Article: Choosing a Great Title for your Next Novel

If you asked what draws me to a book, like most readers I would answer with the following: a nice cover and a snappy title. A good title is supremely important in making an impression on the reader before they even open the book. It will linger with them and if they talk to their friends about the novel, it’s the usually the first thing they say as well. But choosing a good title is one of the hardest parts of writing a novel. How can a writer summarise the feeling of the entire book in just a few short words? I won’t lie—it’s tricky. This article will look at how to come up with a title that will suit your novel and engage your readers.

Asking around, the piece of advice I heard the most was, ‘It will strike you like a bolt of lightning. Suddenly, you will just know!’ I got this advice from readers, not authors. I took this approach when trying to name my first novel, Birth By Fire’s Embrace. It was long after I had finished the novel and well into the editing process that I realised it wasn’t that easy to pick a title. It wasn’t going to drop out of the sky in front of me. A good title needs work, patience, and a lot of thought put into it. I wrestled with titles for weeks before I finally settled on Birth By Fire’s Embrace.

Now for the flip side; about a month after finishing Birth By Fire’s Embrace, I started to work on its sequel. I was typing away at home one night when I paused. It had just hit me: the title. After painful weeks wracking my brain for the first novel’s title, this one was developed in a matter of seconds. I finished that novel with a smile as, for me, the hardest part was already done.

To create a good title, you really need to get a comprehensive feel for your novel. The title needs to reflect the vibe of the book. But remember, there are always two sides to the coin. Let’s take a look at some popular examples. Example one: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling. The main characters name is Harry Potter and the story is about the Chamber of Secrets. Nice and simple, it tells the readers what they want to know and still retains enough mystery. It’s a straight forward title, following the style in which the novel is written. Example two: Twilight by Stephanie Myer. Short and extremely mysterious, it suggests much, but allows the mind to explore the possibilities. Both titles are great and work extremely well in their own way. The main difference between the titles is the age group they are targeted at. Harry Potter is targeted to a younger audience than Twilight. Therefore its title is simpler and more appealing to a younger audience.

Let’s go a step further and break the titles down into their words. Some words have more impact than others. Some just sound better and do more to drive certain emotions in a prospective reader. When creating a good title, you need to be able to utilise strong words and twist them to suit your needs. When I was thinking up the title for Birth By Fire’s Embrace, I brainstormed single words that were catchy to me and had a basis in the book. I then tried to fit them together in a way that sounded right, wasn’t too long, and also captured the story of my novel. Eventually I came up with Birth By Fire’s Embrace. I liked it, but it actually took a few weeks for me to be completely happy with it.

You will find the shorter the title, the more mysterious it is, and mystery is appealing to readers. If a novel was called ‘Crash of the Moon Titan from the Planet Saturn into the Moon of Sol’ I imagine it would gain fewer readers than if it was simply called ‘Crash of Titan’ or ‘Moon Breaker’. Remember to make your title short and snappy. I would say a five-word limit is the best practice, as any longer than that and you start losing the reader’s attention.

It’s also very important to have look out at other books of the same genre and see what they are called. You will find a lot of Vampire novel titles having words like ‘Eternal’, ‘Blood’, and ‘Darkness’.. This is because they suit the novels and sound fantastic. If it’s a fantasy, words like ‘Sword’, ‘Quest’ and ‘Magic’ become more common. Enter romance and it’s ‘Love’, ‘Passion’, and ‘Desire’ everywhere. Use these popular trends to create a title that will appeal to your readers. Don’t be afraid to be different, but know where to draw the line. Your readers still need to identify your book and its genre. Words that start with the same letter are great to use in a title as they are appealing to say. Try titles like ‘Eternity Ends’ or ‘Siren’s Song’, but don’t get too carried away—titles that read like tongue twisters are painful.

Once you have decided on your book title, don’t forget to check if there are any other books out there that already have that title. It’s very easy, just type the title into Google and just see what comes up. This is what your readers will be doing. If something unappealing or adverse to your novel appears, you may just want to consider a different title.

Overall, be true to your book. If you like your title, chances are your readers will too. Keep it short and sweet. Remember, you will be saying and typing that title more than anything else in the book. Make it something you are happy to say and can say easily and with confidence. If you can’t speak the title, what’s to bet your readers can’t either? Your title is one of the first impressions you make on your reader—make it a good one.

This article first appeared in the Spectacle Media Newsletter.

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