What’s in a Book Title

Let’s talk about book titles. Have you ever encountered a book title that made you want to read instantly? I sure have. Sometimes I feel insignificant; how can I ever come up with something that good? Let’s find out why they are so awesome.

Book titles and book covers

Why does a proper book title matter?

Having a book title that potential readers can identify as something they want to buy helps tremendously. Yes, I said tremendously. Not just an adverb, it’s starting to become an annoying word in general and I hope we’ll remember annoying words longer.

Imagine you are browsing for a book around a certain time period or subject matter. If the cover doesn’t say exactly what you want, your next clue is the title. Or visa versa. The back cover copy is there to back up your assumption.

What does a book title need to do?

Well, it is slightly different per genre. Not every book can satisfy all the requirements, but we can sure try. Writing groups tell me these are important:

  • Indicate genre
  • Indicate what the book is about
  • In the case of historical fiction: Indicate a time period

How can one accomplish this?

It seems easier said than done. I’m not a pro at all genres (or even my own yet), so here are some examples I gleaned from the book Making it in Historical Fiction, which I highly recommend. The author, Libby Hawker, has many successful historical fiction books. I think if you are viewing this list for other genres, you’ll have to cherry pick the ones that apply:

  • Time period. Think The Doctor vs The Physician.
  • A clear beacon as to subject matter and setting. Example: The Other Boleyn Girl
  • What is your book’s theme? Example: All the Light We Cannot See
  • If your character has historical importance, play around with that. You can use their name or association with another person in history. Examples: Pope Joan or The Preacher’s Daughter. I’m not a fan of defining women after their male relatives/husbands, but it sells really well.
  • Not famous enough of a person? Try a little hint about their person. Example: She Wore Only White
  • Occupation example: The Fortune Hunter
  • Something unusual about your book? Example: The Orphan Train
  • Is there symbolism? Example: Flight of the Sparrow
  • Big moments: Bring up the Bodies
Necessary Sins

Many of the titles use a few of those ideas. Some of my favorite titles are Necessary Sins, Eight Words, How Dare the Birds Sing, Prayers the Devil Answers, and Neon Gods. The titles mentioned in this blog post and Hawker’s book are existing, well-known books, so probably don’t use those or you’ll get lost in their shadow. They are examples of how one can make clever and non-literal book titles.

I’m actually changing my book title from Fodder for Pigs to something more desirable and I’ll share that with you next time!

What are some book titles that really spoke to you, or caught your attention?

I’d like to know! Tell us in the comments.

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