When we think about writing and then promoting a novel, sometimes it’s easy to overlook one of the greatest marketing strategies at your fingertips: a great title.
Writing a title for your novel can be the first thing you do – or the very last. Some authors will come up with a catchy title and then craft a novel from that point. Others will write the entire manuscript and then find the title within the story.
I tend to fall into the latter camp, finding that the title will come out of the text as I write. But, even then, some titles are easier to come by than others. When I was writing the first book in The Mapmaker Chronicles series, for instance, Race To The End Of The World was a given – that’s the premise of the entire first trilogy.
Creating a title for the second book in The Maven & Reeve series was more difficult, however – up until the point where I created a name for the icy wind that blasts its way through the entire story, and so The Wolf’s Howl was born.
No matter which way you go about it, though, there’s no doubt of the importance of your title. It’s the first thing that a reader will see when they pick up the book, and so it needs to give them not only the flavour of the story, but also what kind of novel it might be.
Here are some tips to help you come up with the perfect title for your work.
Before you start
1. Do some research.
It’s entirely possible that the PERFECT title for your book came to you last night in a dream. Lucky you! Before you do too much celebrating, however, it’s time for some research – how many novels are already published with the very same title?
Yes, there are books out there that share a title (just search Forbidden on Amazon, as an example). But in a time when people buy most of their books online, it will be much easier to find your book if the title is unique in some way.
2. Think about your genre – and trends within that genre.
At the moment, the historical fiction section of the bookshop is full of The X’s daughter and The Paris Bookseller/Dressmaker/Embroiderer. Contemporary women’s fiction is trending towards The xxx Ladies/Women’s Crafting/Singing/Dancing Group or similar). Obviously trends change, and titles with them, but it’s always worth showing that you know your market.
3. On the subject of searching, if you’re going to choose a one-word title (and many bestselling authors do), think about the consequences of typing that one word into a search engine. Something like Spare is a great title when you are a prince and your marketing budget is huge, but may not work so well for a debut novelist. Type Jump into your search engine to see what I mean.
Where to begin when crafting your title
Inspiration for your title can be found in different places. Some ideas of where to look:
- theme (On The Road – Jack Kerouac, Me and Earl and The Dying Girl – Jesse Andrews)
- character name (Emma – Jane Austen, Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Strout)
- a phrase within the novel (Where The Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens, To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee)
- setting (Brokeback Mountain – Annie Proulx, To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf)
- mood you’re trying to convey (The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold, Dry – Jane Harper)
- journey within the novel (A Passage to India – E. M. Forster, They Both Die At The End – Adam Silvera)
- timing of the story (Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell, Love In the Time of Cholera – Gabriel García Márquez)
- other literary works (Brave New World – Aldous Huxley (from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest), I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou (from the poem Sympathy by Paul Laurence Dunbar)
- seasons (Prodigal Summer – Barbara Kingsolver, Drums of Autumn – Diana Gabaldon)
What to avoid when creating a book title
In short, try to avoid confusing your reader. If you create the ultimate catchy title, but it has nothing to do with your story, readers are confused.
If you’ve written a fantasy series set in a world called Zyxxhhru, keep it out of the title – readers won’t know how to pronounce it when they visit the bookshop.
If you’ve written an action thriller, calling it Potato won’t have readers lining up to buy it, even if it’s the cleverest mystery of all time about a cunning mass murder plot involving the world’s chip supply. (Insert joke about When The Chips Are Down and duck for cover…)
I think one of the most important things to remember about the title of your novel is that it’s subject to change. You might call it something fabulous on the draft, change it for the second draft, and the third, and so on. If you’re going with a traditional publisher, it’s a good idea to be prepared for it to change again.
Like every aspect of writing a novel, it’s important to aim for perfection, make it the best you can – and then let it go.
Allison Tait is the author of three epic middle-grade adventure series for kids: The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher and the Maven & Reeve Mysteries. A presenter at AWC and former co-host of the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast, Al’s next middle-grade novel will be out in July 2023. Find out more about her at allisontait.com.