Coming up with book title ideas can be a tough exercise. Your book’s title is, after all, the first thing your readers will see when they discover you on Amazon. If all goes well, the name of your book is going to follow you around your whole life (and even after you’re gone!) So we totally get why you might agonize over it.
In your heart, you want your book’s title to be poetic, informative, memorable, and pleasing to the eye and ear. Plus, you have to be able to tell your grandma about it without blushing. That’s a tall order.
To spur the creative process, we’ve got some rules of thumb to consider. Since there are different title considerations for fiction versus non-fiction, we break these two topics down separately. Let’s get started.
How to Choose a Fiction Book Title
Rule of Thumb #1: You have more creative latitude when naming a fiction book.
The general school of thought with fiction titles is that you have more creative wiggle room than your non-fiction counterparts. While it’s true that you can title your fiction book literally anything, there are a few key guidelines to keep in mind.
A great fiction title evokes your story and genre. You hint at what’s in store for the reader in just a few choice words. Think along the lines of what your book is about when crafting the title to stay true to the content.
Ask Yourself: What’s your genre—romance, thriller, legal drama? What’s your story about—young love or solving a murder?
Real World Concrete Example: A romantic novel may warrant a lyrical title. Look at the modern hit The Fault in our Stars by John Greene. Even if you don’t know that the central plot of this tear-jerker revolves around young lovers stricken with cancer, the well-crafted title evokes longing and romance.
While a romantic book calls for dreamy language, an action book’s title warrants strong and powerful words. The Hunger Games is a prime example of this. In only three words, author Suzanne Collins conveys “BIG ACTION INSIDE!” to prospective readers.
Rule of Thumb #2: Pique your readers’ interest with the title.
A great fiction title teases and leaves your audience wanting more. Novel titles should intrigue the audience about what’s beyond the cover and capture their imagination so they must read your story. You want your audience to read your title and think, “I must read what’s behind that cover!”
Ask Yourself: What are the key components of your story? What do you want your audience to take away after reading your book? What’s the central theme?
Real World Concrete Example: A Cure for Suicide by Jesse Ball explores grief and trauma. You know what’s coming by the title, but at the same time, you don’t.
Rule of Thumb # 3: Look to your characters for title inspiration.
A great book title captures the spirit of the protagonist. Some authors simply use the hero’s name for the title. Others have combined the name of their hero with other special qualities to inform their audience about their protagonist’s accomplishments.
On the flip-side, a formidable antagonist is prime fodder for a choice book title. A sinister name can convey a sense of dread and expectation for what’s to come.
Ask Yourself: Who are your book’s heroes? Who are the villains? What traits define these characters? What journey do they embark on in your story?
Real World Concrete Example: Master of horror Stephen King uses his favorite villains in titles. Look at a few of his classic hits, all with scary C names: Carrie (scary child), Cujo (scary dog), or Christine (scary car).
Helen Fielding named her wildly popular chick-lit series Bridget Jones’ Diary after the title character, the lovably-bumbling Bridget Jones.
Rule of Thumb #4: Look to pop culture for inspiration.
Many writers have based parts of their books on the culture of the times. If this proves true for you, you may use this influence to help craft your title. Great book titles have been inspired by modern culture, including songs, movies, and other literature.
Ask Yourself: Were any parts of your book inspired by song or other modern influences?
Real World Concrete Example: Mystery author Mary Higgins Clark commonly titles her books using inspiration from popular singers, as in I’ve Got You Under My Skin (Frank Sinatra).
How to Choose a Non-Fiction Book Title
When choosing a title for your non-fiction book, it helps to keep in mind that non-fictions readers frequently need help with something—whether that’s help losing weight, becoming more effective in the business world, or connecting with someone else going through the same health crisis.
They want an answer to their question or a solution to their problem. A well-crafted non-fiction title shows that they’ve come to the right place. (Book title ideas for nonfiction authors below…)
Rule of Thumb #1: Tell non-fiction readers what the book can do for them in the title.
Make it clear what your reader will get out of reading your book. Some pros recommend making a clear promise directly in the title to lure readers in.
Ask Yourself: Am I teaching a skill (how to)? Am I sharing an experience (memoir)? What will my readers get out of this book?
Real World Concrete Example: The following titles clearly explain what help, skill, or knowledge readers will get from each book:
Asperger’s Rules! How to Make Sense of School and Friendship by Blythe Grossman
How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease by Michael Greger and Gene Stone
Super Shred: The Big Results Diet: 4 Weeks, 20 Pounds, Lose It Faster! by Ian K. Smith
Rule of Thumb #2: Use a subtitle for clarity.
A great non-fiction title often employs a subtitle to clarify what readers are going to get out of the book. A clear subtitle is like a directional sign pointing the reader to the desired outcome of reading their book.
Ask Yourself: What’s my goal in writing this book for my readers? What am I helping them with? What am I educating them about?
Real World Concrete Example: Each of these authors spell out what their readers can expect from reading their books right in the subtitle:
The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion by Elle Luna
Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin
Work Rules! Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock
Rule of Thumb #3: Describe what’s going to happen.
If your book is more about a story, a transformational journey, a narrative, or a memoir, then your title can reflect what happens in your book.
Ask Yourself: What’s going to happen? What journey do I hope to take the reader on while they read?
Real World Concrete Example: Consider Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat, Pray, Love. You know from the title that you’re going to go on a culinary, spiritual, and romantic journey along with the author.
Rule of Thumb #4: Non-fiction titles shouldn’t be dry.
It’s OK to have some fun with your titles. This is especially true in the non-fiction category of personal essay or memoir.
Ask Yourself: How can I have some fun with my material?
Real World Concrete Example: Essayist and memoir humor writer David Sedaris is the master of the entertaining non-fiction title. Consider both Me Talk Pretty One Day and Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls. Both titles cause you to stop in your tracks, scratch your head, and pick up the books to satisfy your curiosity about the odd titles.
We hope our rules of thumb have sparked loads of book title ideas for you. Now you can stop agonizing about your book’s title, and start brainstorming!
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