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How to Brainstorm Title Ideas

This lesson is a part of an audio course Brainstorming a Better Book Title by Marcia Yudkin

Let's talk now about how to brainstorm for your book title. You want to generate loads and loads of ideas from a lot of different angles, and by "ideas," I mean not necessarily whole titles but to start with, just pieces of titles – words, phrases, maybe even syllables. If you think visually, feel free to draw pictures or collect images as part of your brainstorming. And "loads of ideas," as I previously explained, means at least 100 ideas. Yup! That's a lot. Studies of idea generation show that the best ideas often come way at the end of a long brainstorming session. So don't stop too soon.

As you brainstorm, suspend judgment. That is, try not to say to yourself, or out loud, if you're brainstorming with someone else, that one item is a great idea and another one is really stupid. Just write them all down. Remember how Use Your Noodle and Get the Boodle led to Think and Grow Rich?

What's going to happen is that even when the ideas are flowing, you're going to run out of energy at some point. But when you go back to it after a break, you'll easily start generating ideas again. And after you do this a few times, you'll often start getting ideas coming to you when you're in the shower, on the treadmill, or out doing your shopping. That's just the way the creative process works. Plan for multiple brainstorming sessions and write down every idea, every single one.

Let's illustrate the process with a made-up example. Let's suppose you've written a book on the spiritual power of money. The audience is people from your own religious tradition who may have been taught to believe that money is evil. Your point is that instead, money is something that helps them accomplish their goals and achieve deep personal satisfaction in life. Your book shows how to strike a balance between money being evil and money being something worshipped in itself.

First, brainstorm key words and phrases from your head, not using any outside tools or prompts. For the topic at hand, that would mean brainstorming as many related words, phrases, or ideas as you can around "spiritual," "power," and "money," one at a time – spiritual//power//money.

Go beyond the obvious keywords. Look at your book proposal, outline, a summary of the book, or browse through the actual manuscript, if you've gotten that far, to find other important words to brainstorm around. In our example, remember the book summary I read you a few moments ago? Other important key words from that brief description would be "evil," "goals," "satisfaction," and "balance." You would write those down and brainstorm from them – evil//goals//satisfaction//balance.

Look at other people's books on your topic to find additional keywords. What I have seen happen again and again is that someone gets into a groove of calling something by only their favorite word and overlooks synonyms or expressions that are in very common usage, that maybe even resonate better with the potential reader than the terms they're used to using. Look at websites on the topic, also, to jog your memory of keywords.

By looking at some websites on the spiritual power of money, you would be able to jot down some additional keywords – "idolatry," "worship," "faith," "shekels," "inner wealth," "abundance," and many more.

When you have a list of at least 50 keywords and are not sure how to find more, then it's time to go to a thesaurus, either an online one such as or one in book form. I have three different thesaurus books, and each has its own distinctive strengths.

My battered old Roget's, for example, is primarily organized conceptually rather than alphabetically. If you look up "future," for example, it gives you a paragraph or two of words and phrases having to do with the idea of what's ahead in time, not just words that could be substituted in a sentence for "future." Such as: "coming time," "afterlife," "morrow," "millennium," "day of judgment"... For some words, this is really useful.

Then I have a more modern Roget's Thesaurus, which is completely alphabetical, doesn't require you to check a lot of different entries, and includes present-day idioms. For "future," for example, this one offers "offing," "down the road," and "over the horizon."

I also have a very fat paperback (more than 1300 pages) called Synonym Finder, which is also completely alphabetical and often gives me words that aren't in the other two volumes. For "future," Synonym Finder includes "prospect," "expectation," and more.

And to complete the circle, the website gives you meaning groups if you scroll down each time you look up a word. For "future," for example, they start off giving you a list of the closest synonyms, including "by and by," which I don't believe I saw in the other lists, and then a list of synonyms for related words, such as "chance," "coming," "destiny," "eternity" and more.

The older volumes give you words and phrases that won't be in the newer ones and vice versa.

During your brainstorming, make sure you cover all the parts of the speech. For some reason, verbs get short shrift from most of us when we're brainstorming, so make a special effort to include verbs on your list. Verbs can have great vigor in titles. The other day I was looking at the table of contents of a business book, The Lean Startup, and every chapter title was just a single strong verb, like Define, Steer, Pivot, Adapt, Grow, and so on.

A strong verb-based book title is Plug Your Book by Steve Weber.

Some people create Excel spreadsheets for their brainstorming ideas, while others stick them in a Word file or use plain paper and pen or a notebook. The one thing I don't recommend is arranging them alphabetically. That's completely useless. If you can, group them by theme, so the ideas related to money are in one group, those about evil, let's say, in another, and those related to goals in another and so on.

Believe it or not, we're just getting started. In the next lesson, we'll move away from the idea of synonyms to other kinds of triggers for brainstorming.

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Marcia Yudkin