How to Write a Good Title for Your Book

Beth Mende Conny of Write Directions discusses how to write a good book title.The first sentence of your book is not what grabs your readers’ attention — it’s your title.

Dull titles say to readers, “This book (yawn) is about love/losing weight/preschoolers/using computers/paintings/stuff, etc.” What a sales pitch!

What you need is a title that draws the eye, tugs on heartstrings, offers hope and entertainment, and promises to make it worth someone’s time and money to read.

Here are great approaches you should consider taking:

Note: You can apply these suggestions to titles of presentations, workbooks, Web sites, etc.

Get spunky
Some titles are just plain fun. Even though you may only get a hint of what they’re about, they reveal a writer’s spunk and style. Head over to the just released section of your bookstore and you’ll find great examples for fiction and nonfiction books alike.

As you’ll see, the following are not recent books, but all are in print, which is a testament to their great titles. (Click on the links to see what the books are actually about.)

Be intriguing
Some titles are more ethereal, even atmospheric. They elicit an emotional resonance, create unusual images and string together words in unconventional ways. They draw you to them, even though you may not have heard of the books or authors. (Click on the links to see what the books are actually about.)

Be authoritative
If you’re writing to position yourself as an expert, set the record straight or have the final word, use a title that leaves little doubt as to who’s in charge. Use strong verbs, nouns and powerful phrasing. And be brief. Your title should say it all. (Click on the links to see how each book delivers on its title.)

Offer a benefit
What’s in it for me? That’s the question readers ask, even if subconsciously, when they pick up a book, most especially a nonfiction one. Your title must provide the answer.

So make readers a promise: That if they read your book, they’ll learn how to install a new muffler, increase their retirement savings, better understand themselves and the economy, and live more healthfully. (Click on the links to learn more about the benefits offered.)

Take the right approach
Every book has an audience; know yours.

Your title should use words and phrasing that appeal to your readers. Sex, age, economic and educational level, religious beliefs—these are just some of the factors to keep in mind when crafting an appealing and appropriate title.

Note how these titles put a different spin on the same subject matter. (Click on the links because, well, just because!)

Use subtitles
Depending on your subject, you may want to go with a title and subtitle. This works well when you can’t cram all you want or need to say into a single title; or when you want to give top billing to just a few, but intriguing words. Learn from these titles. (Click on the links to see how the books incorporate the spirit of the title and subtitle.)

Go beyond books
When searching for a great title, don’t limit yourself to books. You can find inspiration on the air- and TV waves. For example:

Go country
Trucks, dying Grammas, lost loves, beat-up trucks, tears in beer – country music lyrics sure tell a story. Their titles will tell you even more. So if you’re looking for something clever that captures the essence of your work, here are some examples. (You don’t have to listen to any of these songs to know what they’re about.)

Study ads
Companies fork over millions of dollars to advertising and marketing agencies to come up with slogans that not only build product recognition but relationships with customers.

Next time you sit in front of the tube, take note of these (and their visual counterparts—the companies’ logos). As you’ll see, these slogans, or tag lines, are vivid and brief. They capture in a few words what would take most of us paragraphs to write. Here are just a few examples:

  • Just Do It — Nike
  • Drivers Wanted — Volkswagen
  • The Uncola — 7-Up
  • You’re in Good Hands — Allstate
  • Be all you can be — U.S. Army

Finally—Be patient

  • Titles can sometimes be elusive, so hang in there.
  • Don’t get too attached. What you think is brilliant may leave others (including publishers) flat. Test market your title(s); perhaps all you need are a few nips and tucks.
  • Brainstorm. It’s better to have too many titles to choose from than too few.
  • Ask for help. Sometimes two, three or four heads are better than one. You never know what creative gem someone comes up with.

 

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