Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How to Pick a Title

Today I’m going to look at the all important TITLE. Yep, the thing that potential readers first see when they look at your book. I have to admit, if I see a really lame title, I’m not likely to pick up the book. Or, if the title is boring or doesn’t draw me in, I tend to put that book back on the shelf.

I almost always have a working title in mind when I’m writing my first draft. It makes me feel like I own that story. Plus, when I talk about the book with others, I have something to refer to it as. Often, I’ll try to judge people’s reactions when I mention the title. I want to see if they lean forward or their eyes widen. I know, weird, but it gives me a sense that my title might draw an agent or editor to my book when I query.

For example, at last summer’s PNWA conference I had a consult with a well known agent. He seemed to like my pitch and asked for me to send him some pages. Before I left, he asked me if the manuscript had a title. When I said Drained, he smiled really big, shook his head yes and told me he really wanted to see my work. I left floating off the floor. You see, my title not only reflects what is happening in the book, but it is intriguing, people want to know what is being drained or how. (I'm still in edits, but can't wait to send it to him soon)

One word of caution, the first MS I tried to get published was called The Awakening. I loved this title. It went along with the book in two different ways: the awakening of an old evil villain and the awakening of our hero's magic. It wasn’t until I began querying and researching that I realized that the title was overused. At the Whidbey Island Writers Conference last Spring, I was told by an editor that all the one word titles have been used. So, I think it might be a good idea to run a search on your title. You don't want there to be 30 books with your title. How would anyone ever find yours?

So, are there rules to picking a title? Yep. I turned to one of my resources, You Can Write Children’s Books Workbook by Tracey E. Dils, for some guidance. She suggests that there are 3 rules for a title.

1. “A good title makes the reader want to read the story.”

2. “A good title doesn’t give away the story’s ending.”

3. “A good title reflects what the story is about.”

She also lists a “title test” you can use if you’ve already picked a title. Ask yourself, does your title capture the essence of your story? Does it develop suspense and draw the reader in? Is it clever or a good word choice? Does it hint at the conflict of the book? And finally, can it help suggest an illustration for the cover of the book? This last question is very important. Besides that title, the cover art can really make a reader pick up your book.

One other thing, no matter how much you love your title. Remember, the publisher gets final say. I’d much rather have a book published than not, because I argued over a title.


  1. Those are some good things to keep in mind. Titles are the hardest thing to come up with for me. Characters, plot, diction, all come to me easy, but titles...they're so difficult!

  2. Picking titles is actually a good writing exercise too. Forces you essentialise the key elements of your plot into a word, phrase or idea. Not easy to do well but great when it works!

  3. These are some good things to think about with titles! I often circle around and around asking, "Is this a good one?" Often, what I first choose does not end up as a final title. a.

  4. Thanks for the comments. I find picking a title sometimes hard, but when I find the right one, it all lines up.

    1. Arghh...I have suggested numerous titles for Cinderella Smith book 3 and the sales department has rejected all of 'em. Your post has inspired me to keep at it ~ and a snow day might be the perfect time!

  5. As a librarian type I dislike one word titles because they can be so hard to look up when someone doesn't have all the information - like, say kids and teens.

    See, now I have the opposite problem of a title but not the book written. I must get on that.

  6. Great tips :) I'm like MotherReader and often end up with a title but no story!

  7. It takes me until the story is written to find the title.

  8. This is a great post...thanks. I am working on a picture book that has a really boring working title, but I'm afraid it's going to stick because that's what I associate it with now.

  9. I love Neil Gaiman's story about coming up with the idea for American Gods and telling his publisher. They liked it so much they mocked up the cover before he even wrote the book! No pressure!