The cover of a book can make or break its success before the book is even opened. Both book titles and cover art are crucial because they combine to make a first impression that may or may not inspire readers to purchase the book. Perhaps more than any other element, a great title can immediately capture the attention of potential readers and encourage them to pick up your book and read it.
What Book Titles Convey
Choosing a title for your book isn’t simply about sticking a label on it. There are several things effective book titles can do, including indicating the genre of your book, hinting at the central conflict, referencing a crucial location or object, or highlighting the main character. The tone of book titles is also important. A creepy, gothic thriller shouldn’t have a funny, whimsical title. On the other hand, if you’re writing a sarcastic, chic-lit beach read, a ponderous title won’t work. Two examples are the Chelsea Handler book, “Are You, There Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea,” which is comedic, and “The Sorrow of War” by Bao Ninh, which will make you weep.
Check Out the Competition
Do a search for bestsellers in your genre, looking at book titles. Make a list of 15 or 20 titles that grab your interest and analyze what you like about them. Are they long? Short? Descriptive? Allegorical? Take note of what appeals to you and ask others (particularly those in any writers’ groups or book clubs) how they feel about each of the titles.
Ponder the over-arching theme of your book and put together a list of adjectives and adverbs that describe your book’s topic and theme. Also, make a list of descriptors for the main characters and the various events of your book. Keep these in mind as possible elements of your title. Move on to verbs and nouns that indicate aspects of the book. It could be a word that evokes a feeling, the name of a pivotal location, or someone’s title. Whatever words or phrases pop into your head when you think about your manuscript should go on the list. Use these as the building blocks for your book titles, mixing and matching to create possible titles.
Consider Time and Place
If the time and place are pivotal to the story, consider using it as part or all of the title. “The Long, Hot Summer” by William Faulkner is an excellent example of this, with multiple meanings. It references the blazing fires set throughout the story, the summer itself, and the passion of the main characters. Book titles like this leave potential readers wondering what’s so special about that time or place, so they want to read more. “Where the Crawdads Sing” is another, more recent example.
Make It Unique
There are countless novels, particularly romance novels, with titles that simply refer to the two main characters (“The Lady and the Duke”), but these all start to sound the same. Instead, look for what is unique in your story and focus on that. While it’s not great art, a romance called “The Teacher was a Temptress” has a lot going for it in terms of a title. The title is unique, it intrigues you with the premise of a sultry instructor, and it is alliterative, making it easy to remember. Other book titles are memorable because they couldn’t possibly refer to any other story. Everyone remembers the title of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” because it is a story unlike any other.
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