What’s In a Title?

In the process of writing my first serious novel, I ran into a bit of a snag: I didn’t know what to call it! I had the plot down, the characters drawn out, even a possible series developing from it, but I couldn’t figure out what to title the darn thing.

To me, titles are important. The old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” just doesn’t work for me. There are too many good books out there to read that I have to have some way to filter them. So a good title and cover design are really important. Besides, titles are generally the first thing a reader will see of a book, so it should help snatch a reader in.

Because I had this issue, I decided to do some research. And you know what I found? I was right! Titles are ever important. That being said, let me share a few of the tips I discovered:

1. Identify the genre of your book and research books similar to yours. If you write thrillers, search Amazon.com or Goodreads.com for best-selling thriller titles. If you write literary fiction, do the same. Look for trends in those titles, and apply it to your book’s title.

2. Use the theme or motif of your novel. If a certain piece of dialogue or story creeps up constantly throughout your book, consider that. Or if you have a theme that runs underneath the novel, use it as the title or at least as a base word to develop a title from.

3. If you’re writing a series, you may consider making your titles work for you. Several famous authors use series titles, like Sue Grafton’s A is for Alibi; B is for Burglar; C is for Corpse. Or Robert Ludlum’s three-word names: The Bourne Supremacy; The Matarese Circle; The Rhinemann Exchange.

4. Reach out to friends and family for ideas. Give them a basic overview of the novel (if they don’t know already) or give them a few keywords to work with. But don’t be afraid to skip over their suggestions if they don’t work for you. Remember: this is your book. Not theirs. You put the hard work and effort into getting it written, so don’t feel guilty about not taking suggestions.

5. From all of these, get several ideas down. I started with four key words that I played with in different phrases and as stand-alone words. Go through your list and whittle it down to a few that you like. Then say them aloud or picture it on a book cover and decide if it’s right for your book.

6. Finally, don’t stress too much on it if you are planning to go with traditional publishing. Chances are, you may not get to keep your title anyway as the publisher tends to change them.

For fun, here’s a title generator you can play with. (And, for the record, the title I decided on for my novel– for now– is Deception.)

Do you have any tips to add? What are your favorite titles and why?

Here are the articles I used for my research:





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