Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Ask an Editor: How to Title Your Book

(Photo by David Klein)

Brainstorming book titles is one of the most underlooked, yet trickiest parts of being an editor. How the heck do you think of a title that’s catchy, distinctive, and all-encompassing in just a few words?

Let’s first consider the basic uses of a book title. A book’s title should give the reader a general idea of what the story is about, indicate genre, and stir intrigue. A good book title does all of those things, but is also: 

  • Memorable
  • Descriptive
  • Unique

A book’s title is what readers see first. It’s also what they’ll remember when they buy a book and it’s what they’ll say when they recommend a book to their friends. Titles are one of the most important decisions that a writer or editor can make because without a good title, a book cannot do well. Whew, no pressure!

So how do you come up with the perfect title for your book? Below are some of the methods I like to take when brainstorming book titles. 

1. Do research

Before I write anything down, I like to gather ideas from researching other titles in the same genre. As an editor, I want to make sure that the title I come up with will stand out among other books in the market. This is also helpful because it allows me to better understand what types of titles are doing well. Doing research might also stir up some creative ideas for the book you’re working on. 

2. Consider the book’s hook or themes

After doing research, I get into the nitty gritty of the book itself. What is your book about? What themes does your book touch on? What is your book’s hook? One title that makes really good use of a story’s hook is To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. In this book, the main character, Lara Jean, writes letters to boys that she’s had intense crushes on. One day, she finds out that her secret letters have been mailed, causing all of her crushes to confront her. This is the hook and it’s also the essence of the book’s title. 

3. Consider the book’s setting and perspective 

Where does your story take place? If setting is important in your story, it’s definitely worth considering as part of your book’s title (take Airports, Exes, and Other Things I’m Over as an example). It’s also worth thinking about voice and perspective. If there are multiple POVs in your story, consider how your characters visualize themselves. Odds are they have specific qualities and flaws that can be used in brainstorming your book’s title.

4. Analyze songs, poems, idioms, and other sayings

Song lyrics are actually really great book titles. Don’t believe me? Below are a few books that are also song lyrics and/or song titles. 

If there are songs, poems, and popular phrases that fit the themes in your book, use them in your title. Just remember that your title should still be unique and representative of concepts in your story. Always stay mindful of copyright. 

5. Write down ideas

Once you have several ideas for book titles, jot them down and run them through your title checklist. Does your title give the reader a basic sense of the story? Does it indicate genre? Is it memorable, descriptive, and unique? Does your title lend itself to some catchy book cover ideas? These are all things to consider when brainstorming book titles.

6. Ask for feedback

Alright, now this is the fun part. Once you’ve come up with a title that you feel good about, run it by your friends, family, colleagues, and anyone who might be interested in the book. Ask them if your title evokes any ideas or images, and if it captures what your book is about.

One of my favorite book titles is The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. The title takes inspiration from the term “magical thinking,” which is used in psychology to describe when a person believes that their thoughts, actions, or words may cause or prevent a catastrophic event. This title is not only memorable, descriptive, and unique, but tells the reader what the story is about: Didion’s grief and attempts to make sense of the year following the sudden death of her husband.

If you’re having trouble coming up with a title, just take a step back and think about what message you’re trying to get across in your book. Creating titles takes time and effort, but a good book title makes all the difference.