Before you get people to even read the synopsis of your novel or book, you need to capture their attention. But how do you snag someone before they even know what your book is about? The answer is the first thing that they learn about your book, of course—the title. So you better make sure it’s a great title.
The title is an essential part of your marketing strategy. If a reader sees your title and wonders what the book is about, you’ve already begun leading them to read your story. If To Kill a Mockingbird had kept its original name idea of “Atticus,” the book may not have been as successful.
As writers, we pride ourselves on wordsmithing and creativity. However, you are not alone if you find that coming up with a title is almost impossible. A great book title is a challenge to come up with, even if you’re great with words.
The title of your book not only has to sum up everything that your story tackles, it also has to captivate readers and draw in an audience. This article will give you great tips and strategies that will help you come up with an engaging, captivating title for a book.
What’s in a name?
As important as it is to have engaging characters, a gripping plot, and a strong voice, a novel without a good title may not generate enough buzz and attention to stand out from the crowd.
Mark Haddon’s title The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime accomplishes this by drawing attention. It is a long title, but it piques curiosity by referencing an incident that readers will want to learn more about.
A book title should be memorable because when a friend is recommending a read, they are usually doing so by word of mouth. If they can’t remember the name of the book they just read, chances are they will not be able to recommend it.
Additionally, if someone had a title recommended to them and they’re at the bookstore struggling to recall the name, they might never be able to find your book.
William Faulkner pulled an iconic line from Macbeth to use as a name for The Sound and the Fury, which makes for a memorable, impactful name. Even those who are not familiar with the reference have an easy time remembering the striking imagery of Faulkner’s book title.
Another challenge when it comes to naming a book is that the title must reflect the story and themes. It should hint at what is central to the plot. When the reader finishes the book, they should understand the relevance to the plot.
Donna Tartt’s The Secret History is a simple, intriguing, yet memorable title. It works because it is written from the point of view of Richard Papen, who is divulging secrets. Sometimes the significance of the title is also brought up directly in the text as David Mitchell does in The Bone Clocks by stating that humans and the way they are age how time is tracked.
But how do you come up a book title?
When coming up with a name for a book, it is helpful to start with your biggest ideas, then work your way down. Refine your ideas with this proven approach to naming, which has helped people with creating a brand name, business names, and more.
Begin by creating a document that you will build out and refer back to as you start generating novel title ideas. Include tone, theme, relevant words, and a brief summary of your book.
Watch your tone
The tone of your novel likely permeates every page. It is a broad thread that weaves through your narrative. Your book title should reflect the tone.
If you called a thrilling mystery novel “Courage from the Sword,” which sounds more like a fantasy novel name, the dissonance between your content and the title would mislead readers, and once you lose a reader’s trust, you lose them for good.
Each Harry Potter book sets a different tone that reflects the growing tension of the series. The first book is more lighthearted than the last one, and this is reflected in the tone of the titles, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Include the tone of your book in the naming document. It can be helpful to start broad. We have broken down the tone into five styles for people seeking tips on how to name a business, but the same approach can be applied to your book naming document.
Your book’s core themes play a central role in what you are communicating. If you are trying to send a message through your text, the title should reinforce it. For example, Pride and Prejudice is a great book title because it identifies the theme of Austen’s book.
In your book naming document, list the key themes of your book. What life lessons relevant to the human experience are you presenting or challenging? Are there any recurring symbols or images that you use? Take note of them in your naming document, as they may come in handy later as you start brainstorming ideas.
As you continue to distill your manuscript into a name, break down the plot of your book into a one to two-sentence summary and include it in the naming document. This will help focus your ideas so you don’t have excess information influencing your focused title. This summary is also known as a hook or a logline.
Summarizing your complex novel in one or two sentences may feel like an impossible task. You have put so much time and energy into creating fleshed-out characters and complex plot points that you may feel a brief summary would overlook. However, in reality, when people are recommending books to each other, it’s usually no more than a two-sentence overview anyway. Gain control of how the book comes across and begin narrowing your focus with your own summary.
Here’s an example of a one-sentence summary of Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling: A boy wizard begins training and must battle for his life with the Dark Lord who murdered his parents. (Randy Ingermanson.)
In this sentence, include a character, a problem or conflict, what is at stake, an action, and a setting, if it is relevant. This summary will allow you to get to the essentials of your book that will inform the plot and focus your attention before your dive into naming.
Collect some power words and fit them together
Once you have cultivated the broader information that supports your narrative like tone and themes, start getting specific. What impactful words have you associated with your book? Generate a list of words that you might apply to your book.
It can also be helpful to jot down some book title idea formats and apply your words to them.
Some formats include:
- This + That names like Pride and Prejudice
- Abstract image names like A Clockwork Orange
- Single word titles like Beloved
- Naming a book after a character like Madeline
The possibilities are endless. The more ideas you come up with, however, the more you will understand what you are and are not looking for.
There is a lot of pressure around coming up with a great name because a name directly impacts how successful your book will be. Without a great title, people will not be interested in your book, and the will not pass it along to others.
Equip yourself with this brainstorming process and start generating great title ideas. The right title is out there, you just have to find it.