Book Writing AdviceBook, Writing, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

Secrets to Creating a Compelling Book Title


Let's face it, a book is judged by its cover and its title. Authors and publishers work hard to come up with their title to convey a specific feeling, and that feeling needs to fit within its genre. If it doesn't, then the book won't perform the way that it needs to on the market.

Titles are an important part of the creative process and having a title that pops will help your book sell better and make it so that the publisher doesn't want to change it during the publishing process. Plus, having a title that is compelling completes the writing process and makes it feel more finalized. It will help build your confidence and ensure the ability to market your book better to agents and publishers.

The title should convey the genre

Rachelle Gardner wrote a blog post about the topic of creating a compelling title. One of the first things she says is that she's seen many titles that don't fit within their genre. The title should convey the genre. Gardner said she's seen titles that were too serious for comedic books, contemporary titles that screamed historical romance, and so on. If someone reads the title, they should know what they're in for, and it should give them the feeling of the genre. There's nothing worse than a book that suffers from an identity crisis that starts with the title.

Once the genre is firmly identified, which is probably something that should happen before even writing the novel, then think about the tone and feel the title should convey to the reader. Is the book serious? Is the book funny and witty? Is the book erotic? Who is the intended reader? These are all questions that can be used to hone the tone the title will convey to the reader.

If you're not sure what the tone of your book is, then spend some time reading through it to see if you can pick up where on the spectrum it falls. A campy horror novel shouldn't have an overly serious tone to the title, and a serious contemporary novel about loss shouldn't have a snarky title that has the tone of a comedy. Readers make their choice about a book based on the tone the title sets and that can be something that makes or breaks their choice to look into your book. After the tone is determined, then it's time to do some research.

Determine the tone of your book before determining a title
Determine the tone of your book before determining a title. Photo by Amy Shamblen on Unsplash

Consider other authors' habits

Authors shouldn't be afraid to look at what other authors are doing. We mimic writing styles, ideas, marketing, and tropes. Titles are part of that process. Something to do is look up books in the same genre as your book. You can find any many as you want, but for the purpose of this exercise, it should be at least ten and no more than twenty. Think about how each title makes you feel. Write down your thoughts and feelings about each title. Next, write down how you think each title fits into the genre. Do they use similar words that are specific to the genre? Is there a trope they play off of that is genre specific? Is there anything else in their title that conveys a clear genre and tone?

One of the final exercises is to make a list of similar words, tones, and feelings that all of the titles you've chosen use. As you're doing that, think about how your novel fits into the genre and what you can do to make a similar compelling title. Is there an expectation that the readers of the genre have for their genre? Is that related to the title? Once you feel that you have enough words (around 100) that convey the feelings and tone of your book, you can start drafting titles for your book.

Begin with single-word titles

Start off with creating single-word titles. Remember, there are many books with single-word titles that do well. Some of the best are Carrie, Christine, Cujo, Jaws, and so on. They're simple and they convey what the book is going to be about, but they don't overplay their hands to the reader.

We know that Jaws is going to be about a shark because of the cover art, but the title also elaborates on that concept. The others let the reader know that they're about people, animals, or things with those names and the cover art supports the titles to deepen the reader's understanding of the genre. They're horror, but they hold so much in that single word that it invites the reader to at least read the synopsis. That's already a major part of the battle to get someone to pick up the book.

Move on to combinations if needed

If single-word titles aren't working for you, then start to combine the words from the list. Nothing is off limits at this point and break out a thesaurus if need be to find more words. Try for as many titles, combinations, and so on as you can. It can be adj-verb, noun-verb, or other combinations. The titles can be long, or they can be a few words, but they should evoke something and say something about your book.

Some great two-word books are Animal Farm, The Alchemist, and The Help. Longer titles that do well are all of the Harry Potter novels, and most of the novels written by Robert Jordan, specifically his Wheel of Time series. Though, they all have the same genre in common. They're all fantasy novels, and readers of that genre do expect a level of flair and length to the novels and their titles. The only bad idea is the one that isn't put into the list. Once you feel that you've made a hefty list of titles, try to pick out twenty possible titles, then put that list away for at least a day.

Now, mull it over

Creating this list and putting it away for at least a day allows you to mull things over in your mind as you're working on other books, your life, or just vegging out. The other thing that happens is that you come back to the list with an open mind and fresher set of eyes. This helps to add more combinations to the list and then will allow you to reduce the list to about five or fewer titles.

Now comes the harder part, which is to ask others what they think about the titles you've come up with. The great thing about asking for an opinion is that it's helpful to see what others think about the titles. The bad thing is that sometimes people are all over the place with which titles they like, and it can clutter things in your mind. Write down what people say or have them write down their impression of the titles you've created. By doing this, you can get a better sense of what your titles convey to your readers.

With the list of other book titles, see if any of the titles you've created could fit on that list. Use that list along with the impressions that people had about your titles to start narrowing down the titles over a couple of days or more. This should not be a quick process, and sometimes it could result in going back through the process again to create more titles.

Determining your book's title is not a quick process
Determining your book's title is not a quick process. Photo by Filios Sazeides on Unsplash

Finally, narrow it down

Once you've narrowed your choice down to a couple of titles, then you can start asking yourself some additional questions. Some of these could be, does the title convey the same tone as the book? Does the title convey the correct genre? Does the title match the period of the book? Does the title pop? Would people be attracted to it if they saw the spine of the book? And one of the most important questions, would the reader have an idea of what the book is about just from the title of the book?

The last thing that you should do with your title or titles is make sure that the title isn't too similar to the titles on your list or too generic. Having a title that's too similar to other titles could create confusion among readers. That is the last thing a new author needs, or even an established one. You don't want your title being confused with another and having people start reading your novel expecting something completely different. Or, that they don't pick your book up because they think that it's something that it's not.

As far as a generic title, they don't sell well. They lack the wow factor that causes them to fly off the shelf or become the biggest download for eBooks. People aren't going to be drawn to something that sounds too generic because it won't spark their interest. Titles are the start of the reading process, and they need to motivate the reader to pick up the book.

Once you've answered all of the questions and made sure that the title isn't too similar to other titles or too generic, then you have a title. Take time to celebrate your accomplishment because this isn't a simple process to go through. Working titles are great, but it's better to start off the search for a publishing house or an agent with a well-thought-out title that speaks to the heart of the book. The closer a book is to completion, the more likely agents and publishers are to accept it.

Get in-depth guidance delivered right to your inbox.