Book Titles: How Do You Choose?

Photo credit: dstrelau on Flickr
Choosing an intriguing title for your book is arguably one of the most important parts of marketing. After all, the very first impression any reader will have of your book, before they even glance at your writing, before a book cover is chosen and the summary is read, is the title you choose to represent your story.

As I'm a writer who focuses on character first (as opposed to working out the setting first, then populating the story), my working titles tend to be one of the first things I know about the story: the protagonist's first name. For me, the process of choosing the title is a somewhat nebulous thingabout half of the time it reveals itself while I'm writing the first draft, occasionally it crops up before I even begin writing, and the rest of the time it's something I brainstorm after the first draft is completed.

In the latter cases, choosing a title (to me) can be one of the more difficult parts of writingalthough I'll admit that's probably at least partially due to the fact that I have a tendency of being extremely indecisive. Regardless, choosing a title for your book doesn't have to be a stressful experiencein fact, it can be pretty enjoyable.

When brainstorming book titles I recently tried a new method that I found I really liked, based off of a suggestion I found online (if I find the original post with the exact process, I'll let you guys know). You start with creating a list of themes, images and potential title ideas. As is the case with most brainstorming, this is a stage where you don't censor. Anything you think of goes on the listeven if it's ridiculous or a terrible-sounding title. The idea is to write as many ideas as you can without censoring your writing at all, so that you can go back and eliminate choices later.

Once you have a sizable list, start making note of ideas or images that you like. This is also about the time that you start taking a look at book titles for other works in the same genre, as your title should sound like it fits with other novels that it would potentially be sharing the shelf with. After some mix and matching and comparing to other titles, you choose my favorite potential book titles and get some feedback. If one title stands out as a particular favorite, you know you have a winner.

Choosing a title, however, isn't a writing process that's set in stone: I for one am still experimenting with different methods and I'd like to hear yours.

So now you tell me: how do you choose titles for your WIPs?

20 comments:

Darth Lolita said...

...mine is a little weird--and it might be like cheating xD. I start thinking up of titles I really like from movies, books, video games, etc, and I compare them to see how they might associate with my WIP and then take out similar titles. For example, right now my novel is a scifi story about three telekinetic people--two older twin sisters and a thirteen year old boy. The twin sisters unleash their telekinetic powers if they're pumped up with adrenaline, but the boy is different. He's not as good as them, but he COULD be stronger in the future, the only problem is he needs to be in a total state of tranquility to move things with his mind.

So I was thinking of a lot of words that would both be strong, eye-catching titles and correlate with him, and I couldn't name it "tranquility" because that sounds a little too bland for me, and it couldn't be "Serenity" because there's already an awesome scifi movie with that name. And my favorite would have been "Equilibrium" but...ghaaa, scifi movie too.

So I went to thesaurus.com >.>' As I always do, and one of the synonyms for tranquility was "ataraxia" and I didn't know what that was, so I googled it and got this from wiki:

"...a Greek term used by Pyrrho and Epicurus for a lucid state of robust tranquility, characterized by ongoing freedom from distress and worry. Dictionary.com defines Ataraxia as: a state of freedom from emotional disturbance and anxiety; [tranquility]."

And the boy's name is Caesar, so I did a happy dance and claimed "Ataraxia" for my novel x3 I was actually really happy with this.

Ava Jae said...

Interesting! Using a thesaurus sounds like a good idea--especially in cases like yours when you're trying to find a word that fits your book but hasn't already been used as a title. Your process doesn't sound like cheating to me at all--cheating would be naming your novel "Serenity" or "Equilibrium" even though you already know there are two sci-fi movies with those names, which you didn't do. :)



Very interesting process. Thanks for sharing!

Emily Mead said...

For my first novel, HOPING FOR RAIN, the title came about after I'd finished the first draft. That's because I wrote it in a pantser fashion, and I wasn't sure what I'd end up with. For my NaNoWriMo novel, I was a bit luckier, since I plotted it. I found a quote that fit the book EXACTLY, and stuck with an excerpt from that: MUTUAL WEIRDNESS. And I hope it's a good title, because it basically sums up the book :)

Margaret Alexander said...

Great points, Ava :) I think it's very important that your title actually represents what the book is about and tells the reader something, or at least hints at it. And the title should in one way or another show up in the book itself, whether its a proper noun, a place, or a character's name. It doesn't have to, of course, but it seems stronger when it does.

Rowematthew said...

I hate picking titles! I hate it to my very core! Well maybe about 80% there. My core is a special place reserved for arrogant Frenchmen, Julia Roberts and ロラ, but I do hate it.

I don't have a process. I just avoid it as long as possible. My first two were the worst. My anthology, I looked at themes, I wrote down ideas, and in the end settled for a lame descriptive title because it at least had an unexpected play on expectations and that's what I often do in my work. 'Not All Of Them About Zombies' in this sarcastic age seems to give people the impression that most of them are, but there isn't any. I'm a classical meaning kinda guy. You might think this would cause sale problems. I did have one guy buy it purely for zombies, he complained but then read it anyway and gave it five stars so hooey!

My first novel, 'Better Off Dead' took ages. I wanted a funny title that highlighted the core concept: vampires who enjoy having superpowers! I went through dozens of lame titles and then settled with ths and published it before I realized there was a John Cusack movie with the same name!

RoweMatthew said...

Discus isn't working for me so I'm posting just with my name... Ok, my next book was easy because the title was the starting point 'No Technobabble Please, We're Earthlings!' Derived from the old 'No Sex Please, We're British!' Which no one seems to get...

And the novel I'm writing now, its title came pretty quickly from the concept. 'The Damsel' one girl in all the world who doesn't have any superpowers at all. She is the chosen one, the Damsel. Doomed to be the bait in every evil genius's plan, the love interest of every hero... Or I'll she actually become the world's first true hero? ...sorry, I'm still working on the blurb.

Grace Robinson said...

My process is different for every story or book. I usually jot down several ideas and working titles while I'm writing. Then sometimes I'll do research, sometimes make specific notes about themes/characters/etc in that book to draw a title from, sometimes pick one tiny detail out of the story and make it the title. It just kind of depends - each story is its own living thing, and in one way or another names itself. And then every now and then, I'll get a great title in my head, and have to come up with a story to go with it. :-P

Great post as always, Ava. Your blog subjects are so creative, and always seem to generate great thoughts and discussions. :)

Sarah Anne Foster said...

The title of my WIP seems to be the only thing about that I have absolutely no clue how to figure out. It started as a short story, and I had a title for that, but since the story has morphed into something completely different, it really doesn't fit anymore. But I love your list idea, and actually was planning on doing a similar project. I hadn't even thought about it helping with the title. Now I'm looking forward to it even more!

Ava Jae said...

Interesting! I suspect, like many writing-related things, when you figure out the title depends on the WIP. Sometimes you know it before you start, sometimes you figure it out while writing it, and other times it's not until long after the first draft is finished that you start to work out a title.

On another note, I think it's pretty fantastic that you found a quote with an excerpt that works well as a title--reminds me of Beth Revis who used fragments of the Beatles song "Across the Universe" to name all three of the novels on her Across the Universe trilogy.

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Margaret! I really like your point about making sure the title represents the book well, and I've also found that I like when I come across the book's title in a work--it tends to make the entire book come together, in my opinion.

Ava Jae said...

I know you say you don't have a process, but it seems, at least in your description, that you've somewhat figured out a system that works for you, as you do have four titles in the works. Although, did you figure out the titles of each of your works with a different method? Or did you brainstorm in a similar fashion as the anthology that you mention?

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Grace! I haven't quite picked out the process yet, either--as you said, it tends to depend on the story and how many title ideas I have by the end of the writing process. Regardless of when it happens, it's exciting when you come across the right one!

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Sarah! The list idea I believe came from a method I stumbled upon a while ago. If I find the original post that details it, I'll definitely link to it. :)


Regardless, I'm happy you found this post helpful! Good luck choosing a title!

Khai said...

My current WiP has gone through about three working titles already, and I'm pretty certain the current one will change again in several chapters. In short, I keep it in a state of flux. It'll work itself out.

I personally don't like titles that look like the author sat there for hours trying to come up with something 'cool' or quite frankly have nothing to do with the content whatsoever. Don't even get me started on book series with monosyllables or alliterated titles...

Ava Jae said...

Hmm. I tend to like titles within a series that relate to each other--to me, it makes the series feel like a more cohesive unit, rather than many separate books. I'm not quite sure about titles that look like the author was trying to come up with something cool, but I do think it's important to put some thought behind the title--after all, it has to accurately represent your novel in just a couple words.


Just out of curiosity, do you dislike book series with related titles, or just the ones with monosyllables and alliterated titles?

Khai said...

Of course titles shouldn't be random or lacking thought, particularly if they are forming a series. I don't dislike the books themselves, but sometimes it seems the titles don't do them any justice.

When I say 'cool', I am referring to contrived titles that hint at the story, but really do not 'represent' it whatsoever (as you put it). Usually the simple, provocative/evocative titles are the ones that stay with you. Veronica Roth's 'Insurgent' comes to mind. This could just as easily be the title of a Tom Clancy novel. In the current global climate, it begs your attention.



Fahrenheit 451 is another stellar title, but its early predecessor The Fireman is just as good.

Romatthew said...

I didn't brainstorm at all for the last two. The titles were just there. I just brainstormed for the first two.

Ava Jae said...

Ah, ok, I understand. It's always nice when the titles make themselves known without having to dig too deeply for them. :)

ArkAngel said...

I usually give my WIPs default titles so I don't distract myself from my sudden writing bursts (especially if it's brand new). On occasion, I end up keeping the default :D

Ava Jae said...

I do something similar with default titles as I mentioned in the post, except when the default title is my protagonist's first name I rarely keep it.

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