer de conduire en étât d’ébriété. I dare you! Vous pouvez vous procurez mon livre “Survivre a l’alcool au volant” sur Lulu.com dans la section “Biographie”. Merci.

  4. Would somebody at Lulu please contact me so I may understand how to publish a book of poems. This web site is too confusing! I am a writer who has written over five hundred poems and would like to save them in a book! Thank you.

    1. Mike,
      Lulu is set up so that an author can publish at his or her own pace. To join Lulu, you can sign up from our home page. It is free to publish and sell on Lulu.com, you just upload your work to your projects list and decide what you want the cover to look like and where you want to distribute your book (Lulu, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple’s iBookstore, etc.). If you feel like you need help along the way, we offer tons of services and you can always sign up for a free consultation at this page: http://www.lulu.com/services
      Once you have finished your consultation, the best way to reach the folks here is through this page: http://www.lulu.com/customerservice

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