En-TITLE-ment: Finding the Perfect Title (Part One)

One of the most difficult—and important—things we did when I worked in the publishing house was come up with titles for our authors’ novels. Sometimes it was a breeze, either because the author’s title was spot-on or because the story lent itself organically to a certain title. But more often than not, it was a long process of back-and-forth with the author, marketing, and sales. So how can you, the author, develop a title that works well? Give the following tips a try.

1. Tone. Be sure your title reflects the tone of your story accurately. A whimsical title on a book that is dark and tense will leave the reader feeling suckered or betrayed. Avoid disconnects, so that when the reader is drawn by the title, what they find on the back cover and in the content will only make that draw even stronger. Be sure the title creates a sense of whimsy, tension, danger, romance, mystery, fantasy, the future…whatever best reflects the tone of your story.

Okay, so ready for a challenge? Based on the titles below…

Name That Tone!

The Boneman’s Daughters

Redeeming Love

The Shunning

The Riddlemaster of Hed

A Vase of Mistaken Identity

Without a Trace

Three Weddings & a Giggle

2. Genre. This goes hand in hand with tone. While it’s important to reflect the tone of your book, you also need to be sure the title fits the genre you’re writing. For example, many contemporary novels have a strong thread of romance in them, but you don’t want to put a title that focuses too much on the romance element. Those who read romances have specific expectations, some of which won’t be met by a contemporary novel. The beauty of genre, though, is that we often mix genres. Cozy mysteries, for example, mix mystery with a bit of a whimsical tone. Romantic adventure–self-evident. So you can use that interplay in titles. One caveat: you can offset the genre focus with the cover art. For example, a title like The Longing Heart could be romance, could be contemporary. How the designer treats the cover will clarify genres for the reader.

Name that Genre!


Sister Chicks Down Under

Deadly Pursuit

The Twelfth Prophecy, A.D. Chronicles

Part two coming next week!






5 Responses to En-TITLE-ment: Finding the Perfect Title (Part One)

  1. Avatar
    Rick Barry August 17, 2011 at 6:42 am #

    Karen, you are en-titled to applause for an interesting and apropos post. When I shop for books, I don’t pull out every volume to study it closely. My time is too valuable. Instead, my eyes glance from spine to spine down the shelf as I read titles. Typically, my thoughts are, “No… no… no….” However, when a title grabs my eyes and won’t let go, then I simply must pick up the book to check out the cover art and back cover copy.

    I thought the working title (Yoder’s War) was perfect for my first WW II suspense novel. But someone on the pub committee said it sounded like a land skirmish among Amish settlers. We agreed to rename it Gunner’s Run, and that works much better.

    I have a title I like for my current story, yet there’s always that elusive “perfect” title waiting to be discovered.

  2. Avatar
    Katie Ganshert August 17, 2011 at 8:26 am #

    I couldn’t agree more about tone and genre. What a great post! Goes really well with what I’ve been writing on my blog this week!

    I just wrote about finding the perfect title on Monday: http://katieganshert.blogspot.com/2011/08/three-criteria-for-killer-title.html

    And I just announced the official title of my debut novel from Waterbrook Multnomah today on my blog: http://katieganshert.blogspot.com/2011/08/title-of-my-debut-novel.html

    I hope it’s okay that I put links in here!

    Thanks for the great thoughts, Karen. 🙂

  3. Avatar
    Jo Huddleston August 17, 2011 at 11:01 am #

    Thank you for this post about titles for books. Your knowledge and your personality show in your posts and I love that. I titled my (unpublished yet) novel “That Summer.” Immediately after I sent the full to my agent, David Baldacci’s book came out with the title “One Summer”; close but not quite. Looking forward to part 2.


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