How Important Is Your Book Title?

Classic booksI was talking to a writer who mentioned she hadn’t worked too hard to come up with a great title for her book. When I asked her why, she said she’d been to a workshop taught by an editor at a major publishing house, who said, “Don’t get too attached to your title — there’s a good chance the publisher will change it anyway.”

So the writer interpreted it as “Don’t bother to come up with a great title.”

That’s NOT what it means!

It’s true that your publisher might want to change your book title, to come up with something they feel is more marketable to your target audience. However, it’s also necessary to present your book to agents and editors with the best title possible. Your title sets the tone, hints at the genre or style of book, and draws the reader in. It’s your very first opportunity to “market” your book andmake someone want to read it. This goes for editors and agents!

Don’t underestimate the importance of your title! See my post “How to Title Your Book” for hints on how to brainstorm a good one.

How much do titles play into your book buying decisions? What are the best titles you’ve seen lately?

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  • http://juliedaines.blogspot.com Julie Daines

    Thank you so much for saying this! I’m glad to know that all the energy I’ve expended on finding the perfect title isn’t completely wasted.

    How to Title Your Book was also a great post. Thanks!

  • http://www.embklitzke.com Erin Klitzke

    Not coming up with a title is just lazy. I realize as well as anyone that coming up with a title can be hellaciously hard, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t put forth your best effort to come up with a title you love.

    Even if your editor wants to change the title later, if it’s a title that you absolutely love and think fits the piece, it’s not like you’re not allowed to lobby for the title that you, the author, came up with.

    Great little post, Rachelle.

  • Tiffany

    Great information. I have heard advice as the woman you are talking to, but the title of the book is so important. It sets the tone. So, come up with a great one, but know that it might not be a done deal.

  • http://www.nickhight.blogspot.com Nick

    Very true; great post. Despite having been working on my novel for over a year, I still haven’t come up with a title, because I don’t feel I have enough knowledge of my world to do so. And I don’t want a place-holder either, because I’ve learned through experience that place-holders get stuck and become permanent unintentionally. I want the best possible title for my book, and so I think I need a bit more time for me to be able to make that happen.

  • http://www.supamomthoughts.blogspot.com Angie Dicken

    Great post! I love the title, “Courting Morrow Little”. I think titles are so important! It’s the first hook to get me to open a book. I am sure this plays a part when an agent/editor looks at a submission?
    Great meeting you. And congratulations on Agent of the Year!! Well-deserved. :)

  • http://katelarkindale.blogspot.com/ Kate Larkindale

    I am horrible at choosing titles for my work. Nothing ever truly captures the story so I either end up with something that has little to do with the actual story, or one word that sums up the theme. Neither make me happy. So I usually end up titling at the end of the process, at the last possible moment.

    That said, my new book came from the title that just popped into my head…

  • http://akindleinhongkong.blogspot.com Shannon Young

    I love catchy titles. I think they definitely have an impact on the books I choose to buy. The title of my own travel-memoir-in-progress has morphed as I’ve been working on the book. It has gotten better as I’ve come to a clearer understanding of what my book is actually about. Now that I’m in the editing phase (almost done with my second draft) I’ve settled on a title that I think is pretty cool.

    I’ve noticed a trend, especially among non-fiction books, for choosing a one word title plus a cool subtitle. Malcolm Gladwell (Blink, Outliers, etc.) is great at this.

  • http://esthersdestiny.blogspot.com Sherri

    Titling anything is one of the hardest things for me, and that includes not only my books, but my blog posts – everything. So much needs to be reflected in a title – it’s almost like creating an elevator pitch of less than six words! It’s great when you get it right, though, isn’t it?

    • http://esthersdestiny.blogspot.com Sherri

      I forgot to say congratulations, Rachelle! I was watching the live stream at home. It looked like such fun. Thank you for sharing so much information, support and encouragement with so many of us just starting out.

  • Melissa Pearl

    Title is huge. When browsing a book store, you’re reaching for the title before the blurb. It’s important to get it right.

    Thanks for the great post on how to come up with a good title. I always struggle.

    I like short, succinct titles. When I was coming up for titles for my YA trilogy, I was given some advice that my current ones weren’t marketable. So I came up with a bunch of ideas then went to the local middle school and took a vote in about six different classes. The titles I am using won by a landslide in every class. Kids know what they like, I guess :)

  • http://doubtingwriter.blogspot.com/ Jeffo

    The title is usually the thing that makes me pull the book off the shelf for a look. I hate trying to think of titles. I find it’s easier for me to title short stories than it is longer work.

  • http://www.rosemarygemmell.com Rosemary Gemmell

    A very good point! I can’t write a story or novel until I have a good title that suits the story. For me it’s exactly the same as finding the right names for the characters. Titles of books often make me want to investigate the content.

  • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

    My experience with “Church Website Design” and “Book Cover Design Wizardry” is that many of my sales are because of the title alone.

  • http://theotherstephenkingonwriting.blogspot.com Stephen King

    Totally agree with your post; the title is extremely important, though I can also see the advice of “don’t get too attached to it” being taken the wrong way.

    That said, I wonder if the correlation between title choice and sales varies by genre or by name recognition. One of the essays in Editors on Editing talks about the Sci Fi market being so different from the rest due to what can only be called name brand loyalty. I know, it has absolutely no bearing on what I do, but it’s an academically interesting topic, anyway. Thank you for bringing it up.

  • http://www.erastes.com Erastes

    I’m usually attracted by a title, or am put off. I would NEVER NEVER NEVER for example ever buy a title which was the same as a more well-known book or film such as “The Bad and the Beautiful” or Pride/Prejudice because the author is simply using other people’s genius to draw attention to their inferior work. Something intriguing, like “The Gallows Thief” will always draw me in.

  • http://paulanthonyshortt.blogspot.com/ Paul Anthony Shortt

    Yes! Titles are hugely important to me when I’m choosing books. The title is the very first thing that hits most people. It’s like meeting people at a party. The title is the first glance and introduction. What is this book saying about itself with its title? Is it charming and confident? Shy? Does it stumble over itself and spill its drink on you?

    Just because the title may change is no reason to not put proper work into choosing one to begin with. No agent or publisher is going to want to have drinks with a bad title. Or worse, a mediocre one. At least the bad title will be memorable.

  • http://www.intheshadeofthecherrytree.blogspot.com Zan Marie

    I’m on the third working title for my MS. So far so good. It works because it connects the theme and the events.

    Good post. All writers need to know this info and the link to the other post is invaluable. ; )

  • http://flowerpatchfarmgirl.blogspot.com/ Flower Patch Farmgirl

    My favorite book title of all time is The Solace of Leaving Early. And I can’t imagine not finding the best title for your own book! My title is something I come back to again and again. It really serves to re-focus my intentions when I feel a bit wayward.

  • http://www.lostinthewriting.net Lori

    Tittles are the first thing the reader sees, beyond the cover, and a bad tittle has little hope of drawing a crowd. I always pick a tittle that I believe is appropriate to the story, but that said, a recent beta reader commented that the manuscript wasn’t at all what they expected based on the tittle. Back to the drawing board.

  • http://www.josephjpote.com Joe Pote

    I’m not at all sure that I’m very good at developing compelling titles. Mine tend to be more descriptive, which may, or may not, be a good thing for non-fiction writing.

    However, I have found that selecting a title early on helps me to better focus on exactly what message I am trying to convey and to whom.

    Best title seen lately? “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. Amazing real life story, succinctly summed up in a single word title.

    Wish I could do that!

  • http://thoughtsthatmove.blogspot.com/ Wendy

    I like Little Bee and Wench, the book I’m reading now certainly got my attention.

    Coming up with titles is a blast for me (all part of my love of brainstorming), but I have learned not to cling too tightly to one. I like to have at least two or three strong options.

    ~ Wendy

  • http://www.katieganshert.blogspot.com Katie Ganshert

    I’m obsessed with titles and covers, so titles are very important to me. I love finding just the right one. It’s like magic.

  • http://reflectionsbykrista.blogspot.com Krista Phillips

    I agree that titles are HUGELY important.

    And I also ashamed admit that I’ve used a similar line as said author for my most recent book (and publisher DID change it thank goodness!)

    (And funny that you post this on the same day I post my title for my newly contracted book… the GOOD one not the lazy one I put on it originally!)

  • http://lizakane.wordpress.com Liza Kane

    Book titles are a BIG draw to me, second to the book cover itself!
    I would never have been interested in my friend’s ARC of DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE if it were called anything else (the cover was still in its formative stages…).
    The *title* drew me in when the cover, concept, and summary *seemed* mediocre. THANK GOODNESS FOR THAT TITLE, because that book is by far the best book I’ve read this year!
    That title promised an intriguing tale wrapped in evocative writing, and it delivered!

  • http://www.stephanie-mcgee.com Stephanie McGee

    I don’t know that titles really factor in all that much for me as far as actually pushing me over the edge toward buying the book. An intriguing title will get me to read the cover copy but that’s really as far as it goes.

    For me, I really need a good solid working title for a project before it can really take off. I know I’ll have to change the title as I draft and that it will probably change if it ever sells, but that’s a bridge you cross if you ever reach it.

  • Rose Gardener

    This morning I woke with my next novel fleshed out and alive in my brain- including a suitable title which summarised the concept. I was working on that when I was hit by a flash of inspiration for the title of my current novel (which has been seeking a suitable name for months). I opened my inbox and discovered one of my short stories is to be published on-line today. Next I opened your mail on titles and your enjoyable day at the conference. This is the third time your daily post has been pertinent to whatever I am focused upon. Life never ceases to amaze me with its coincidences, or how some days creativity seems to expand exponentially and everything feels possible.

  • http://www.christianmamasguide.com Erin

    Hi Rachelle! Welcome back! I actually spent quite a bit of time brainstorming my title because there were very specific components that I wanted it to have. I wanted it to a) say what it was… a pregnancy guide and b) say it was light and funny and c) say it was Christian. It was hard to do that. Then, when my publisher got a hold of it, they immediately told me they were scrapping the title and my editor and the marketing team and I went to work brainstorming a new title. After weeks of back-and-forth, they reverted to my original title. It was funny how it worked, but I’m glad I spent time thinking about what I wanted before I submitted my proposal so I could fall back on that during our conversations.

  • http://www.marcusbrotherton.com Marcus Brotherton

    I think A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD by Jennifer Egan, is one of the best titled books in a long time.

    The title is offbeat, not what you’d normally expect, and metaphoric for aging and dying, the death of dreams as we get older.

    The implication, of course, is that we all get a visit from the goon squad sooner or later. So the title acts as a warning, too, to live your dreams today.

    The book won the 2011 Pulitzer for fiction, among many other awards.

  • http://www.pagesinthewind.com Sally DeSmet

    The book title is undoubtedly important – it is the first handshake, afterall. It either grabs the potential reader, or it doesn’t. The graphics/art is also important as many of us are very visual. I am not against changing my title if a better one is suggested or comes to my attention – but yes, it is certainly important.

  • http://thejaimereports.blogspot.com Jaime Wright

    Book titles are HUGE for me!!! Just the words portray so much about the content. I love coming up with titles for my books. My last WIP went through three title changes :)

  • http://byline.peterdehaan.name/ Peter DeHaan

    Although most people “judge a book by its cover,” I tend to judge it by its title. I’m sure that I have passed on good books because they had bad titles.

    (Thanks for this post. I, too, drew the conclusion that my title didn’t really matter, since a publisher would likely pick their own.)

  • http://lilliemcferrin.blogspot.com Lillie McFerrin

    I have also struggled with this. I spent so much time agonizing over just the right title for my most recent book, but in the back of my mind I’m thinking, won’t they just change it anyway. But, I still think it’s so important to pick the right title to represent your book. When I’m searching for a book to read, the title has a ton to do with which book I pick up first.

    http://lilliemcferrin.blogspot.com

  • http://www.anemulligan.com Ane Mulligan

    I love to play with titles, but I always remember not to be married to them. Sometimes, if I’m thinking up a new series, the titles have helped me figure out the story. They’re the central theme.

    Besides, I think they’re a great mind exercise – like coming up with a book’s tag line.

  • http://doubleportioninspiration.blogspot.com/ Roslyn

    The title to the book, I feel, is the place to “hook” the reader. I won’t even open a book if the title doesn’t speak to me or my situation. I have spent months trying to come up with the perfect title for my book that I will start to query in a few months. I’m starting to think there is “no perfect title”.

  • http://www.transitionslifecoaching.org Theresa Froehlich

    Even though the publisher might (and most likely will) change the book title, I find that having a clear and catchy title helped when I pitched my book to the editors and agents at a conference. It encapulates what my book is about.

  • http://DavidFoster.tv David Foster

    To me, the title is everything. What I mean is for me the writing of the book is to flush out the title. I allowed my publisher to change the title of my first book and while it made sense at the time, I’ve regretted it every sense!

  • http://www.jennysulpizio.com Jenny Lee Sulpizio

    I adore titles. In fact, the title (along with the cover art) is usually what grabs my attention and gets me to buy the book. I am one that can fully appreciate a creative, witty, humorous, or crafty title for sure. As a writer, I have to title my book and it is without a doubt, the first thing I do. Having said this, it’s understandable that an editor may want to change it, it’s all part of the process.

    BTW: Congrats Rachelle on Agent of the Year! How awesome is that? :)

  • http://countdowntocontract.wordpress.com Christina Lorenzen

    As a writer, I spend much time brainstorming for the ‘perfect’ title. As a writer with a journalism background, I know that the title, like the story itself, is likely to be changed. However, as a reader I know how often I’ve picked up a book I normally wouldn’t read just because the title on the shelf caught my eye. This post is a great reminder to writers that coming up with a title, whether it remains or goes, is an important part of writing your novel.

  • http://alsonnichsen.blogspot.com Amy L. Sonnichsen

    Ugh. Titles are so hard for me to come up with! I’ll have to go back and re-read your post on how to brainstorm titles for a book. :)

    Amy

  • http://www.examiner.com/childrens-literature-in-chicago/elizabeth-mackinney Beth MacKinney

    A title is very important to me as a book consumer.

    A good title will cause me to pick up a book. I still won’t stick with it unless I like it, but it’s definitely a hook.

    A middle-of-the-road title I could go either way. I’ll probably still pick it up and browse through if I have time just because I love books.

    A poor title is a huge turn-off. If no one bothered to select a good title, it’s like throwing a hook in the water with no bait attached to it. This fish won’t bite.

    • http://www.examiner.com/childrens-literature-in-chicago/elizabeth-mackinney Beth MacKinney

      I’d also add that I might get past a bad title, again, because I love books. However, since I have stacks of books everywhere that I’m reading, all with wonderful titles, it’s unlikely I’ll make time for one without a good title. : )

  • http://windowsandpaperwalls.wordpress.com/ Cathy

    I would never choose or reject a book based on the title. But some are much better than others!

    I heard that Diana Gabaldon’s next Outlander book is titled “Written With My Heart’s Own Blood,” which sounds way too chatty, to me. Hopefully that’ll change before it comes out. I didn’t like the title of Laura Bush’s memoir, “Spoken From the Heart” (thought it was one word too long), although I LOVED the book.

    I like simple titles that mean what they say…like “On Writing.” :-)

  • http://michellehigdonbooks.blogspot.com Michelle

    I usually end up changing my titles one or more times before the end of the book but my recent Book #1 in a 6 book YA series has been the same since conception – Oh Boyfriend, Where Art Thou?

    Titles that are catchy draw my attention or titles that get me thinking about what the book might be about, rather like The Hunger Games. That title is both.

    Great post and congrats on the Agent of the Year award!

  • http://kristinlaughtin.blogspot.com Kristin Laughtin

    Book titles are usually the first thing I come up with, and I love creating titles that evoke the mood of the story, but I know it’s not a good idea to get attached. I can’t imagine writing a story without some sort of title in mind, something concrete to give me a sense of the tone I want to convey, even if it ends up changing later. Even if it does, maybe it can serve as a springboard for the publishers to come up with something good in the same vein later.

  • http://www.rachellewrites.blogspot.com Rachelle Christensen

    Such great advice! My publisher made the final call on each of my books and I was thrilled that they decided to keep “my” titles. I spent a lot of time agonizing over titles. My book is my baby, why wouldn’t I want to name it? :)

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    A good book title does get my attention. When Michael Hyatt wrote about elevator pitches in a recent blog, I found a commenter’s book title, “Good Grief,” arresting. Erica’s elevator pitch sold me as well.

  • http://www.johnwaverly.com John Waverly

    Until my first draft is done, all my books have the same title. I name them “I can finish this story.doc” or sometimes I call them “Write, write like the wind.doc”. That way every time I go to open the file I get a little pep talk.

    Once the first draft is done I give my stories two “titles”. The first one is the one-word project title that I use in every file, folder, note, and todo item. The second is the actual title I think will be on the book someday.

  • http://lisabergren.com Lisa Bergren

    Congrats on Agent of the Year! What a great affirmation for you, friend, and I know it’s well deserved.

    Cover art actually catches my attention far more than titles. But a couple of recent great titles in my TBR stacks: DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE; DELIRIUM; WITHER. Evocative!

  • http://www.nebraskagraceful.blogspot.com Michelle DeRusha

    I had massive amounts of angst over titling my book. I was really wedded to the original title (“Graceful”) but then one of my readers suggested it was too bland — I absolutely trusted her opinion, so I changed it.

    Of course, now my blog and everything else is still connected to the old “Graceful” title (that’s another blog post topic: how to brand YOURSELF as a writer, not the title of your book, which will surely change!!).

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  • http://www.deborahcoonts.com deb coonts

    Titles–so very important, so devilishly difficult. My titles are part of my brand–they all contain the word “lucky” and they are funny…Wanna Get Lucky?, Lucky Stiff, etc….like the books. Readers seem to respond and the branding makes recognition of future works easier. that being said, some people have a knack for titles, others no so much. So, do the best you can and let the publisher have a go if they feel the need.

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  • Bret Draven

    I’ve always thought a white book titled “Generic” written in black, would be pretty stellar!

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