Your Book Title: The Basics - article

Your book’s title is, in the simplest terms, how your reference your written work. You’ll use it on the cover, on your web page, in interviews, blog postings, marketing materials, book catalogs, agent submissions, and more. But the title is more than a reference tool. It has a distinct purpose and should not be overlooked as one of the most important aspects of your writing efforts.

Your book’s title is its first marketing and selling tool. It’s what captures a reader’s attention and helps them decide if they want to learn more about it… and these things ultimately lead to the buy decision. The title is also part of what captures the attention of an agent, editor, publisher, the media, book clubs, and book buyers at bookstores and libraries and more!

The title also helps your target audience find your book. There are so many books on the shelves (virtual and real shelves). Most potential readers scan the vast selections… rather than evaluating every book one at a time for several minutes. They might give your book a few seconds, less than 10, to capture their attention. Potential readers can tell from the title if it’s meant for them or if it’s something they should pass over when scanning the shelves. They have a logical and an emotional reaction to it. Logically, they surmise from the title if the book’s content is interesting to them – does it solve a problem, speak to a hobby of theirs, feed their love of mystery, fill a need to escape reality for a few hours? Emotionally, the title helps them connect with the content at a deeper, often sub-conscious level. Do they read the title and become outraged, amused, intrigued? Does it make them nostalgic? Will reading it make them feel important, smarter, happier, or hipper? Emotional and logical responses help drive purchasing decisions. It’s true of every product in the world, including your book.

Some authors define the book’s title before they even begin writing, some wait until the manuscript is complete, and some fall in the middle. A good rule of thumb is to develop a strong working title as soon as you can so that you have a way to reference your “forthcoming book”. The working title should meet all the same criteria as the final title, no skimping. To that point, regardless of when you define the title, you should be prepared to research it, edit it, and even discard it completely. Don’t get emotionally attached to it. It has a purpose and it should be refined or replaced repeatedly until it fulfills that purpose… to attract and keep a reader’s interest. There are distinct techniques for creating an effective title that fulfills its purpose. Read other articles here on the Author Learning Center for more details on applying those techniques.

Share this story
Facebook Twitter Pinterest LinkedIn
  • The title of my first book was LA LA Land, a kind of lost land, going along with what everyone else says. I'm thinking my new book title will be Lost & Found, a sort of coming out of LA LA Land.. Coming out by finding a wonderful man, totally opposite from the past men that she was used to meeting...Any thoughts??
  • I am new to this so I am hoping someone will read this and give some advice, the title of my first book is 'He Repaired Our Marriage From The Afterlife' is this to long? This book is a true video recorded weekly reading through a medium of the conversion between my husband (passed) and myself after he contacted wishing to talk and apologise and how talking and later teasing and laughing healed my grief, we have been talking regularly now for 3 years 8 months so the amount of transcript will eventually be 4 books, what does anyone think please
  • thank you for the explanation and point taken. You have been very helpful Gypsy!
  • Hi Cindy - Suzette here (my ALC online name is different :) I think there is some truth to the idea of short titles, but my guess is that the recommendation of 3 words was less about making every title exactly 3 words and more about making the point that titles should be short and clear. I just did a scan of my own bookshelf and found that the majority of titles have five or fewer words. Nonfiction books often have a sub-title that further expands upon the 1-5 words of the main title. For example, the wildly popular books "Socialnomics" has only one word in the title. But the sub-title is much longer at "How social media is changing the way we live and do business". Another example is "Six figure freelancing: The writers guide to making more money". So a 3 word title and 7 word sub-title. This is common in nonfiction... to have a very short main title that captures attention, and a longer sub-title to explain the contents of the book. In fiction that is less common and you almost never see sub-titles. But the titles in fiction still follow the rule of 'keep it short'. For instance, Some popular fiction titles today include "Inferno" from Dan Brown and "The Hit", by David Baldacci. The other rules still apply... you can tell something by the title... Inferno means the story is likely intense, possibly having to do with fire or Hell. But you don't know the story details or outcome from it. "The Hit" tells you it's about a contract killing. So I think the advice you got was good regarding length and agree that you shouldn't give away the story (with fiction). For nonfiction I would say the advice about not giving away too much in the title is good for narrative nonfiction (memoirs, biographies) but not for prescriptive nonfiction (how to books). This is because prescriptive non fiction is designed to solve a problem, educate, explore an issue, etc... and for that to be interesting to a reader they must know exactly what is being covered in the book and what the benefit is to them. For instance, a reader knows that "Socialnomics" will explore social media but the sub-title tells the reader that they'll learnhow social media impacts their daily lives. Without that sub-title the author may not convey enough information to get the reader to pick up the book because people pick up prescriptive nonfiction when they know it can help them somehow. So to sum up, I would agree with the advice you received in terms of length and content of the title... except for the caveat about prescriptive nonfiction. :)
  • I attended a literary lecture once and the lecturer recommends that the title be no longer than 3 words and that it would express only an idea of what could be and at the same time does not give away the whole story. What is your view Suzette?