First Things First: Your Book’s Title
What’s the first thing you see when you look at a book on a shelf or in a thumbnail online? The color? A graphic? Or, most often, the title. It’s the hook, the grabber that makes you want to pick up the book or look inside or read more.
So many books
Some of the appeal of a book’s title is luck. If your book is non-fiction, it may be that a potential reader is looking for a book in your topic area. Easy so far, right? Well, not exactly. What if there are 5 or 25 books on that topic? Why will your potential reader select yours?
For fiction, it’s even more challenging. Whether your reader is in a book store or a library, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of fiction titles. The field may narrow if the fiction books are filed, as they often are, by genre. But whether you’re in Romance novels or Sci-Fi, the number of titles is still very large.
So, how do you create an eye-catching book title?
Following are some ideas, which you can use singly or in combination.
- Non-fiction—Does your title instantly communicate your topic? Does a sub-title add even more clarity and focus? In a keyword search, will your work likely be found?
For fiction—Will the title likely give the reader an idea of what the book might be about?
- Is your title straightforward and clear?—Is it short enough to be memorable? (Think about a title like “Wanted”.) Or is it unusually long? (Remember Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex: But Were Afraid to Ask?) Is it easy to say, or does it cause a potential reader’s tongue to get twisted? Does your title sound appropriate for your target audience (e.g., adults vs children, fiction vs non-fiction, serious vs humorous)?
- Is your title catchy, appealing, tantalizing, intriguing?—(In the 1934 movie It Happened One Night, what happened? Did the whole story take place in one night?) Whether fiction of non-fiction, avoid titles that are boring. Boring titles don’t stand out from their peers.
- Is your title simple and direct?—Think about books that start with “How to …”, and “… for Dummies”. Does it raise a question in a potential reader’s mind or present a mystery that would make a reader curious?
- Keywords—It really helps to have a title that, when a potential buyer searches using a keyword or term, your book comes up near the top of the list. That also means that your title should inform a potential reader what your book is about. These ideas are mostly for non-fiction, but fiction writers would do well to also think about these.
- Is your title original, or does it play off a familiar title?—(The author Donna Andrews is particularly good at that.) One of the interesting things about the copyright law is that a title can not be copyrighted. However, if your book has a similar or identical title to one or more published books, this can create confusion and challenges for you and your publisher, distributor, book stores, and libraries. One way to avoid this is to check in Books in Print to see if your proposed title has been used before, and how long ago.
- Does your book live up to the promise implied in your title?—Or conversely, does your great book have the title it deserves? This is an importantly point.
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