A great book title can sell a book or short story to the reader:
- My Sister’s Grave (Robert Dugoni)
- Escape from Spiderhead (George Saunders)
- As I Lay Dying (William Faulkner)
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Phillip K. Dick)
- The Naked Sun (Isaac Asimov)
We all start out with a working title—after all, we have to label our files somehow. But how do we come up with a catchy title for that finished product? It’s an issue we all face.
First of all, write the book and don’t obsess about the title until you are at the stage where something must be put in place on the cover. During the writing of the book the perfect title might come to you, so don’t sweat it.
What is the book’s genre? Go to the bookstore (or online to Amazon) and look at books in that genre to see how other authors are naming them. This will also give you an idea of how the cover should look if you are an indie. You will know what to ask of your cover designer.
Your friends and your writing group are good resources for brainstorming titles, so get them involved. Your writing group will know what the book is about, so their ideas will be valuable. If they haven’t been able to help and you are in the editing stage, ask your editor for some ideas.
I have two books titled after the main character’s name, Huw the Bard and Billy Ninefingers. This works because their names are unique. Other authors have done this too:
Are there any scenes that depict watershed moments in the protagonist’s life, places that are turning points? Settings that represent the theme can be great titles.
- On Golden Pond (Earnest Thompson)
- A River Runs Through It (Norman Maclean)
What is the central plot point?
- The Husband’s Secret (Liane Moriarty)
If your story is dark, you might want to emphasize that theme by going the mysterious route.
- The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger (Stephen King)
- House of Leaves (Mark Z. Danielewski)
- Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (John Berendt)
Giving your work an official title is sometimes difficult, and it’s hard to find good titles that aren’t already famous. In the US, book titles aren’t copyrighted so there may be multiple books out there with the title you want to use—take my advice and research your prospective title thoroughly.
I once was at a book signing event with my epic fantasy book, Mountains of the Moon (World of Neveyah), seated opposite an author selling a travel book, Mountains of the Moon, detailing his journeys in Africa. We laughed and helped sell each other’s books—because he was a good sport, the identical names worked to our advantage at that show, and we sold more books than we would have. But knowing what I do now, I would definitely give my book a different name–I had no idea such a place existed here in this world.
The right title is a subliminal lure enticing the reader into opening the book or clicking on the “look inside” option.
In 1989, I bought a book by Tad Williams: The Dragonbone Chair. That title hooked me, and the book itself lived up to its promise so well that I patiently waited two years between books for Mr. Williams to finish each installment in the series.
In my case, good titles are as much of a hook as an intriguing cover design.