Let’s be honest, when you pick up a book the first or second thing you experience is the title, and nine times out of ten, that is as far as you get. Along with the cover art, a title really is the most important aspect of a book-to-be-sold. This applies to authors in traditional publishing, indie publishing, or any form of hybrid. Even if you are a superstar at Random House, you will have to compete with every other book and do an insane amount of promotion if you want your story to get the limelight it deserves.

So, why do we think so little about the title? We should be intentional, right?

Well, I have done a little research, talked to some authors, and dissected a number of titles to see if I could find some common keys to successful title for novels. Here are my (very unscientific) findings.

1. Keep It Short

Shorter titles are easier to remember. Unless the book is a marketed in a very specific way to reflect classic titles (like those with multiple subtitles), keep it to a few words at most. People have a lot to remember and they are bombarded with media. The only way they will remember is if the title is memorable.

2. Rhythm Matters

Think of a title as a short song or micro-poem. These are things that stick with us, that line of a song that we can’t get out of our head. Why? Alliteration. Rhythm. Soft and hard sounds working in concert. When the Crickets Cry mixes soft “w” sounds with the double “c” sounds. When a title is lyrical, it will stick with us.

3. Juxtaposition

Think of a title as an opening line when asking someone out. You have exactly one chance to convince them to keep talking to you. People love intrigue. People want puzzles to figure out. If a title creates a question in their mind, they are likely to (at least) read the cover to see what the question even is. Use juxtaposition for this, setting two thing against each other that don’t normally seem connected. Also, consider words that evoke images. I love Daughter of Smoke and Bone as a title. How can you not see an image with those words and wonder, “what’s that all about?”

4. Must be Relevant to the Book

Moving into more “business” concerns, the title must represent the book. People know what they like and are always on the lookout for something that piques their interest. So, if you book is a murder mystery, the title should represent that to attract those readers. A title “Summertime With Daises” doesn’t conjure images of back-alley investigations, does it. The title is the very first contract with your reader. They want to know what the story is, and that you can deliver on your promises.

Also, consider your brand. You may not write hundreds of books, but even one book constitutes a brand. How does the title represent your future works? Can you create a hook that ties them together?

5. Think of Promotion and Search Engines

I wish this wasn’t the case, but its important. You will have to compete for a spot in the myriad of noise bombarding us every day. Think of your novel as a search term. I even go as far as to look up Google Adwords Search Terms to see which terms are most searched for. If you can piggy-back on some of these coveted terms the better. Do a quick search for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) tips. You’d be amazed how many apply to novel titles, as well.

And that’s all I have for now. As I come across more, I will share the love 🙂

Be sure to comment below.

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Chris Michaels

Storyteller. Researcher. Coder. Innovator. I seek to push the boundaries of storytelling and education.
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