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The Ten Commandments of Choosing the Right Book Title [Guest Post]

The following is a guest post by Dara Beevas.

I decided when I first began writing my book that the title would be From Passion to Print: An Insider’s View into Self-Publishing. I didn’t think it was too bad. I loved the word “passion” and I was bent on incorporating it.

Why? I can’t say exactly why, but I was fixated on the word. I couldn’t let it go.

However, very close to the finish line I had this gnawing feeling that my title was just okay. I heard my gut say I could do better. So I did what most nervous writers do: I asked the peanut gallery.

Everyone including Amy, my fellow Wise, Ink partner confirmed my fears. The verdict: My instincts were right. I needed a more exciting title.

They agreed that my chosen tile was perfectly fine and that I wasn’t doing my content an injustice. BUT…they agreed that a better title alternative lay waiting to be discovered.

So the journey began.

One day in my office with Amy and another colleague, we tossed ideas around for what seemed like hours. After title ideas like Publish for Profit (cheesy) and 101 Tips for the Indie Author (boring) didn’t make the cut, we went back to the drawing board.

We went to work listing the words that we felt my readers would respond to, be empowered by, and that would prompt action.

We finally settled on The Indie Author Revolution.

It was a cool author moment when I knew I had finally found the right title. I attribute my experience to my original gut feeling paired with the honest feedback of folks who also knew my audience.

It was a long and harrowing process to settle on what ultimately became my title, but here’s what I learned:

1. Don’t jump on the first title that sounds good

Ask yourself the following question: Will my title intrigue, excite, or engage my readers? If you have any doubt about that, generate more ideas and don’t be afraid to have a few (emphasis on few) folks weigh in.

2. Research your audience

Is your audience primarily women, working professionals, college-educated, literary types? Once you know exactly who your audience is, it’ll  be easier to eliminate titles that won’t sell them on your content.

3. Start with a list

A list is the best place to start. Even if you know an idea is unlikely to make the final cut, write it down anyway. It might lead you closer to the right title.

4. Go in the direction of emotion

Most readers are emotionally-driven in their book purchases. What are their needs? Are they searching for a fast solution? I felt my audience would emotionally be drawn to the idea of an empowering community.  What title effectively satisfies your audience’s emotional requirements.

5. Short and Sweet is Better than Long and Explanatory

My earliest titles were too long. Some experts recommend five to seven-word titles. I recommend three to five. The shorter the better and going shorter will force you to be specific and direct.

6. Check Amazon

It’s not uncommon to see multiple books with the same title (and it isn’t copyright infringement to choose a title that’s taken). But, it’s good to know which books, if any, are using your book’s title or come close. I recommend trying to go in the direction of originality.

7. Is the Domain Available?

Check if the title is available on a site like domai.nr. If it isn’t, don’t sweat it. Your website’s domain name can be your name or some version of your book title. If it is available, purchase it even if you don’t have immediate plans for it — it could come in handy later.

8. Test

Proceed with caution in sharing your title (and cover design) with everyone in your networks (particularly on Facebook and other social media sites). Instead choose a small number of people who are objective, know your audience, and are readers themselves! I like booksellers, librarians, industry experts, published authors and book reviewers as resources to test.

9. Include the “promise”

Try to include your book’s promise in your title (in the subtitle for nonfiction authors) so a reader knows what to expect. Abstract and ambiguous titles have their place, especially with fiction titles, but there’s likely a keyword or image that best connects with your book’s promise.

10. Go with Your Gut

If you have a sneaking suspicion that your title lacks pizazz, listen to yourself. On the other hand, if you feel in your gut that your title is “the one” don’t underestimate that either. Bottom Line: there’s no single magic title that if NOT selected dooms your book to the bargain barrel. Ultimately have fun and pay attention to the signs.

Talk Back

So how did you select your book’s title? Did you select your title first and then beginning writing?

Dara M. Beevas is the author of  The Indie Author Revolution: An Insider’s Guide to Self-Publishing. As vice president of award-winning Beaver’s Pond Press, she has mentored hundreds of authors through the publishing process. She’s also co-founder of Wise Ink, a blog for the indie author community.

  • Carol Carroll

    A certainly agree that a title has to be catchy and reflect what the story is about. Sometimes it’s not easy to come up with just the right word or words to do so. This article gives some good thoughts on how to narrow it down. Thank you for posting.

    • Thanks Carol! We don’t think there’s any “right” word a title should have so I hope that takes some of the pressure off. That’s where going with your gut comes into play :) Good luck to you!

  • jennastamps

    Thanks for sharing this with us! You’ve inspired me to modify my title. I’m writing my first book. It’s non-fiction. Rather than the ambiguous title of “The Falling Part” (whose meaning is made clear on the opening page with a quote), I’m thinking I should add the drawing and obvious subject to the title itself, to attract the readers more directly. “Love: The Falling Part” now sounds more sensible to me. Whether I settle on this title in the end or not, I now feel more informed and on the right track : ). Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Thanks Jenna! I really personally like “Love: The Falling Part.” I’d test with a few folks to garner their reaction too. Good luck!

  • LisaVenables

    This was a great article for me to read as I go through the process with my editor. I was going to go with Just a virus for a memoir I’ve written about 8 months my then 18 month old daughter spent fighting cancer. I’ve changed it to Full Blood Count, because anyone who has been through the cancer experiance, which is my target market, knows exactly what that means.

  • Great post!

    Choosing a title is a real nightmare, I find. Seriously, I cringe when I look at some of my earlier candidates for the title of what became What We Saw (which I’m really pleased with). I can’t even begin to share them.

    Good guide. I’ll be following some of these tips to help me in future.


  • Some thought-provoking tips. I don’t yet have a title for the novel I am outlining. This article may just help me find a good one.

  • Thanks! This was a fun article. I think I am an unusual writer in that I LOVE coming up with titles, and a good/bad title can make/break a book purchase for me.

    Of course, as an unpublished novelist, I can’t say whether or not my idea of a “good” title is worth anything, so I shall submit it to the masses: my current WIP is tentatively titled Half a Man. It’s a coming-of-age/fantasy novel about a boy with one arm who wants to be a soldier. I think the title reflects both his youth and his perceived disability, as well as hints at his aspirations (to be more than that).

    My title doesn’t really hint at the genre (which might be unwise as far as marketing), but I liked that about it. My personal feelings about fantasy are that without the dragons and magic and fantasy “wrapping”, it’s just a story about some people – like any other story. This is something that I play with in my novel (which fantastical things are “real” and whicih are not), so I wanted the title to be a little bit more “real” rather than fantastical.

    And now I have written an annoyingly long comment, when all I really wanted to say was this: thanks for posting about titles! I think a lot of indie/new authors have great titles – because they have to – while a lot of big-name authors seem to be getting away with trite ones (which is sad; if I see another “[Adjective] Dragons” or “[Noun] of the [Fantasy Creatures]” I might cry).

    Good luck to all titlers! :)

  • Thanks for the overview. I like #4. Connecting emotionally is what we are all about! :)