Your title is the first part of your book readers experience – and one of the only cover elements controlled by the author. Take this chance to make a great first impression on readers with these five tips for writing titles that are just as special, unique and individual as your stories:
1. Aim for Precision:
The more specific your title, the more interesting it will be. For instance, would you rather read The Bartender or The Twelve-fingered Bartender? Generic titles have less chance of making an impact. What’s more, they’ve probably already been used for another story, which can confuse readers.
2. Don’t do One-Word Titles:
This may work for established authors, but it’s a bad idea for new writers, since one-word titles tend to be meaningless, generic and undescriptive. Here’s some particularly bad ones that come to mind:
If you are desperate to use a one-word title, you’ll have more luck with an uncommon or made-up word that connotes strong emotions (i.e. ‘Neverwhere‘, ‘Utopia‘, ‘Wolfbane‘). Overall, you want to avoid common nouns, adjectives and words people often encounter.
*Is this about summer? Cooking? Global Warming?
**Too generic – is this about extinction? Friends who go missing?
***A great book, but a horribly generic title!
****One-word character names are even weaker than one-word nouns (cue transition into the next heading…).
3. Avoid Using Names and Places readers don’t know:
While more appropriate in some genres that others, place/character names tend to lack power because readers have no reason to care that your character is called Bob, or that your story’s set in a land called Alegashia. This is because the names mean nothing to readers.
If you do want to use this approach, using weird-sounding names (i.e. Barbara Bloodbath) or well-known names is your best bet.
4. Match your title to your genre:
Genre is a vital tool for marketing your novel. Thus, you should strongly consider genre when crafting your most important marketing tool: your title.
Readers use titles to form expectations about your story’s content. For example, The Death Auditor will probably be an espionage/accounting thriller, whereas The Midsummer Voyage lends itself to a romance story.
To create genre-appropriate titles, brainstorm a list of words, ideas, emotions etc. associated with your story’s genre. This will provide a pool of genre associations you can draw from to craft a well-fitting title.
5. Use Interesting Juxtaposition:
Captivating titles tend to be ones where words, phrases and ideas are combined in unexpected ways. By meshing together two or more elements that don’t normally sit by each other, you’re likely to create something that sounds catchy and attention grabbing. For instance, Curiosity Killed the Alligator, It Takes two to start Nuclear War and The Eleven-Foot Ant all feature contrasting phrases/ideas.
List 3-5 titles of published books you think could be improved. Then use the above guidelines to improve them. You don’t have to make huge changes – sometimes adding just one word makes a big diference. Here’s an example I prepared earlier:
- The Accountant (Action/Thriller) -> The Death Auditor
- The Giver (Dystopian Sci-Fi) -> The Memory Giver
- Foundation (Sci-Fi Thriller) -> The Man who saw the Future
- Eragon (Fantasy) -> The Dragon Rider
- Timeline (Thriller) -> To Enter the Past
They’re certainly not perfect, but I’d like to think they provide more information and uniqueness than the original titles.
What are your thoughts on titles? What’s your favourite title? How about your least favourite? Also: if you do try the above writing exercise, feel free to post your results in the comments below!