Why is it that ideas for our books can (and often do) strike us like lightning from the clear blue sky, and that little nugget of an idea can turn into a full-length novel in a matter of months. But when it comes time to choose the perfect title for our books, we break out into a cold sweat and hives form all over our bodies at the mere thought of having to pick three or four words that perfectly describe our stories. I’ve always been intrigued by this phenomenon.
Maybe it’s because the idea that, with a novel, we have plenty of time and room to stretch our creative muscles and revise and rewrite until it’s as close to perfection as we can get it, as well as having 200 some pages to express our creative ideas.
Or maybe it’s because the pressure is on us, knowing that our title is part of the 3 Gateways to Success (as I call them) an author must unlock in order to convert curious browsers into buyers and readers.
The 3 Gateways to Success are as Follows:
And the second gateway is exactly what I think makes writing a title such a pressure filled and stressful time for us. Knowing that, if we totally miss the mark with our chosen title, it could ruin our chances of snagging that one reader.
And one reader might as well be a million in an author’s mind.
So, it’s no wonder we can’t seem to find the perfect two, three, or four little words to use as our book’s title and that trying to nail our titles can lead some authors into nearly full-blown panic attacks.
Must-Haves for Book Titles
Before I ease your suffering and show you how you can spend less time panicking and stressing over the perfect title for your book, here are just some of the things that you need to consider when trying to come up with the best title for your book:
1.Titles Must Be Genre-Appropriate!
Make sure that, when you are brainstorming different title options, anything you choose fits the genre norms and expectations of avid readers in that genre. Otherwise, you risk confusing readers, or worse yet, turning away those who would typically wind up loving your book had the title not been misleading.
Example: You’ve written a shifter romance set in post-apocalyptic America in the near future. If you use a title like “Ben’s Bad Day,” not only would it not appeal to the MASSIVE group of readers who love shifter romance, it would come across more like a chapter book for kids about a boy named Ben, who had a not so good day at school. Am I right?
2.Titles Must Be as Original as Possible!
It’s difficult, I admit, in modern times, to come up with a title no one has ever used anywhere before, especially when you get into genre expectations. But it’s not impossible. So, you have to always do your research to make sure you’re not going to be overshadowed by a recent, better, more popular book with the same title.
Example: I’ve been working on my latest WIP about how childhood secrets between friends can impact us later in life. I was so excited about the story and my title, which was “Two Can Keep a Secret.” Yes. I know. I found out just a couple weeks ago that there’s a massively popular, recent YA novel by the same title. Boy, was I bummed. But like it or not, I can’t use that title. So, back to the drawing board.
3.Titles Must Fit Our Storyline!
This is a tough one, but I believe it’s important. To me, a perfect title is one that fits so perfectly with your storyline, that somewhere in the middle of reading your book or even when they finish it, a reader should have an “a-ha” moment. Meaning, they should realize instantly where you got the title, why you chose it, and how it fits with the story WITHOUT giving away any twists or reveals.
Example: My first three books (The Flesh & Blood Trilogy) centered around the protagonist, Libby, whose father was a convicted serial killer, and every plotline from each book underpinned themes of shared trauma and family reconciliation. So, the series title was perfect (Flesh & Blood), and I am still proud of each of the book titles, since they not only fit each story perfectly, but they also fit like a glove with the series title. (Like Father, Like Daughter; Brother’s Keeper; Family Ties)
4.They Must Be the Right Length!
This is another tough one, and it’s one I get pushback on often. No, there is no real “rule” as to how many words your title can include. And yes, I acknowledge there are many books out there with really long, wordy titles. But not only do your titles need to be easy to pronounce and remember, there’s one reason authors often overlook. When people are scrolling through Amazon, searching through suggested titles, they are usually on an iPad or even their phone. And the images are thumbnail size. So, superlong, complex titles will not be easily seen and therefore, they’ll likely be scrolled past. Keep your book titles to between 2-4 words and not overly complex.
Example: My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman! In fact, here’s a list of some of the longest book titles.
“Okay, noted. Then, how do I go about deciding on the best title for my book?”
Great question. First, let me say that, even with all these “rules” and guidelines to keep in mind, your title is totally up to you. These points I make are simply “food for thought” to help you increase visibility for your book and the likelihood that your title will be so perfect, it will also increase the number of times people drop it into their Amazon cart and can’t help themselves from buying and reading. As long as the title isn’t copying someone else’s or overtly and intentionally misleading, you have creative license to title your book what you feel is best.
With that in mind, you still may find yourself struggling to come up with the perfect title for your book. Regardless of what you land on, there are ways to help make the process of brainstorming and picking your title slightly less panicky and way less stressful.
Here are the four key steps I always have my clients take when they are stuck trying to nail their title.
1. Free Write Your Thoughts
By this, I mean, grab a pen and paper and start word dumping on the page. But not just random words. Try to think of any repeated symbols in your book, objects that appear important, phrases or sayings a particular character says a lot, or underlying themes present. Write down any and all words that come to mind when you play through your book in your mind.
Pro Tip: The best tool for this is The Book Boss Author Journal! If you haven’t bought one of these awesome tools for authors yet, now’s the time. It is filled with one-page tutorials, tips, and tricks on brainstorming every aspect of your story, from character development to settings and worldbuilding to yes, even your title. And each tutorial is followed by 5-10 blank pages for your own brainstorming notes. It’s available on Amazon now for only $14.99!
2. Search for Similar Books on Amazon
Once you have all your word dumps freely written on the pages of your journal, start connecting the words to see if any of them work well together or seem to sound like an appropriate title for a book in your chosen genre. Keep the above guidelines in mind, then do a search on Amazon, not by title, but by the genre (and/or subgenre) in which you’re writing. Look through what the more successful and recent books in your search results are titled and use those for INSPIRATION (not copying) as you make a list of your top ideas!
Pro Tip: Go to Amazon, and in the search bar, type something like this: “crime novels with female detectives.” This will give you a more accurate representation of what similar books are using in your genre, and it will also allow you to quickly eliminate any titles that are already taken.
3. Market Test Your Titles
Once you have narrowed down your list of your top 3-5 favorite, appropriate titles for your book, the very best thing you can do is run them by other authors, readers, family, or friends, and get their gut reactions to each one. Keep a list or a spreadsheet and keep track of their responses. The title with the most initial positive reactions is the one you should seriously consider using. I would not send it to more than a controllable number of people (say, more than 20?). Instead, consider a focused, market test of your title options and post them as a poll in your readers’ group on Facebook, a post on Instagram for your followers to vote on, or even a survey you send to your top followers, friends, and family. Here’s a great tool for conducting online surveys!
4. THINGS TO AVOID WHEN TITLING YOUR NOVEL
Finally, some of these last points probably go without saying, but you’d be amazed at some of the titles I’ve seen come through my desk on submission for editing services.
– Don’t use the names of real-life people (famous or not)!
– Don’t use trademarked words/phrases (or copyrighted)!
– Don’t use complex, hard to read words (keep it simple)!
Hopefully, now, I’ve given you all the tools you need to make choosing your book’s title less stressful and maybe even a bit of fun!
And don’t forget to grab your copy of The Book Boss Author Journal now (on Amazon)! It’s a guided journal that will help the brainstorming, preparing, and planning phase of writing your book smoother and simpler, and it guides you through every step so you miss nothing on your path to writing your best book ever!