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POINT OF VIEW: Choosing the Perfect Title

Book Title / Muse - Deposit Photos

So you’ve finished your book, and it’s time to change your working title into your forever one – the one that will stick with your newly finished work for the rest of it’s happy little book life… assuming your Publisher doesn’t change it later.

So how do you choose the perfect title?

At their best, titles do a few key things for your book. They make a bold statement about what the reader will find inside. They convey (along with the font and cover art) the genre of your book. And they tease the reader and invite them inside.

A good title should be:

Relevant to the Story: I love it when someone reads one of my stories and the title just works – it evokes the storyline, sometimes even offering a little more insight. I always strive for my title to have a strong connection to the plot of the work.

Easy to Read/Understand: Titles (and sometimes their presentation on your cover) that cause confusion will turn your readers off, and can result in lower sales. For Chinatown (which totally violates the next rule, but it was just what I wanted it to be for the story), the title was meant to confound expectations, and in this vein I ran it sideways along the left side of the cover from bottom to top. This, along with the retro sci-fi font I used, confused many folks and muddied my story message, so I reworked it until I had something that most of my readers loved.

Unique in the Marketplace: This isn’t always possible, but if you can, find a title that’s not already used by ta hundred other books. One of my first published novellas, “Between the Lines,” is almost impossible to find on Amazon because it’s too common a title – on the first five pages alone, I found 52 books titled “Between the Lines,” making the title a poor choice even if it perfectly suited the storyline.

So now that you know what a title should do, how do you choose the perfect one? Authors come up with book titles in many different ways. I’ve used a number of different methods myself:

The Inspiration Word: Sometimes it’s a word which inspired the story. “Paraidolia” and “Eventide” were both words that I ran across in the wild that inspired stories, and they also became the eventual titles of those stories.

A Song Title: “I Only Want to Be With You” got its title from the Vonda Shepard version (a la Ally mcBeal) of the old Dusty Springfield hit, although the story itself was inspired by Vanessa William’s “Save the Best for Last.” “Wonderland,” my ironically titled post-zombie apocalypse Christmas take, took its title from the song “Winter Wonderland.” And “Flames” came from Bastille’s song “Things We Lost in the Fire,” which helped inspire the story.

Made-Up Words: Speculative fiction offers us the opportunity to make our own words, “borrowing” them from the worlds in our stories. “Ithani” and “Skythane” are both made-up names of races in the Oberon Cycle trilogy, and therefore unique on Amazon’s bookstore (though it is actually a word in the Kannada language in India, meaning “of whom,” which is actually kinda cool).

Pulled Out of Your Ass: Many of my titles fall under this one – sometimes the “right” title just presents itself to you, and you can’t shake it, even if it doesn’t fit all the rules above. “Chinatown,” “Between the Lines,” and “A New Year” all felt like the perfect titles for their respective stories, but did not pass the “unique” test. Still, I went with my gut, and I’m not sorry.

What’s Hot: Check Amazon’s subcategories for your genre and see what the top books are using for their titles. While you don’t want to steal someone else’s title, this can give you an idea for what’s trending and point you in the right direction. My WIP that’s currently with Pitch Wars, originally titled the accurate but somewhat uninspiring “Twin Moons Rising,” got a makeover through this method, morphing into “A Plague of Earth and Fire.”

A Title Contest: I did this with my Antarctica gay scientist climate change romance – I put it out to my friends and fans, and offered an Amazon Gift Card for the winning title. My old friend Caleb nailed it with “Slow Thaw,” a title I knew was perfect the moment I saw it, because it encapsulated both the relationship and the melting of the Antarctic ice.

Once you have your title, look it up on Amazon and see if it’s unique or if there are a few other books with the same one (or even hundreds). It doesn’t have to be unique, but if the competition is stiff, you might consider tweaking it.

And congratulations – you now have the perfect title for your book.

And hey, if you decide later that it just doesn’t work, you can always rename it for the second edition 😛

Now for a new title contest of my own. I just finished a short story based on a prompt from Kim Fielding:

Tomatoes and Rain

It’s the tale set in 2050 about a forty-something Asian-Canadian ace green engineer in Vancouver named Miri (Miriam) and her pet racoon, her elderly neighbor, her potential love interest Catalina (a geneticist working on drought-hardy crops in Tucson), and a prickly pear cactus that grows tomatoes.

Keywords for inspiration (you don’t have to use any of these):

  • Vancouver
  • Cactus
  • Tomato
  • Rain
  • Ace
  • Hope
  • Collapse
  • Change
  • Raccoon
  • Green

Send your title suggestion to scott@jscottcoatsworth.com and I’ll pick one title as the winner from those and my social media responses, and send them a $10 Amazon gift card.

Good luck!