One of the first things people see when browsing for something to read is the title, and it may entice them to take a closer look at the book, story, or article. But what makes a good title?
An effective title should be interesting, convey the tone or central idea of the story, and be easy to remember. Of course, there are lots of published books with titles that are long, don’t give us a clear idea of what the story is about, and may not be easy to remember. The story is the key, and no title will be good enough to turn it into a best-seller, but it might entice an agent or editor enough to take a look at the rest of the submission.
A working title may end up being changed, either by the author as the project progresses, or by the agent, editor, or marketing department before the book is published. Even so, we should spend some time thinking about a title as it will be what people refer to when talking about our manuscript.
Titles are not copyrighted so you may see several books with the same name. Avoid choosing one that’s already identified with a book in your genre as it may suggest yours is not original, or be confusing to readers. Keep in mind that a controversial title may attract some people but will possibly discourage some from reading the book, and aim for originality without purposely antagonizing your potential audience.
If you are having trouble coming up with a title you like, try brainstorming using some of the following ideas:
1. A key word or phrase that runs through your story.
2. The name of a character or place important to the plot.
3. A word or phrase that may have a hidden meaning revealed in the book.
4. A popular expression related to your subject.
5. A play on words.
6. A word or phrase that not only typifies this book, but will work well as a category in case you write a series. A couple of authors who’ve done that successfully are Sue Grafton, with her mystery titles that follow the alphabet, or J.A. Konrath with titles that refer to popular drinks.
A common length for titles is 3 words; one word titles can also be effective, but longer than 6 is uncommon. The easier it is to remember, the better for marketing via word of mouth, so avoid words that are hard to pronounce or nonsensical until you are so famous that people can simply say, “(insert your name)’s new book.”
What method do you use to come up with a good title?
Update September 18, 2009: Agent Jessica Faust, at Bookends, LLC has a post on this subject today that gives insight into what she looks for in a title. Here’s the link: http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2009/09/choosing-title.html