Titling Tidbits: Essential Elements of a Book Title

Trying to sell a book with an uninteresting title is like trying to sell a homely pre-owned car—the buyer is probably going to browse right over the rusted ‘99 Saturn to check out the pristinely waxed Honda parked next door. Although the interior looks great, and the gas tank is full, the Saturn’s dullness holds no ground against the Armor-All tires of its competitor.

Your book’s title serves as the deal breaker for your target consumers. Take a lesson from the used-car analogy and don’t let a dull or overused phrase ruin a book’s selling potential. A title should attract the intended audience, communicate the promise of the book, and differentiate the book in the market. Pick a title with purpose! Here we’ll discuss how to make that purpose come to life with brainstorming techniques, essential titling elements, and some no-no’s to avoid when narrowing down your title.

If you're having trouble getting those creative juices flowing, it’s time to spice up your brainstorming session with a few key ingredients:

Summarize the core message and promise of your book: The title should detail the book’s fundamental message and give a clear picture of the author’s narrative style.

Market differentiation: It is of utmost importance to do your research. Study market trends within the genre and decipher what makes your book unique. How is this book relatable, who will it appeal to, and why?

Reflect sales goals: Create a mission statement for the audience you are trying to reach. What are your sales goals? For example, “Retail appeal for inspirational business readers, sold at point of sale or given as gifts.” Analyze how your offer will be useful to the audience buying your book. This brainstorming tip will help keep you focused on appropriate language to incorporate into your title.

Your title needs essence. Give it a soul with these pointers:

Be original: Avoid overused phrases and strive to be one of a kind. We’re all tired of seeing The 7 Habits of So and So and How To Do This and That.

Be intriguing to your audience: Entice your target consumer with clever narrative skills. Use interesting turns of phrases, play on words, alliteration, and other techniques to bring creativity into your title. Witty examples include Tongue Fu, Snakes in Suits, and The Myth of War.

Be pithy: A title that is concise and eloquent in its expression will foreshadow its meaningful content.

Here are some no no’s to avoid in your title:

Lengthy words: Long words are distracting in a cover design, while short words allow for larger typeface and a clearer message.

Jargon: There is a time and a place for colloquialisms, and that should not be in the title of your book. Steer clear of buzzwords.

Made-up words: What would you do if you saw Griftopia written on the cover of anything but a fantasy novel? Probably, walk away. On top of often sounding hokey, word mash-ups make a book difficult to search for in inventory systems.

Negativity: The negativity strategy works in politics and for Dr. Laura, but unless your book’s content is intentionally provocative, not everyone likes a confrontational message. Something like Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free is appropriate for the subject matter, but otherwise keep your title’s language on a more positive note. You’re selling a solution, not the problem.

Copycat syndrome: Avoid legal troubles—check, check, and check again for trademark or copyright issues. Stay original.

We all judge a book by its title, so choose wisely! Although the selection process may take time, be patient, do your research, and give your book the name it deserves.