Finding the Perfect Novel Title

By DiAnn Mills @DiAnnMills

It’s been said that “a book’s title is its most important marketing strategy.” I shouldn’t be surprised when I consider how long it takes me to create a title for a book. I keep a file of titles, and still I end up in a dilemma. My purpose is to think of my title as a magnet, a powerful attraction to readers.

These famous novels didn’t start out with a luring title:
  • First Impressions → Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
  • Something That Happened → Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck)
  • Atticus → To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
  • Tomorrow is Another Day → Gone with the Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
  • Stranger From Within → Lord of the Flies (William Golding)
  • All’s Well that Ends Well → War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy)
  • They Don’t Build Statues to Businessmen → Valley of the Dolls (Jacqueline Susann)
I have 5 criteria in helping me choose the perfect book title:

1. Unique

  • I search on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Christian Book to make sure my title isn’t currently showing up on other book covers.
  • If my title does appear, how recent is the publishing date?
  • Is the title in my genre?

2. Genre

  • The reader should know the genre immediately.

3.  Memorable

  • Does my title reflect the storyline that the reader will view as unforgettable?
  • Easy to remember or catchy.
  • Short.

4.  Emotion-grabbing 

  • Does my title grab the reader’s emotions?

5.  Keyword searchable

  • I type my title into a search engine to see what comes up. 
  • Are the results related to my story topic?
What are some additional guidelines for creating a strong title?
  1. Use strong nouns and active verbs
  • To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  • The Eagle has Landed – Jack Higgins
  • Watership Down – Richard Adams
  1. Look to figurative language: metaphors and similes
  1. Examine my story’s theme.
  1. Brainstorm.
  • I consult friends for help.
  • I don’t discard any random titles because one day I might need them.
  • Create a new word, especially if the novel is fantasy or sci-fi.
  1. Read poetry – Figurative language offers insight into the genre, emotions, and quality.
  • The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold came from “I Knew a Woman” by Theodore Roethke
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck came from “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough” by Robert Burns
  • Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald came from “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway came from “Meditation XVII” by John Donne.
  1. Songbooks or hymnals – Composers labor over their song titles and lyrics. Like poetry, the language is beautiful and might just fit what I need. The Tie that Blinds.
  • Don’t Stop Belivin’ by Olivia Newton-John came from a Journey song by the same name.
  • We are Family by Patricia Hegarty came from a 1970’s song by Sister Sledge
  • I found this online: John Steinbeck’s wife Carol Steinbeck provided the title to John’s 1939 novel and masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath. The title is a direct reference to lyrics in the second line from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, by Julia Ward Howe, which was based on a passage from the Bible in Revelation.
  • Also, specific lyrics from this song provide the title of John Updike’s novel, In the Beauty of the Lilies. Two more titles: Terrible Swift Sword and Never Call Retreat come from this song. They are volumes in Bruce Catton’s Centennial History of the Civil War.
  1. Alliteration – Repetitive use of a letter for each word of the title.
  • Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss
  • Many Marvelous Monsters by Ed Heck
  • Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
  1. Answers a question that must be answered
  • Are You Afraid of the Dark? – Sidney Sheldon
  • Can Love Happen Twice? – Ravinder Singh
  • They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? – Horace McCoy
  1. One-word titles or choose a name
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • Rebecca by Daphne Du Mauer
  • Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  • Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
  1. Clichés – If I choose a cliché, I want to make sure it corresponds to the book’s genre and content. Switch up a popular cliché or phrase.
  • Don’t Look Down by Hilary Davidson
  • Love is Blind by Linsay Sands
  • The Grass is Always Greener by Michele Jakubowski
  1. Make a reader promise – This is popular for nonfiction books too.
  • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
  1. Research and setting
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  • The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
  • The Bridge on the River Kwai by Pierre Boulle
  1. Subtitles are more for nonfiction books.
  1. Online Title Generators
Finally, how will my novel title be used?
  1. To entice a reader to buy the novel.
  2. To create blog posts and articles.
  3. To develop a speech.
  4. To promote contests and giveaways during book launch.
  5. To expand visibility. Coming soon!
  6. To advertise and market.
  7. To create a Pinterest board.
  8. To attract book clubs.
  9. To use on promotional materials.
  10. To invite book reviewers.
  11. To brand and enhance the author’s platform.

If you are writing or thinking about writing a book, what title tips would you give?