Have you ever wondered about how the greatest authors finally decided on the best title for their best-seller? It’s becoming increasingly difficult to come up with unique book titles. Afterall, there are about one million books published a year in the United States; there’s no way for writers, and readers alike, to be a familiar with every single title that is published. This is why practicing thoughtfulness is essential for picking the best title for your story. The title needs to be eye-catching, and interesting enough to convince a busy reader to pause and want to learn more.
It’s harmful to think of titles as throwaways, or as a last-minute effort. Dedicate ample writing time to dive into, and consider the different possibilities. If you’ve slaved over, and completed your newest manuscript, cap off your efforts with a title that is sure to intrigue readers and draw the attention your story deserves.
Just as we judge books by their covers, we judge books by their titles. The title carries the weight of whether a reader will take a chance on your story or not. Keep in mind, there is no title that will please every reader, and that’s okay. Rather than trying to please everyone, your intended audience and genre can guide you.
This blog will discuss different types of titles to consider, and provides tips for picking the best title for your story.
Types Of Titles
Most writers choose to write with a working title. If you’re writing multiple stories simultaneously, working titles are a great way to quickly distinguish projects and drafts from a sea of manuscripts all titled Untitled.
Working titles may be as simple as Fiction Practice 1, or Draft 1. Other working titles may be closer to the final decision. While there are occasions that you stick with one title from start to finish, don’t be overly attached. As your story develops and changes, it’s good practice update a list of titles before making your final selection.
For example, one of my short stories went through these title changes as I updated my drafts: Broken Down Car, Fergus, The Desert, Red Dirt, Red Dirt Highway and finally, American Desert. The titles of these drafts certainly point towards the progress I made as the story developed.
The Name Of A Character
Popular one word titles are the name of a character. Lysistrata by Aristophanes, Manfred by Lord Byron, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, Oroonoko by Aphra Behn barely compose the tip of the iceberg of works whose titles are the name of a character.
These titles work great for character driven narratives. If you want to work on character building, check out these tips.
One Word Titles
These titles can be poignant and thought-provoking.
It may help to crack open a thesaurus and start a list of words you believe best summarize your story.
On the flip side, there are long titles. And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks by William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein, and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams are a few examples.
These titles certainly function as another opportunity for the authors to showcase their wit and creativity.
Thought-Provoking and Deep Titles
These are titles that stop readers in their tracks and cause them to think. Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and A Mercy by Toni Morrison comprise a small number of thought-provoking titles. Generally, these titles are the most sought after.
Every writer dreams about that perfect line, or title that perfectly introduces their story. Don’t force perfection, it must come naturally.
Tips For Picking a Title
Search for your proposed story on search engines. This way, you can quickly check if any other story has the same title. It’s impossible to know the title of every book and story that has been published, and it wouldn’t be fair to your work if you accidentally decided on a title that has been used already.
Here’s a tip to consider: while a longer book title is more memorable, a shorter one is easier for readers to type into search engines.
Ask A Friend
If you’re struggling with a title, ask around for options. It’s great to vary the pool of people you ask. Not everyone has to be familiar with your story. If you’re asking for the opinion of someone who hasn’t read your story, you can gauge how your title(s) may or may not hook a reader who is unfamiliar with the story.
Delving deeper, you ask the reader to guess the story’s genre and plot from the title. If they’re relatively close, there’s a good chance that your title fits the story. If it’s completely off, consider that you might have to go back to the drawing board.
Consider The Tone
The title of your story should reflect the tone of the work; a funny title, for example, typically wouldn’t mesh well with a sad story that pulls at the heartstrings. For example, The Corpse Washer, by Sinan Antoon reveals a lot about the story and its tone. While this isn’t a rule that is set in stone, and could be bent for comedic purposes, this tip is a good guide for determining if a title truly is reflective of the heart of the story.
Keep your writer’s voice, and tone in mind when working on the title; what do you want your readers to immediately know about your story?
Try not to stress about deciding on your story’s best title. Instead, restructure the pressure of making a final decision as tying the perfect bow-tie on your completed manuscript. You worked hard to create the very best story you could; those efforts deserve a title that will encapsulate and reflect that effort.