Friday, August 04, 2006


We all know how important a title is for a book, and it's amazing how much time I spend trying to come up with good titles—first for the submission process and later when the publisher comes up with a new title that just plain stinks. And while we all know what a title is, do we really understand its purpose?

The title is a marketing tool. It's not representative of your writing, and sometimes it's not entirely representative of the plot of the book. The title's sole purpose is to grab the reader's attention and get her to take a second look at your book. A boring title can kill a possible sale without anyone even touching your book, and an enticing title can give you front-of-the-store displays.

Unfortunately, there's no hard-and-fast rules on how to come up with a great title. The best I can do is give you some things to consider. The title should briefly describe the book (one to five words) in a way that's new and unique. Some examples of great titles from our own list include The Mom Inventor's Handbook, The Naked Earl, and A Killer Collection. All of these titles give you an immediate sense of what the book is and hopefully draw you in enough that you want to learn more.

For nonfiction, that's where the subtitle usually comes in. Once the reader has stopped to look at your book , you want the subtitle to let her know that this is a book for her. One that is going to fit her needs. Examples from our list (subtitles only): 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn't Want You to Know—and What to Do About Them; A Doctor's Guide to a Healthy and Happy Multiple Pregnancy; and How to Turn Your Great Idea into the Next Big Thing. In all of these cases the title grabbed the reader's attention and the subtitle reeled her in.

The title (and subtitle, where applicable) should be like opening a package. The title is the pretty packaging and bow that grab your attention, the subtitle is that first peak you get when you open the corner of the paper, and together they've intrigued you enough to keep opening and see what's inside.

Very often a title alone has determined my initial enthusiasm for a project, and I swear that there are books out there that have sold to publishers because of the title and not the writing. So when getting your submission ready to send out, or your book ready for the stores, pay special attention to the title. It's not a throwaway and time should be spent working with your agent, critique group, and editor to come up with something that is marketable.

Tune in another day to see a list of titles we are very sick of seeing. . . .



kris said...

LOL, I just blogged about titles yesterday! Good to see this perspective - it helped me remember some points I'd forgotten.

Kate Douglas said...

I love coming up with titles and I was so proud of "Wolf Tales" when I first started my series. Now that I'm writing "Wolf Tales IV," though, I'm having second thoughts..."Wolf Tales XXXVIII" anyone?

Unknown said...

it's true, titles are important. I read this book the other day, the lily brand...I thought it was a western LOL!! Turns out it was a regency historical?

Bernita said...

I've blogged about it recently too.
Satisfying to have instinct confirmed.

Anonymous said...

When I first put my chapters out for critiques, some colleagues disliked the title. 'Bad Ice' seemed like a thriller about diamonds.

'No, it's about real ice. Hockey. Frozen ponds. Going through the ice,' I responded, but changed the title to 'The Lost Season', which was more in keeping with its romantic element.

Now they're making jokes that it's about Lost, the TV series. Gah!

Ya can't please everyone.