Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Selecting a Title for Your Book

Having trouble thinking of a title or subtitle for your book, story or poem? Writer John Faulk in an article for, 2006 and Nick Padmore, contributing writer to “A List Apart for people who design web sites“ ( offer some helpful tips.

Faulk says that a title is a “forever marketing tool. It is as important as your first paragraph.” In other words, it is the hook that gets people attracted to and interested in your book. The same is true for tag lines for products. “The pause that refreshes” is much better than “Hot and sweaty? Take a break and drink our soda”.

Both men state that a title or tag line should be easy to recall. Think about asking a sales clerk in a bookstore to find “that book my friend talked about a spy in MI6 in England” versus “Do you have The Spy Who Came in from The Cold?” or “I want that paper towel that works really well” versus “Bounty The quicker picker upper.” There are several ways to accomplish this. Effective methods include themed titles: places like Michener’s Hawaii, Alaska, Caribbean; Sue Grafton’s alphabet titles A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar; and James Patterson’s nursery rhyme titles Roses Are Red and Along Came a Spider . Taglines like “Look, ma, no cavities”, “Good to the last drop!” and “Mm! Mm! Good!” are immediately evocative of the products names.

Publishers will tell you a negative in a book title is a no-no even if you are writing true crime or a thriller. Patricia Cornwell’s book would not have gotten published under the titles “Decomposing Bodies on a Hill” (The Body Farm) or “Don’t Look at the Dead Body on the Morgue Slab” (Post Mortum). Likewise Holiday Inn’s tag line “Pleasing the world over” sets a positive thought in your mind: if I stay at Holiday Inn, I will be happy in a clean, nice hotel room with pleasant staff wherever I travel.

Advertising tag lines are an average of 3.5 words according to Padmore. “A diamond is forever”, “The breakfast of champions” and “Because I’m worth it” and “Zoom Zoom Zoom” all elicit the products names without taking up valuable space. The same should be said for book titles. The Robe, Angels and Demons, Lake Wobegon Days, and My Sister’s Keeper are all short titles. Effective one-word titles have been: Jaws, Atonement, Heidi, Persuasion and Beloved.

Study tag lines of other commercials for inspiration. When thinking of a title for your book, poem or subtitle, use some of these techniques to see if it genders a memorable, short, likable, marketable title.

To add a smile to this blog some book titles and tag lines that are labeled the worst in their industries:

Knitting with Dog Hair: Better a Sweater from a Dog You Know than from a Sheep You’ll Never Meet (book)

Cooking with Pooh (Disney’s Winnie the Pooh cook book for kids)

Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern America (book)

Book by Whoopee Goldberg

Oh, Waiter: One Order of Crow! Inside the Strangest Presidential Election Finish in American History by Jeff Gold Greenfield (book)

“We get you there” Delta Airlines, tag line. Most people think: “You’d better!“

“We want you to live” Mobile gasoline. “Ummm, me too!”

“Eat Jimmy Dean” Jimmy Dean sausage. “Why would I want to eat a person?”

Question: When searching for a book to read in the bookstore or library, does the book title influence your choice?

(All product names, tag lines and some book titles are copy righted)


Jan Cline said...

I do think the title matters. This is a great post and I am currently trying to come up with a title for my WIP. Maybe this will help.

Nancy Owens Barnes said...

Yes, I believe a title can influence a book buyer. You made some great points about why good titles matter. Good Post. Thanks.

Mary Jane Honegger said...

Sorry, but I LOVE the Dog Hair title! I think it's so bad it's good! In the movie industry, the experts agree titles should be no more than 2 words long. Although there are exceptions of course, the list of them goes on and on: Star Wars, Titanic, Shrek, Casablanca, Apollo 13, City Slickers, Wild Hogs, Chocolat, etc. I struggled with naming my first screenplay, which was based on a short story I wrote entitled, "Heading for the Big Time." The new title, "Root Bound" came after a LOT of mental effort. It is a much stronger, more focused title, and I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of it sooner. Keep trying Jan! I know you'll come up with the perfect name.

Jennifer Rova said...

Jan, I hope you can use some of the concepts of marketing in the search for your title. I think it is especially helpful when you need a subtitle for a NF book.