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Finding the Right Title
Written by
Surviving the Draft
September 2010
Written by
Surviving the Draft
September 2010

Tayari Jones reminds you that the title of your book is a first impression, so make it a good one.

One of the challenges of writing a book or story is figuring out what to call the darn thing.

The title often is the first impression that you will make with readers. I think we’ve all bought books just for the title, and sadly, we’ve all been turned off by a title too. Titling is very serious business.

So here are some tips to help you get it right.

  • Don’t fall in love with a title until you see it printed on the book.
    Ah vanity! It’s very easy to become infatuated with a title and this can affect your process. I have heard writers say that knowing the title helps them to stay focused, but staying focused could actually undermine your efforts to write the your best story. Let’s take my forthcoming novel. (It has been through five different titles, by the way.) When I started I called it “Our Mutual Sister.” I just loved the idea of two women who have a sister in common but are not blood kin themselves. I wrote about 150 pages trying to make the title work even though the book really wanted to be about two girls who actually are sisters. (The deal is that their dad is a bigamist. More on that TK.) If I had stayed committed to that title, I would have spent the last five years forcing the novel to fit it. It’s like planning an entire outfit around a belt you want to wear. Everyone knows it’s best to get dressed, and THEN pick a belt. Then there’s the flip side-- you are halfway though the book and don’t have a title yet.
  • Do not worry about it.
    Come up with a working title so you will have something to say when people ask you, but think of it as a placeholder. But once you are done with the novel or short story and you need a title help. I like to brainstorm with a friend who has already read the manuscript in full. This is best done in person, but you can do it over email, or over the phone. I like to write a list of everything in the book that is important to me. Throw out themes, ideas, significant objects, etc. The key to this is to be absolutely free. Don’t worry about what sounds stupid, derivative, or vague. As you and your friend call out words and phrases, jot down the ones you like. Have your friend do the same thing because she may have a better ear than you do. It’s possible that this brainstorming may be enough to get you a title. But if not, keep on pushing.
  • Be clear on the sort of mood you want your title to evoke.
    Do you want to the title to make it clear that your book is a comedy? Or do you need something darker. Romantic? With this in mind, revisit your list. Is there something there that has the right mood?

Still don’t have a title?

Okay, this next step is going to take a while, but this should do it. Again, you are going to need a buddy. And this is going to take some time—like a couple days-- so be prepared to buy her dinner or something afterward. Each of you takes a highlighter. Go through each chapter and mark the best sentences or images. Maybe take three chapters in a sitting. Don’t do too much at a time because you’ll get tired and miss the good stuff. Talk to each other about what resonated and why. I promise by the time you make your way through the entire manuscript you will have a title.

How do you know if a title works?

Some of it is intuitive. You just sort of know. But just to make sure, say the title to some random person in your life and let tell you what comes to mind. If she says things that match well with the vibe of your book and your vision for it... then well done.

Before I wrap it up, take a close look at the graphic. Some of the titles are so catchy, that they made me want to learn how to do computer code. You know I have to ask... SheWriters, how do you find your perfect title? I know we are all too sophisticated to just a book by it’s cover, but I suspect that we all love a good title. What’s your favorite title?

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  • Haley Osborne

    Believe it or not but making up a title has always been a challenge for me. So I spent time to do a research and even wrote an article on that. If anybody is interested, you may check it out

  • Marivi Soliven

    Thank you for all this great advice!  I'm working with my editor at Penguin to come up with a title for my first novel, but so far we've had no luck. I'm going to try brainstorming again right now....

  • Tyra Brumfield

    I like a title that has dual and deeper meanings. I think Same Kind of Different as Me is a great title. It made me think "What is implied here?" before I read the first page. The book was good as well. Movie titles can be some of the worst, in my opinion. One old movie that comes to mind is Hope Floats. What the heck does that mean? It sounds cheesy and I never saw the movie. For my own writing, I usually write the story and then add the title. I like the idea of highlighting favorite expressions or descriptions. That's a great tip.

  • Jennifer Hart

    I'm bookmarking this for the future.  Right now I have Fall Like Rain, but really wanted Lost Souls (but there are way too many other people who liked that before me).  But the title just isn't coming.  So we're writing and will use this post to help when it's time. Thank you!

  • Catrina Barton

    I'd been using "Double Trouble" as my "working title" until I did a search and found 37 novels same title, 30 of which were eroticas... So not the image I wanted to convey.

    To me "Dangerous Temptation" is more of an erotica title, yet that title had 0 results in the search. Go figure huh? My current WIP is a Paranormal/Romance so I guess for now Dangerous Temptation is the working title. It fits the cover art too.

    I'll have to keep this post in mind when I'm ready to decide the title for the book.

  • Judy Reeves

    The title to my (WIP) novel is ALL THAT ISN'T SINGING (young girl runs away from home to find success as a singer).The novel is set in 1957/58 in Kansas City. The title comes from an e.e. cummings poem.

  • Caroline Petit

    This is very helpful because I am nearly three quarters of the way through my third and as yet untitled novel; while I always knew from day one what I would call the first two, this one is elusive so Tayari's comments are very useful and gives me hope. Caroline

  • Lisa Rivero

    This is very helpful as I am zooming in on a final working title for a book for a non-fiction proposal. Thank you!

  • Surviving the Draft

    @Xenia Choose Me is a really good title. I am glad your publisher came up with it. @Ginger I think a highlighter is a writer's best friend. I use them for so many things. I like being able to SEE what it is I am talking about. @Faith, the right title will reveal itself to you. When you write that scene or chapter that really captures the heart of the story.


    The title of my first novel was EVA & ADAM...I was devastated when the publisher wanted to change the title because there were other books with a similar title...Because I knew the publisher, I fought for the title, until she came up with a catchier title based on a poem in the book -- CHOOSE the end that title fit the book better than my original title...the book is about a relationship between a woman & a man & a woman & her God, and ultimately about choices...

  • Ginger B. Collins

    I love the idea of highlighting the best sentences and images! Not only can you find the perfect title, you can uncover lines that can be used in your query letter and "elevator speech." For my first novel I had a page in my notebook dedicated to possible titles. With my novel in progress, I had the title before I finished the first few scenes.

    Ginger B.Collins

  • Patricia A. McGoldrick

    So right about the title! Sometimes I have a couple of ideas and need to let them sit while I think about it; then, when I return, usually one will just ring true.

    My favorite title for a novel is one by a British writer, The Shell Seekers.

  • Faith M. Boughan

    Sometimes the titles just come to me... and in those cases, I haven't started the book yet. For a few other manuscripts, they're as of yet untitled, and it's driving me nuts! But I think I'll try the highlighter method once the novel is finished.

  • Kimberly Wesley

    I have issues with my titles as well. My first project, I think I am pretty stuck to it, though I never really liked it 100%. My current WIP sort of has a placeholder title, but even that keeps changing. I think I will wait till it is finish to really look for a title with a friend. Thanks

  • Surviving the Draft

    @Kim, it's a fun thing to do with a good friend. I used to hate finding a title, but now I look forward to all the antics.

  • Kim Kircher

    Ooh, good question. I'm currently using a "place holder" for my WIP. Even my step-daughter, who can always be counted on to "tell it like it is", has told me that I need another title. I've been hoping it would just come to me. But now I know that if I don't find it, I will have to go looking for it, high-lighter in hand. Great idea. Thanks.