Tag s | Titles

Choosing a Good Title For Your Book

Placing a good title on a book is not as simple as one might think. In fact, some prominent books have had rather circuitous journeys to their final title.

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice started out as First Impressions.

Tolstoy’s All’s Well That Ends Well released to some yawns until it was re-titled and published as War and Peace.

On the Road to West Egg; Under the Red, White, and Blue; Gold-Hatted Gatsby; Among Ash-Heaps and Millionaires; and The High-Bouncing Lover  (huh?) were all titles considered for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

Before settling on Mein Kampf (German for My Struggle) Adolf Hitler originally wanted to title his book to be Four and a Half Years of Struggle Against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice. (He was crazy, you know)

Orwell’s 1984 started out as The Last Man in Europe.

William Golding’s first novel was called Strangers from Within, but is now known as Lord of the Flies.

Tomorrow Is Another Day was the working title of Gone With the Wind, and Scarlett was named ‘Pansy.’  Frankly my dear, movie actress Vivien Leigh doesn’t strike me as a Pansy.

Bram Stoker considered The Dead Un-Dead, before settling on Dracula.

Joseph Heller titled his novel Catch-11, but doubled the number to Catch-22 to not compete with just-released Ocean’s Eleven. (I doubt we would use the phrase “That’s a real catch-eleven” to describe a difficult choice)

Alex Haley’s influential 1976 novel was changed from Before This Anger to Roots: The Saga of an American Family.

Harper Lee’s Atticus became To Kill a Mockingbird.

Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage started as Private Fleming, His Various Battles.

So, how do you choose a good title for your book?

Often, authors and publishers will do one of two things. Either they don’t think about it enough, or they think about it too much.

Many times a good title is simply waiting to be discovered in the text of a book the author wrote.  In an attempt to find an amazing and difference-making title, authors and publisher ignore the obvious one, which is right in front of them. It could be a chapter title or a compelling summary-phrase found in the text.

Other times not enough effort it put into the process and the question, “Is there a better title for this?” is never asked. Authors and publishers can fixate on a certain title and not subject it to critical review.

Some authors might even get an inspiration for a title before they write their book. Sometimes the title sticks, but sometimes it doesn’t, so my advice is don’t get too attached to one title.

But sometimes a title is actually inspired and sticks.

A few things to remember when selecting a good title and subtitle for your non-fiction book:

  • For the most part, a title will be relatively unspectacular.
  • Never, ever (my personal opinion) title a book intentionally playing off a famous title unless you are writing a parody or response. A memoir of running away from home on your bicycle should not be titled Gone With My Schwinn.
  • Don’t get too cute. With online searching so much a part of selling new books, it is far more important your title (and for subtitles as well) contain key searchable words than creative words. If Amazon or Google can’t find you, then it is a bad title.
  • Don’t get too obtuse. Creating something no one can figure out even after an explanation is not going to help your sales. For the most part, titles will be direct and obvious to all.
  • If you have a title and subtitle, try switching them. I have often suggested the title would make a better subtitle and subtitle a better title.

Now, for fiction:

  • The title should make a reader intrigued.
  • Still don’t steal a famous title and play off it. There are a lot of words to use. Use your own, not someone else’ inspiration or success.
  • For the most part, the title should explain what is in the book, however the more literary the work, the more creative a title can be. It is part of the mystique of the book.
  • In general, subtitles are not used in fiction, but if you do, make it interesting, asking yourself, does this make the book compelling?

This is always a balancing act. Over-thinking a title can be almost as bad as under-thinking the process. Rarely will a title be magical. Mostly they will be relatively direct and explanatory.

But once in a while, magic happens, a truly creative title is discovered, and everyone knows it immediately.


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Naming Names

We recently received several excellent questions that I would like to answer: 1.) Should (you) repeat a book name and how old should it be? I believe you are asking if it is okay to use the same title for your book even if it has already been used before. …

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Get Attention with the Right Title

 When an agent or her assistant tackles the email slush pile, she sees one subject line after another written by authors vying for attention. Some lines describe the book category, while others make a claim about the author himself. But most include the book’s title. I tell authors not to get attached to titles because all too often, they are changed somewhere between the time the editor takes the proposal to Committee and when the book goes to press. However, putting thought into the title at the proposal stage will help orient us to the book and a really catchy title might excite us enough to open your email proposal right away. Who wants to read a boring book?

Consider these fiction titles:

Rodeo Sweetheart by Besty St. Amant

The Guy I’m Not Dating by Trish Perry

Sketchy Behavior by Erynn Mangum

These titles made me smile and want to learn more.

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Silly Saturday

Today is International Bacon Day! Celebrate the Bacon!

Apparently this past week, according to the LA Times, a rapidly trending Twitter “game” has been to replace movie titles or book titles with the word Bacon. For example:

The Lion, the Witch, and the Bacon
Pretty in Bacon
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Bacon
Eat, Bacon, Love
The Lord of the Bacon

So I thought, “Why not apply the same to bestselling Christian titles?” And came up with the following list:

The Bacon Driven Life
The Five Bacon Languages
Crazy Bacon
Bacon Wins
Redeeming Bacon
21 Immutable Laws of Bacon
Bacon is for Real
90 Minutes with Bacon
Same Kind of Bacon as Me

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

Remember that old adage for retailers, “The customer is always right?” Well, for novelists seeking the perfect title, that should be “The audience is always right.”

Tip #4: Remember Your Audience! Novelists do a great job, on the whole, of keeping their audience in mind as they write. But sometimes when trying to come up with a catchy title or cover image, they go a bit far afield of that audience. The result is that readers who would love the story won’t even pick it up. And those who do pick it up may not find what they expected inside. So as you work on your title, remember who your reader is. For example:

Age range. If your book would appeal mostly to Christian women in their 40s and up, then don’t use a trendy title that will appeal to the twenty-somethings. And watch out for technology phrases. Unless your certain your core audience is familiar with both the meaning and use of something technologial, steer clear. For example, using RAM, bits, bytes, and bauds as words in your title may work for a younger audience, or one that’s technologically savvy, but for older readers? Odds are good you’d lose ’em. (Or have them writing you letters scolding you for misspelling bites.)
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En-TITLE-ment: Finding the Perfect Title (Part Two)

First, here are the answers to last week’s questions:

Name That Tone!

The Boneman’s Daughters–chilling

Redeeming Love–romantic

The Shunning–Amish

The Riddlemaster of Hed–fantastical

A Vase of Mistaken Identity–whimsical

Without a Trace–suspensful

Three Weddings & a Giggle—humourous and romantic

Name that Genre!


Sister Chicks Down Under—witty women’s fiction

The Lightkeeper’s Ball—historical romance

Deadly Pursuit—suspense

The Twelfth Prophecy, A.D. Chronicles—biblical fiction

Okay, now, on to Tip #3 for crafting strong titles. As USA channel puts it, Characters welcome! Ever and always, Keep Your Characters in Mind. Sometimes the best title for a book focuses on the character.

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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.

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