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How to Decide on Your Title

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

We just talked about how not to come up with your book title, so here's an overview of how I do recommend you proceed.

First, define your criteria. This means to write down what you want your book title to have, convey or accomplish. I can't emphasize enough how important this step is. As long as you also follow step number four, namely applying these criteria to the top names you come up with, this keeps your book title project from running off the rails.

For instance, here is one author's set of criteria for a young adult novel:

  • Humorous, optimistic tone.

  • Suggest content that is slightly naughty.

  • Appeal equally to girls and boys.

  • Conducive to a title for a sequel.

For a nonfiction book on at-home car repair, the author created this list of criteria:

  • Indicates abundance of illustrations and diagrams.

  • Covers the simplest, non-electronic repairs.

  • Applies to both cars and trucks.

  • Mostly for males, but shouldn't turn off women.

  • For non-greasemonkeys, basic, easy to follow.

  • Practical, no-nonsense tone.

The two most important factors to include in your criteria are audience and tone. Who is the book for, and do you want a title that a serious or humorous, complicated or simple, high-minded or practical, scary or horrifying, militaristic or outdoorsy, and so on. Other criteria might include the length of the title, being quite different from a certain bestselling book in a niche, conducive to a series, or definitely containing a certain word or phrase.

Your criteria help you recognize a title that fits your book and its mission, while also helping you reject titles that would attract the wrong readers, those who'd be disappointed, disgusted, or even angry at what your book is up to. You see, the goal in book publishing is not really to sell as many books as possible. The goal is to reach the readers who are right for that particular book. The three biggest tools for reaching that goal are your book title, book cover, and book description.

With criteria in hand for your title, it's time to start brainstorming. I have a lot of specific suggestions on that for you in the next section of the course. Brainstorming is something most people need to do more than once.

Then when you've done a ton of brainstorming, you start combining and tweaking the various components you came up with. In the last section of the course, you'll hear a lot of tips on that process as well. When you've narrowed down all the possibilities to three to five finalist titles, then you bring your criteria back out to help you decide which title candidates actually get the job done and which don't. And if needed, you go back to brainstorm, tweak and apply your criteria again.

That's the process I recommend. But before we start on Step 1 of that process, in the next lesson, I want to make sure you understand the basic structure of a book title.

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Written by

Marcia Yudkin