Some writers love to come up with titles for their stories, articles, or books. Some hate it. Some are good at it, some are awful. But we all have to do it, like it or not. A title can make or break a pitch, even though editors will often change our titles.
So here are my twelve top tips (try saying that ten times fast!) for titling your tomes:
- Know your market.
If you’re writing for the Christian market, some words and phrases should not be in your title. A title that enchants women may not appeal to men. Or kids. And so on.
- Define the genre, tenor, tone, and theme you want your title to convey.
A great title for a Gothic romance probably won’t fly for your picture book. Obviously.
- Review at least twenty titles in your genre.
Or 100. Become a student of titles, especially in your genre. Figure out why you find some more intriguing or compelling than others.
- Brainstorm a list of words related to your story, article, or book.
Sometimes a title leaps out at you. At other times you have to go fishing. And brainstorming words and phrases that relate, even tangentially, to your piece may spark inspiration.
- Circle or highlight words that might work as a single-word title.
I know many people don’t like single-word titles, but I’m kind of partial to them, myself. Holes. Dune. It. 1984 (okay, that last one’s cheating, but just a little).
- Start experimenting with different word combinations.
Some titles seem to be delivered to the author, while others take time and effort—and play—until something “clicks.” I wonder if that’s what happened with Neverwhere and Dragonspell.
- From those lists, compile a list of twenty or more possible titles.
Don’t stop until you have twenty, even if you think one or two are positively, absolutely, “the winner.”
- Narrow your list to 4-5 possibilities.
Try not to focus only on your “favorites,” at this point. It’s too soon for that. Shoot for variety.
- Compare your short list to the list of titles from other books, especially those in your genre.
Are any too similar to someone else’s title? Do any not sound like a title in your genre? Do they evoke what you want them to? (I recently chose a name for a children’s book that the editor thought could have been the title for a Stephen King novel, a possibility that had totally escaped my attention).
- Field test 4-5 titles.
For example, write the titles on 3×5 index cards and show them to friends and acquaintances, especially those who read in your genre. Ask not only “which one do you like?” but also “what does it suggest to you?”
- Ask a few more questions of your top title.
Does it “snap, crackle, and pop?” Does it lend itself to a sequel or series? Would your target audience be drawn to it? Etc.
- Run with it…but don’t fall in love with it.
Remember that your job in writing and pitching your work is to come up with a perfect title. But there’s a good chance a savvy editor will make it better…or replace it entirely. That’s a good thing.
Of course, you may do all of the above, and still not be excited about your title. That’s okay. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.
You may want to start the above process again, and do it as many times as necessary to “nail it.” That’s okay, too. It’s an art, not a science.
You may need to keep writing, using a “working title,” and praying that something better will leap out at you. Sometimes that happens—like the sudden realization that I should have called this post, “Creating a Title Wave.”