Coming up with a killer book title is hard. There’s a lot at stake in a title: It’s your readers’ first impression of your work, and it’s got to be evocative, unique, and precise. The pressure can be overwhelming!
But we at Writer’s Relief have got some great tips to help you come up with the perfect title for your novel or your nonfiction book. And you can apply these concepts to your short stories and poetry as well. With a little preparation and brainstorming, you’ll land on the perfect title for your book!
Elements Of Great Book Titles
Poetic language. Some of the best titles—the ones we remember—use evocative language to make a statement. Sometimes, the language verges on poetic. Consider elusive and somewhat vague titles like: Gone with the Wind; Of Mice and Men; Grapes of Wrath; Snow Falling On Cedars; The Fault in Our Stars.
Action words. Titles that showcase strong verbs leap off the shelves. Things Fall Apart is clear and haunting. Gone Girl is energetic and in-your-face. A Game Of Thrones sets a precedent for tension.
Inherent mystery/conflict. Great titles hint at the story to come. They point to the main conflict: What’s at stake? When a title can concisely encapsulate action, you’ve got a great shot at getting a reader’s attention in just a few words.
Consider Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: It’s a long title, but it’s so good. It suggests an epic battle between powerful archetypes, but it also offers the quiet, quaintly creepy image of a garden at night. The Light in Ruins does something similar.
Character’s names. Often (but not always) titles that make use of character names have an element of mystery attached to them as well. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; The Secret Life of Walter Mitty; The Picture of Dorian Gray; Harry Potter And The [Fill In The Blank Here]. Books with character names can also be whimsical, such as: Where’d You Go, Bernadette?; Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day; Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
Place names. If your book has a great setting (a setting that has strong branding), you might want to use that to your advantage. The Last Time I Saw Paris showcases the City of Lights with a touch of nostalgia (it also hints at conflict, at something lost and longed-for). Death Comes To Pemberley makes great use of the estate that’s familiar to all readers of Pride and Prejudice, but adds a modern layer of mystery and drama.
Quirky titles. Some titles embody contrasts that make readers say, huh? And, of course, that leads them to read the back cover to find out what’s going on: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; One of our Thursdays is Missing; Pineapple Grenade; Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
The one-word title. These titles tend to work best with really strong cover art. Here are a few one-word titles: Slammed; Affliction; Stranded, etc.
Titles And Book Genre
If you’re writing in a commercial book genre, be sure you have a good understanding of how titles within that particular genre work. And we wouldn’t recommend straying too far away from the conventions of genre book titles; fans of specific genres use titles as a kind of shorthand when they’re deciding what to buy and whether a book will live up to their expectations.
For example: Your thriller might be called Death At First Light. Your romance might be To Kiss A Lady. But you wouldn’t want to switch those titles around.
Just for fun: Check out this book title generator. And here are Goodreads users’ favorite book titles.
Title And Copyright Law
As of this writing, authors can’t copyright their titles in America (which is why if you plug certain titles into Amazon, you’ll come up not only with multiple movies but also multiple books of the same title).
That said, we don’t recommend using the same title that someone else has previously used. It makes it more difficult for your book to stand out.
When In Doubt, Get Help
If you’re coming up with a title, ask friends and family for help. Host a brainstorming session. Sometimes, a new perspective is the best way to hit on just the right title for your book.
But remember: If you’re hoping to publish with a traditional publisher, there’s some possibility that you might not be able to keep your title anyway. Publishers tend to change them (and, don’t worry, your publisher will fret about the perfect title right along with you).
Photo by Trevor Coultart.
QUESTION: What’s one of your favorite titles?
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People embrace stories based on the titles that they see. A great title encourages curiosity, which causes a potential reader to pick up a memoir to examine it some more. A poor title will create the opposite effect.
The only problem is that it can sometimes be difficult to find the perfect title for your memoir. These memoir title ideas will help you begin to develop the best one to use in no time at all.
A Good Title Represents the Journey
When someone picks up a memoir to read, what they are actually doing is agreeing to the unspoken contract that the writer has offered to them. This contract is dictated by the title that was chosen for the memoir in the first place. Everything must come back to the few words that have been given to it because the title invokes a specific image in the reader’s mind.
If the value of the story doesn’t match up to the value of the unspoken contract, then the memoir will never be finished.
So think of the memoir title as a name. When someone says the name “Orion’s Belt,” many will picture the constellation in the sky. What should people picture about your memoir? And what will help to draw them back into your story if they need to set it down for some reason?
Here are some titles of existing memoirs that have represented their journey very effectively.
- The Man Who Couldn’t Eat by Jon Reiner
- Queen of the Road by Doreen Orion
- All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
- Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama
- Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
A Memoir Title Must Also Be About Marketing
The title of a memoir is going to become a direct reflection of the writer’s personality. For that reason, it should be a title that is reflective of something that is extremely important to the author. If a writer has a great sense of humor, then the memoir title should be humorous. If the writer made a living as a critic, then the title should be critical in some way.
This is how the title of a memoir initially ties the reader to the author. It is also how the author and perhaps their publisher is going to market the memoir to potential readers.
Yet a memoir title must also make an attempt to understand the reader before it is finalized. A great example of this is the memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. Anyone who is familiar with the story Lolita, which was initially written by Vladimir Nabokov and turned into a very dark Stanley Kubrick movie in 1962, is going to picture this story when they see the Nafisi memoir.
This doesn’t mean Nafisi’s memoir isn’t fantastic. It’s a wonderful read. But the title forces many readers to get past their initial perception of the memoir because of the title – a title which, for many, is a disturbing tale they don’t wish to relive.
A Memoir Title Must Also Have a Life of Its Own
The contract that a memoir title offers between reader and writer doesn’t expire when the story has been finished. It continues on in association for as long as the story is remembered. Ask the average person if they know Frank McCourt and you’ll likely receive a blank stare as an answer. Yet many have read his Pulitzer Prize winning memoir Angela’s Ashes.
Readers remember titles before they remember authors. The titles are reflective of the story, so if the title is remembered, then the story is also remembered.
Now many will say that the goal of a title, in having a life of its own, is that it should offer an opportunity for a natural recommendation when the reader is asked about a good book. What it should really do, however, is offer a vivid image to anyone when the title is spoken.
Here are some fantastic examples of memoir titles which do just that.
- Freeways to Flipflops by Sonia Marsh
- Bohemian Love Diaries by Slash Coleman
- Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
- Night by Elie Wiesel
- The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Ultimately a Memoir Title Is About You
If you’re writing a memoir, then the title must be about you. It should be something that friends or family would immediately associate with you. In a sense, this title is who you are, but summed up in just a few words. When you can find those words, you’ll be able to find the memoir title ideas that communicate the precise meaning to a reader that is needed for them to pick up your story.
Melissa G Wilson
Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.