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How to Come Up With a Book Title
Written by
Ashley Earley
May 2018
Written by
Ashley Earley
May 2018

I know, I disappeared for a while. I'm sorry! I went to the beach with my cousins, came back with a cold, and I've been studying, but I'm back now and we're going to be talking about book titles today.

I had the hardest time coming up with a title for The Darkest Light. I was more than halfway finished with the book before I finally thought of a title, so I know how frustrating it is when you have most of your novel planned out, yet don't have this very important piece of the book figured out.

Coming up with a title should be the easiest part, right? No, it's not. Publishers sometimes change titles to make the book seem more intriguing to readers. What are the first two things that catches the eyes of a book browser? The cover (or spine, depending on how it is set on the shelf) and the title. That phrase, "Don't judge a book by it's cover" doesn't apply to a lot of people (myself included, as far as books go).

A title is supposed to represent your book's subject without giving too much away. At least, this is the case for a fictional book. When writing non-fiction, I would assume you would have to have a more out-right title, like the book I read on self-publishing, "How to Publish, Promote, & Sell Your Own Book: The insider's guide to everything you need to know about self-publishing from pasteup to publicity" by  Robert Lawrence Holt.

A title is supposed make reader's curious, so being subtle is key when coming up with a title for your novel.

I have some tips for coming up with a title for your novel. I hope this helps!

  1. You can use a word, or more than one word, from a sentence from your book. You will either come up with a title like this during the process of writing your book, or when you're finished writing it.
  2. If you're really struggling to come up with a title, maybe have a friend read your book and ask for advice with coming up with a title.
  3. You could incorporate your main character's name into the title. Here are a few examples: "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," "Julius Caesar," and "Anne of Green Gables."
  4. You could incorporate the setting of your book into the title. Here are a few examples: "The Jungle Book," and "Little House on the Prairie."
  5. Consider a mysterious title. This is bound to draw attention to your book; it will spark curiosity. The main quote from my book is, "Where there is light, there is a way out of the darkness." This is where my title, The Darkest Light came from. I thought of this quote while I was writing, and I was struggling for a way to incorporate it into the title and the book.
  6. Use an image from your book. For this, you'll want to pick something that will come up often throughout the story so the reader can connect the title to your writing.
  7. Use a familiar phrase, but twist it to make it your own. When you find that right phrase or sentence that could fit as your title, write it down and start twisting it around to make it fit with the story you've written. Even if it doesn’t match just so, it will get your readers thinking.
  8. Write down every possible title that pops into your head. Make a list! This is important because what if you think of a title, but wasn't sure about it so you didn't write it down, but then, sometime down the road, you realize that it's actually perfect. You might have forgotten it! You might only be able to remember part of the title!
  9. You could get an idea from other book titles. Read titles from the same genre of your book. I'm not saying steal another author's title, but it might inspire you to think of your own.
  10. Try to keep your book title relatively short. Maybe don't reduce it to one word, but if you have a title that's too long, it can be difficult to remember. Long and surprising titles can spark interest, but sometimes, if they're too long like the self-publishing book I mentioned above, the title can be hard to remember. Can you imagine a friend coming to you and saying, "Hey, I just finished reading this book on self-publishing by Robert Lawrence Holt. It's called 'How to Publish, Promote, & Sell Your Own Book: The insider's guide to everything you need to know about self-publishing from pasteup to publicity.'" Would you be able to remember that title? Doubtful.

Hope these tips help you come up with a title for your book!



* This post was originally published in October 2015.

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  • Jo Anne Valentine Simson

    Thanks, Ashley!  

    I'm struggling with titles for my non-fiction book about familiarizing people with the way their body works so that they can take care of it and interact most effectively with health-care providers. Two (of about seven) optional titles I've come up with are: Caring for your Body, Outside and In and The Perplexed Patient's Whole Body Body Health Guide

    I've gotten conflicting reactions from my writers group, friends, and beta readers. Could I get some feedback from the SW community?

  • Karen A Szklany Writing

    Thank you for your tips, Ashley.  I am tucking this away in a folder to take a look when I am ready to title my book, given that no title comes to me while I am engaged with writing during NaNoWriMo.

  • Crystal Mary Lindsey

    I am just beginning to GET... the understanding about titles. My next book is called Discovering Treasure and it will be out in digital soon. This is the story line : 

    Paris, the city of romance, is the fashion scene of 1925 and Treasure is one of their famous models. She lives in the heart of dazzle, working between London, New York, and Milan.    Then–without apparent reason, she vanishes from the opulent  lifestyle.                                             

    Willed her grandmother’s estate, Treasure journeys back to a beautiful valley on the other side of the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, Out-back - Australia. Her English best friend of the past few years and French hair coiffeur, Ella, departs with her. Ella is an unexplained mystery, and neither can fathom their Déjà vu bond.. 

    Treasure meets her grandmother’s lawyer, Connor Latham a wounded returned World War1 fighter pilot. Flames ignite, yet Connor alternates between sizzling and icy when in close proximity. Will Treasure loose her heart? 

    Family secrets are discovered and skeletons in the closet, laid bare. Finally Treasure gains understanding to her many uncertainties. As the sadness in her heart dissipates, her new beginnings create much joy.    

    Where does a belief in God fathom?  Treasure has been brought up without any knowledge of Jesus so sees no necessity for him. Will she come to understand about God’s unconditional love for her? Does she receive the free gift offered or does she reject it?

    This Christian Romance stirs magic in the mind and music to the soul.

  • Susan Young Tuttle

    Great post, Ashely. Titles are weird for me. I either have one or can't think of one to save my life. My latest book is "Piece By Piece" about a woman with amnesia, who gets her memory back piece by piece as the mystery unfolds piece by piece. I got to use the phrase organically in the book three times, too. I'm currently working on the first of a (planned) quadriology titled "Destany's Daughter" (No. 1 of The Unification series). And I'm also working on "A Deadly Shade of Gray" -- piggybacking, hopefully, on the popularity of that with a similar title, though the subject matter is worlds apart (this is a YA book). This is the first in the Demons Run series. But I have three others with no titles that I keep hacking away at, hoping titles will miraculously appear by the time they are finished. Like the first tow full Skylark Investigations books (paranormal detective series)... no glimmer of a title idea yet. Hopefully your suggestions will spark something perfect by the time it's done...

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Ellen Behrens

    Great post! I've always had trouble with titles, and when I thought I finally came up with a good one for my first novel, the publisher changed it (oh, well). My newest novel is the start of a semi-cozy mystery series featuring full-time RVers who travel the country -- so using your #4 idea (place names) fit perfectly. The first novel is "Pea Body" because the  main characters find a body at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge (in the Outer Banks of North Carolina). Since then I've been having great fun keeping a list of potential titles using place names, twisted, as you mention in #7. Now to write those books with those great titles I keep thinking up!

  • RYCJ Preparing to Publish

    Indeed this is a refreshing list of title ideas! Many brought back memories...

    Such as publishers wanting to change a title... or the book's genre (to a spiritual genre) because 'God' is in the title. Imagine shelving a book not written in a spiritual context whatsoever, placed among those that were?

    All to say, I love it when a title just about knocks you over, and then the content goes on and rolls over you, sort of finishing the job. Hong Konged, I'm Down, She Likes it Rough, Sh*t My Dad Says were some of my favorites, but then too are many, many, many other more subtle titles wrapped around truly phenomenal stories.

    Books I’ve written, such as Leiatra's Rhapsody, I love for it's originality. I’m also a big fan of one word titles... such as Pleasure and Mindless and currently I'm working on RAPED.

    Nice post. It gives a lot of leeway for thought.

  • K. Diann Shope

    I'm in the process of self-publishing my novel The Upper End of In Between.  It's a phrase from the book, but I came to this title after having to eliminate the one I intended to use because it related to a line from a Beatles song that I had to delete due to permissions hassles.  The best part of this story, however, is that I sent out an email to my writing newsletter group (of about 50 people) asking for help with the title.  I got 32 responses!  Of course their input helped in my decision (validated my favorite), and it gave me a lot of insight into how people react to titles.  Even more important, though, was that I heard from all these people.  I usually only get 2 or 3 responses when I send out my newsletter 3 times a year.  So I knew they were reading it!  And I am more confident about asking them to help me, e.g., nominate me on Kindle Scout, write a review, buy the book.  I felt very supported to hear from so many people - that was the best part.  Finally, I recommend the part on titles and SEO in Rick Smith's Createspace and Kindle Self Publishing Master Class.

  • Karoline Barrett

    Good article! My publisher(Penguin) changed the names of my first 2 books in my cozy mystery series!