How to Come Up With a Book Title That Sells

The Art of How a Good Title Is Developed

Dyn-O-Mite - actor Jimmie Walker's memoir.
A good book title can make the difference between sales that are "meh" or Dyn-O-Mite. Kris Connor / Getty Images

Why You Need a Good Book Title

Creating a good title for your book helps ensure it will stick in the minds of prospective readers.

Would Seabiscuit have raced onto the New York Times best-seller lists if it had been titled Four Good Legs? Or maybe Dark Horse? Those were two of the title options under early consideration and while it's not easy to predict "what if" for a bestseller race, it's a fact that...

...a Good Book Title Is a Marketing Tool for the Book

Like an effective and appealing book jacket and other book packaging, the book's title should be considered a marketing tool for the book.

Would a Swedish thriller called Men Who Hate Women be nearly as successful The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Men Who Hate Women is the direct translation of that first blow-out book in Steig Larsson's Millennium trilogy — The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was so named to be more appealing to the United States and other English-language markets.

So how do book publishing pros go about naming books? First, let's look at what makes a "selling" book title.

What Makes a Good Book Title?

Creating a book title is part art, part science, part knowing the marketplace.

If you're being published by a major trade publishing house, there are many people in many different departments who will weigh in on the consumer appeal and effectiveness of your book's title.

Even book buyers at the major booksellers have a say in the title of some books.

If you are self-publishing your book, the decision of the book title is purely up to you, so it's important to understand what your book title needs to achieve.

In addition to reflecting the content you've written, your book's title (like any marketing effort!) should create an emotional response in your potential readers.

In either case, if you're developing a book title, read this article about what factors go into making a good book title.

How to Develop a Good Book Title

A catchy, "selling" book title sometimes erupts spontaneously from the mind of the author, the editor or from someone in the publisher's marketing or sales department. More often, however, writing a book title — like everything else about thoughtfully publishing a book — involves time, effort and thought.

For the book publishing- and food-loving biopic Julie and Julia, about the best-selling cookbook author Julia Child, screenwriter and director Nora Ephron wrote a wonderful scene about writing a book title involving a lot of brainstorming and then an "Aha!" moment. Save for the invention of word processing, the scene rings true as one method by which book editors and authors think up their book titles.

If you're in the process of titling a book, follow a structured brainstorming method to help get your creative — and marketing — juices flowing. Take a look at this step-by-step "how-to" for coming up with a good book title.

How to Write a Subtitle That Supports Your Book Title

Subtitles are often used to clarify or expand on the title of a non-fiction book (novels generally do not have subtitles).

Titles that involve unfamiliar terms, or that obliquely reference book contents with jargon or a lyrical passage generally benefit from a strong, clear subtitle.

Read about how to write a good subtitle for your book.

How to Improve Your Book Title

Crafting a good book title can be a complex task, but a just-OK book title can become a powerful title and subtitle combination that expands the market for the book. Learn by example with this case study for a better book title.

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