Friday, April 24, 2015

Book Titles--How Important Are They? How Do You Get a Great One?

Imagine finishing your book manuscript and sending it out to agents and then publishers--and getting a big YES!  You've sold your book.  Time to celebrate.  Then the reality of production begins. 

All those changes suggested by editors.  Gearing up your promotion.  The marketing department wanting to change your book title.

What?!

Yep.  Pretty common.  I've had three book titles get changed by marketing departments or editors after the contract was signed.  It's always done with good reasons and in the end, I've been glad (my early titles were awful).  But it's a bit disconcerting.  Especially after I'd published five books--my trusty agent had sold my sixth manuscript to a mid-sized publisher . . .  whose first request was to change the title. 



Some of my homegrown titles have been excellent.  The books sold well, the publisher didn't want to change anything.  The title still pleased me years later.  
But as an editor and writing teacher, I read lots of good manuscript with terrible titles.  How much more compelling it would be if that good manuscript had a terrific title.

Terrific titles help sell manuscripts.  Because they catch the eye of the agent who has already scanned hundreds of queries that day.  


Tips for Coming Up with Your Own Terrific Book Title
1.  Make a list of the key images or keywords in your manuscript.  Read through your chapters and highlight key words or images that repeat.  On paper, begin doodling or playing with them.  See if you can write a poem around the image or keyword.  Does part of one line of your rough poem stand out?  Could it become a book title with some additional tweaking? 

2.  Study your book's meaning or theme--not what it's about, but what it means to the reader.  Any images or words come from that?  Look at your characters' dilemmas--could their name or occupation be part of the title?  If these fail, go to your plot.  How could a big turning point in the plot become part of the book title?

3.  Once you have some ideas, see how far you can trim them down.  Get rid of any extra words (especially ones that don't convey image--the, and, an, a, etc.).  Go for short.  Longer titles are hard on library cataloging systems.  Short titles fit more compactly on a book's spine, in larger type too. 

4.  If you're writing a nonfiction book, go for the reader benefit.  What's a reader going to take away--what new skills or understanding?  Use benefit-oriented phrases:  How to, 25 Ways to, Secrets, or Master.  For more about this, check out business-book blogger Ginny Carter and her article on choosing strong book titles for nonfiction.

5.  Clever with words?  Try for a twist or double meaning:   The End of Your Life Book Club.  New Ways to Kill Your Mother.  Flip your image or its normal meaning:  Running with Scissors.  Swamplandia.  Present a problem in your title:  Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

6.  Study good titles of published books and see why they sold.  Here are two fune websites to look over.  You'll laugh, you'll disagree, but you may also learn!

101 Best Book Titles
Best 2012 Book Titles from Book Page