Blogger: Mary Keeley
The Books & Such offices are closed over the Christmas holidays, but we’re re-posting some popular blogs from the past. This one is from a year ago. Enjoy commenting among yourselves. A blessed 2016 to all of you.
An editor contacted me this week to inquire about a client’s proposal. The editorial team is interested in the author’s nonfiction book but asked if she’d be willing to tweak her approach slightly and give it a different title.
Assuming the requests wouldn’t compromise her Christian values or her central theme, you can guess her response to the interested publisher in today’s competitive market: “Sure, I can make those adjustments and come up with a killer title.”
How do you arrive at the perfect title? The most important way to approach titling your book is this:
It’s all about the readers.
Ask yourself these questions: What is your book about really? Putting yourself in readers’ shoes, what will they get out of reading
your book? Your answers will point you to a good starting place for title brainstorming. (Your answers also become your list of reader benefits for your book proposal.) And then begin with a working title, writing down new ideas and provocative words as they evolve in the writing process. Think about what your readers stand to gain from your book.
A title should:
- Tell what the book is about by identifying place in time, a characteristic of the protagonist, or central theme or topic, that parallels the tone of your book (pithy, slang, shock-value, thought-provoking, directive).
- Use simple, reader-friendly language.
- Hint at what readers can expect.
You also want to create some mystery in your title that compels readers to purchase your book to find out what happens or the information your title promises.
Here are a few techniques for creating the perfect title:
- Make it intriguing or mysterious to pique readers’ curiosity.
- Approach the titling process from different perspectives—context, a phrase or quote from the manuscript, the villain, metaphor or imagery of your protagonist, edgy play on words, a contrast or comparison for your topic and the takeaway for readers—until you sense one approach stands out.
- Ask a big question that suggests the reader will find the answer in your book. If you follow through and provide a satisfying answer in your book, readers will learn they can trust you to deliver and will want to purchase other books you write.
- Use a straightforward “How to” in the title of your how-to book. If this sounds too simplistic to you when edgy, intriguing titles appear to be the most popular, remember that your book’s audience is looking for quick, clear instruction on your topic. Those words create the perfect title for the book your intended readers want.
Landing on the perfect title can put you in a quandary, no doubt about it. Title-testing websites like Lulu.com can help or hinder. Don’t assume the results you get are ironclad. For example, 50 Shades of Grey scored between 34.8% and 72.5% chance of being a bestseller, depending on the selections I chose from the questions’ dropdown options.
Another way to test your title ideas is trying them out on neutral parties who don’t know you personally but resemble your target audience. Perhaps a librarian in a nearby town or someone you feel comfortable striking up a conversation with at a bookstore or at church, or your Facebook friends.
What is the best book title you’ve seen recently that made you stop in your tracks and want to investigate further? What about it affected you that way? What is your challenge in landing on the perfect title for your book? We have a great community on this blog. You are welcome to try out two or three ideas on each other here. Give a paragraph description of your WIP, and ask for reactions and suggestions.