How do you come up with a winning book title?
It’s not easy. But every book needs a title, so eventually, you will need to create one. This guide can help you come up with a great title for your book.
One day soon, your book title will be among all of the greats like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Are you ready? Let’s get to it.
Why Should You Spend Time Creating a Great Book Title?
Your book title isn’t just an afterthought. It’s one of the most important elements of your writing because it serves as one of your top marketing tools.
Many authors overlook the significance of a well-named book. However, your book’s name can either attract or repel your potential audience. Just like we judge books by their covers, we also judge books by their titles.
A title can both entice and intrigue a person to at least pick up a book or click on the cover. The book blurb will persuade someone to read (or not read) your book but it’s the title, in partnership with your book’s cover, that will initially attract the reader.
Your book title can impart attitude, emotion, sentiment, and mystery. It gives the reader a hint of what’s to come. It’s the essence of your novel. It’s the key takeaway that you want your readers to remember about your book.
You want to strike a good first impression, and your title is your opportunity to do so.
The Characteristics of a Great Book Title
Let’s review a few of the top characteristics of a successful book title.
Book titles should stand out on a bookshelf or stop a would-be reader while they're scrolling.
Keep in mind that the modern reader is distracted by so many different titles. Your book has to jump out from the rest and become a must-read-now pick. Your title will help with that.
To grab attention, your book title can be controversial, contradictory, poetic, or simple. But it cannot be like every other book title. It needs to be different to grab the audience’s attention.
Plus, to get published the traditional way, you’ll need to convince an agent and eventually a publisher to work with you. Aim for an intriguing book title that grabs their attention as well.
Easy to Understand
Make the book title easy to understand. For example, don’t choose an obscure or uncommon word if a simpler word will do. Keep the title informative, pointing to a deeper meaning or theme in your book. It can even act as a guide to help your reader understand the bigger theme(s) of your story while reading.
Easy to Remember
Some people won’t buy upon first discovering your book. They may mull it over before purchasing. Choosing a memorable title ensures that they won’t forget about your book when they finally decide to buy it.
Having a memorable book title is also important if you want your readers to tell others about your book. The last thing you want is for a reader to forget the title of your book when recommending it to others. Believe me, it happens. This is why you need a memorable title that simply sticks in your reader’s mind.
Tips for Creating the Perfect Book Title
Here’s how to come up with a solid title for your book.
Make it Unique
It's increasingly difficult to find a unique book title. As a rule of thumb, if the book was written within the last 100 years, don’t duplicate the title. And don’t even come close. A sneaky rearranging of words can actually lose you potential sales as the prospective reader may not realize your book is different from the other similar-sounding title. Examples of what not to do when titling your book: Pride in Prejudice or The Grapes From Wrath.
Fit Your Chosen Genre
Always consider your genre when coming up with a title. Send a message to your prospective reader that this is the type of book they'll love because it fits into what they expect.
Keep it Simple
There's nothing wrong with using simple language. In fact, keeping your title as simple as possible is a good practice. You can convey a lot by pairing down your message with a handful of words. Or even just one word. Consider choosing a title that’s whittled down to one word, like one of these examples:
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Beloved by Toni Morrison
It by Stephen King
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Night by Elie Wiesel
Get Inspired By Literature
The good news is, like the above authors, you don't have to come up with a title all by yourself. You can lean on the beautiful words of other writers to help you convey the perfect sentiment for your book. Consider literature that’s made an impression on you or even inspired your writing.
So many beloved titles play on familiar works from the past. Here are examples from the Bible:
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
A Time to Kill by John Grisham
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
And here are more examples from poetry:
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe quotes “The Second Coming,” a poem written by William Butler Yeats
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou quotes “Sympathy,” a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar
Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy quotes “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” a poem by Thomas Gray
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold quotes from “I Knew a Woman,” a poem by Theodore Roethke
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers quotes “The Lonely Hunter,” a poem by William Sharp
You can also choose a quote from your book, like the following titles:
I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Set the Stage for Sequels
If you plan to write a series, choose a title that you can reuse throughout the rest of the series. Great examples include J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest).
Choose a title that makes the reader ponder, “What is this book about?” The title should provide a sense of curiosity. The goal is to make the reader ask deeper questions, such as:
What does it mean to kill a mockingbird? And who kills the mockingbird? And why do they kill a mockingbird?
For whom does the bell toll? Why is the bell ringing in the first place?
What is a game of thrones? Why are there multiple thrones? Why is it a game?
Why is there a lord of the rings? Who is the lord of the rings? Why are the rings important?
If your book title doesn’t leave your prospective reader curious, it’s not doing its job.
Survey Your Audience
Create a list of potential book titles and then ask others to weigh in. Don’t be afraid to get friends and family involved in this question. It’s easier for people to make a judgment on a short title than to provide feedback on a long novel.
If you already have a fanbase, this is a great way to generate excitement for your upcoming book. Ask them to vote on their favorite titles. Provide an “other” option to find out if none of your proposed titles resonate with your audience.
Don't Be Afraid to Axe Your Current Title
You’ve heard of kill your darlings before? That refers to the process of killing off even your most-beloved characters. Well, that extends to titles, too. Don’t be afraid to get rid of a title that doesn’t work. This is especially true if you’ve surveyed others and found that most people don’t like the title. Remember to treat your title as an important marketing decision.
To give you courage, here’s a look at the original names of some of the greatest titles (and novels) of all time:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen was originally named “First Impressions”
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald was originally named “Trimalchio in West Egg”
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy was originally named “All's Well That Ends Well”
The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien was originally named “The War of the Ring”
The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers was originally named “The Mute”
Try a Book Title Generator
Finally, consider using a book generator. While it’s often a crapshoot, you may get lucky and find inspirational raw materials. Here are two book title generators to check out:
How Do You Know You've Chosen the Perfect Title?
Before you go, let's do a quick analysis of some best-selling books. What’s the first word(s) that pops into your mind? I’ll start.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens - Country life, philosophical, little things, and small details, where do crawdads sing? Can crawdads sing?
It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover - A defiant stance against some oppression or violence, what ends with us? Who is “us,” anyway?
All Good People Here by Ashley Flowers with Alex Kiester - Instant suspicion, people putting on a front, why are they so defensive? Where is here?
The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid - Toxic romance, life lessons, why does she have seven husbands? Is she still married?
The takeaway? All of these titles are vibrant, descriptive, and memorable. They give something away about the story but they also open the door for questions. When choosing your title, be sure that it provokes more questions than it answers, at least at first.
Over to You
What is your favorite book title and why? Share with us in the comments below.