I’ve been blogging for *clears throat* years now and I’m finally getting around to tackling how to choose a book title.
Choosing a good book title is not a topic that lends itself to an easy, universalized how-to. There are lots of different ways to go about it, few hard and fast rules, and every book and genre are different. For every rule you can come up with, there will be ten exceptions.
But after thinking about this for quite a while, I’m finally ready to tackle it. I can do this.
Here are some do’s and don’ts on how to choose a book title:
Do: Be true to your book
Above all, your title should reflect the spirit of your book. No one should see the title, open up the book, and find something drastically different than what they were expecting.
If you’re choosing between one title that’s catchy but doesn’t really have much to do with your book and another one that’s a bit subtler but more in line with the spirit, I’d choose the subtler one.
The title and the book should feel cohesive. Evoke your book with the title.
Don’t: Choose a book title that has already been used in the last 20 years
Millions of books have been published already so unless you’re drawing upon a fictional world, it’s unlikely you’re going to pick something that’s never been used before. Particularly with the explosion of self-publishing, it’s pretty hard to think of something completely new under the sun.
I wouldn’t rule out titles that have been already been used, but I’d try to steer clear of any book title from a major publisher in the last twenty years. There are SEO considerations for picking something that’s been used relatively recently and it might confuse people who are searching for yours.
Do: Make sure your book title feels genre appropriate
So many times I see authors choose a title that inadvertently makes their novel sound like it’s horror novel, fantasy novel, or something otherwise completely different from what they’ve written.
For instance, if you wrote a literary family drama you probably don’t want to go with a title like Swords and Armor, which is going to make it sound like it’s fantasy.
Consider how the title might sound to someone who isn’t familiar with the underlying source material.
Don’t: Use a vague or drab title
While I don’t think you always have to have the world’s flashiest title, I would at least try to punch it up a bit.
Now, caveat, we can all think of quiet book titles that ended up being beloved and/or bestsellers, but I would still aim to make your title stick out.
Particularly in this time of distractions, I think it helps for people to remember it.
Do: Draw upon songs and other pop culture
While you may need permission if you’re going to quote song lyrics within a book, publishers do not generally seek permission for use of lyrics in book titles. For instance, Sarah McCarry’s incredible Metamorphoses trilogy all draw on Nirvana lyrics.
Even if you don’t end up using them, song lyrics are often great analogues for what you want evoke through a book title, so search music that’s adjacent to your book for inspiration.
NOTE: I’m not an attorney so don’t construe this as legal advice, consult an intellectual property lawyer if you’re unsure.
Don’t: Worry too much about your book title if you’re pursuing traditional publication
Even if you’re not totally psyched about your book title, I wouldn’t let that stand in your way and delay you from submitting to literary agents.
Authors only have so much say over their book title (it’s often subject to mutual approval in book contracts), and an agent or publisher may ask you to change even a title you love. Agents understand that the title is tentative when you’re submitting and they’re not going to pay endless attention to what you chose.
When I was an agent, about half of the novels I represented were submitted to me under a different original title. So as long as your title is not actively terrible I would just go ahead and submit and know that it’s provisional anyway.
Remember that at the end of the day, a title only matters so much. It’s the book itself will carry the day.
Do you have any advice on how to choose a book title? Take to the comments!
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For my best advice, check out my guide to writing a novel (now available in audio) and my guide to publishing a book.
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Art: Vase with Oleanders and Books by Vincent van Gogh