Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ways to Choose (and not to choose) the Perfect Book Title

The titles of our books scream out to the readers. Yet what are the titles saying as they vie for attention among thousands of others? Sometimes they might be conveying messages we do not wish to convey. We need to think before we settle on a final title. Publishers can steer us in the right direction, but often we self publish and choose our own titles. The right title may be the deciding factor of whether or not someone buys our book.

I have read titles that have left me bemused, to say the least.

For example, I have read Christian book titles that may be construed as  sexual innuendos. Steven Tyler is enjoying a boost in popularity right now. If you’re old enough to remember that far back, his group, Aerosmith, had a hit song entitled “Walk This Way.” The song dealt with sexual themes. If we entitle our book, Walk This Way, people may very well think it deals with pornography or at least graphic sex. We need to be careful if that’s not what we’re trying to convey.

Sometimes we try to be clever and come up with a title that is a take on something already popular. An example of this might be Rudolph’s Journey. And you know people reading the title are immediately going to think of reindeer and that’s why you chose it.

Sure, it may help pull readers in, but if the book is about a boy named Rudolph and has nothing to do with reindeer or Christmas, you may well run the risk of disappointing or even angering your readers.

Where, then, you may ask, can I find good titles? Many well-known books are titled from lines of poetry. For example, For Whom the Bell Tolls is a line from a John Donne poem.

As a matter of fact, the title of my blog was inspired by a line of poetry. Emily Dickinson wrote: I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine. And, thus, I settled on Rise, Write, Shine!

Also popular are books entitled from Shakespearian lines, such as Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.

For Christian writers, the pages of the Bible hold thousands of potential titles. My other blog is entitled Eternal Springs. This verse inspired the title:

(John 4:14)

The reason I chose this title is because springs are within us, a gift of “water” from our savior, and lead to eternity.

Another reason, however, is because “Eternal Springs” reminded me of the saying Hope springs eternal. This particular title, then, is a two-for-one.

Another source for book titles may be a main character’s name if the character name is unique. Again we need to be careful. The character may be named “Liberty” in a contemporary romance. A person reading the title may be expecting a historical.

Place names from the book may also be used especially if they have a special significance. Or an event central to the theme or words conveying the theme of the book. Jane Eyre’s Pride and Prejudice comes to mind.

Let’s be careful when choosing book titles (or blog titles, for that matter). Book titles may cause people to buy books with wrong expectations, leading to confusion or anger. Quotes, character names, place names, and themes are great sources for book titles. Titles stand out even more when they have a double meaning.

Titles take time and thought. Remember, the title is the first thing a reader sees. Let’s spend the time and energy to choose just the right title to make that all-important good first impression.

*(Disclaimer: I’m just using my blog titles as examples of ways to come up with titles. This is not to imply my titles are good or bad.)

Any titles you especially love? What are some other good sources of titles?

P.S. When doing some rearranging on my blog, I lost my followers. Thanks for those who have rejoined. If you have not rejoined, please consider doing so. Thanks!


  1. Very interesting. My first book AND THE BEAT GOES ON gets alot of Sonny and Cher references - something I should have sen coming! One agent said he liked the book but thought I should change the title. At the time I thought I knew better, but ... My second book MY MOTHER THE MAN-EATER has a title that I think is pretty catchy and somewhat provocative. (I really like this one!)

  2. Tracy, I never thought of Sonny and Cher--but now you mention it . . . LOL Thanks for stopping by and giving us your take!


Thanks for sharing your thoughts.