1. The tone of the title should match the genre. If your thriller’s title makes potential readers think of young adult romance, keep brainstorming.
2. Non-fiction titles tend to be linear promises to provide solutions to a problem you have identified. Deliver.
3. Intriguing is good. Confusing is not. That’s a fine balance. I loved the titles Bigger Than Jesus and Higher Than Jesus. However, it’s pronounced “Hay-soose” and it’s about a funny, hardboiled Cuban hit man. Titles you (and I) have to explain (endlessly!) are not good titles. The cover treatment by Kit Foster of Kit Foster Design saves me from readers who buy my crime novels thinking they are religious books. Also, I do have another solution to this problem. I’ll explore that next year, after a couple more books are written. In the meantime, I remain an idiot for thinking those titles would serve me better than they did.
What? You thought I write these blog posts because I get everything right the first time? Ha! No.
4. When you’re brainstorming, think in terms of keywords. A short, killer, catchy title can be helped a lot by a more explanatory subtitle. Don’t go overboard with keywords, though. If you run out of breath, forget the rest halfway through, or can’t cram the whole title on the cover, rethink. We’ve got to be able to read the title without squinting, so don’t cram it.
5. Generally try to avoid titles that are very long. After catching the title in a wisp of conversation, the potential customer has to remember it all the way back to their computer or the bookstore so they can order it.
6. What’s the central theme, promise or event that’s crucial to your story? Brainstorm titles out of that.
7. Think in terms of brand and series. Can you connect titles in some way? A is for Alibi is already taken, but think about what might fit. I have two new series planned for the end of next year that connect tangentially to existing books.
8. Come up with a bunch of titles and throw out a bunch. Don’t get too attached to a title early on. Some authors feel they need a title before they can begin to write. Your story may change, so just keep that WIP title tentative and to yourself for now.
9. You can take titles from phrases from the Bible or Shakespeare or be completely original. Go for memorable. However, don’t let the absence of a title stop you from beginning to write. It will probably emerge from the manuscript organically. Use a focus group of trusted friends or fellow writers to save you from your worst impulses.
10. Build a brand around your author name, not your title. I don’t want people more excited about my title than they are about me writing another book. That’s why the name “Robert Chazz Chute” is so big on the cover. Make them want to buy the next [insert your name here], not the title. I don’t really like the title, Doctor Sleep, for instance. But it’s Stephen King! Of course I want to read it!
I’m convinced that titles really don’t matter quite as much as we’d like to think.
I can name a lot of titles that shatter these ten well-meant suggestions. It’s like naming a band. Lots of band names sound pretty stupid or obtuse at first, but if the music is any good, people don’t even think about it much. I doubt everyone was enthused about the name The Beatles or Led Zeppelin on their first encounter (before hearing the songs.) I didn’t like the title Fight Club. The book is about so much more than that. However, I got over it quickly.
It’s true for TV shows, too. The first time I heard the name MASH as a little kid, I thought the TV series had something to do with potatoes. The Pink Panther? I didn’t know it was animated, so I pictured an actual pink panther skulking through the jungle. Without seeing it (and hearing its musical theme by Henry Mancini) I had no idea it was destined to become so iconic.
To sell more books, what’s ultimately more important than the title? Your graphic artist.
A good graphic artist can build on an awesome hook. A bad cover can sabotage even your most clever title.
A great title doesn’t matter if no one can see it. Don’t undermine that title you’ve put so much thought into. You need an excellent graphic artist to support your efforts. A great cover maximizes the power of your title and your author name. That’s why I use…wait for the shameless, enthusiastic plug for my Scottish buddy…
~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. With my serial, This Plague of Days, I’ve written two bestsellers. However, my catalogue of my inspirational errors in the early going will tell you more about the challenges of being an indie author. Get Crack the Indie Author Code. I don’t scold you and it’s actually pretty funny. The 6 x 9 print version is about ten bucks and Christmas is coming, so get on that or Christmas is cancelled and Santa’s elves will turn into goblins. It’s up to you to save Christmas from rampaging goblins. It’s up to you and you alone. No pressure.