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How to Choose a Book Title

by Tom Ashford

Coming up with a good book title is hard, whether you write fiction or non-fiction. If you’re writing fiction, then there’s genre, audience and, in the case of children’s books, even age range to take into account. It’s no easier if you’re writing non-fiction – your title needs to both accurately reflect your book’s subject matter and be optimised for SEO.

So with so many books available on Amazon and other stores, how do you choose the right title to attract the right readers? Here are some points to consider.

1.) Keep It Short

You’ll probably have seen plenty of titles, usually for works of literary fiction, that ramble on and on in a poetically quaint way. Don’t do that. What might work for them won’t work for most books, where being able to remember the title is key if anyone’s to find it again. What’s more, potential customers identify books by small thumbnails in search results. If your title is too long, the words won’t be clear and your cover won’t grab their attention. Keep it short and sweet. For non-fiction books, you can always add a subtitle to improve your SEO and make it absolutely clear what your book is about.

2.) Keep it Simple

This is slightly different to keeping it short, in that you don’t want your title to be a tongue-twister that readers struggle to say aloud. Try saying it to yourself a few times to see if it flows naturally – if it doesn’t, then change it. And don’t use words that people aren’t likely to recognise or understand (unless it sounds really catchy and cool). Word of mouth doesn’t really work if people can’t actually say the title of your book.

3.) Avoid Duplication (Whenever Possible)

It’s hard to come up with a title that hasn’t been used before (in literature, that is – it might already exist as a film or song title). I wrote a book called Checking Out back in 2017; in 2018, Nick Spalding released a book of the exact same name (mine’s better as it’s a pun, but I imagine he’s sold more copies). But at least try to come up with something original. If somebody’s written a book in a similar genre or with a similar plot as your own book, definitely don’t duplicate. For that matter, consider the connotations of your title. Checking Out might be a little dark for a children’s book, for example.

4.) Keep it Relevant

Your book title should reflect the actual story – don’t just make it catchy and buzzwordy for the sake of it. Is there a theme that runs through your book (think ‘Equal Rites’ by Terry Pratchett, a story about a young girl being admitted into a male-only wizarding school)? Or maybe there’s a central character or villain or establishment (think ‘Needful Things’ by Stephen King, or ‘Harry Potter and…’ by J.K. Rowling)?

5.) Come Up With Lots of Ideas

Don’t just use the first idea you think of – there may be a better one which makes all the difference between a few sales and a few hundred. Different titles might work better with your cover art, and what might sound a bit naff to you might sound amazing to 99% of other readers. Take inspiration from everything – theme, characters, cool lines of dialogue, song lyrics you like, phrases that sum up your book, and look up the synonyms of everything. Jot it all down and mix them up until you come up with the best title possible.

6.) Do Your Research

Go on Amazon and look at what other books in your genre are using as titles, and how those titles complement the covers. If all the top 100 books have simple one-word titles, maybe that’s a trend worth following. It might be worth taking note of any popular words or phrases being used, though be careful not to try and emulate anything which might go out of favour by the time your book is actually released.

7.) Be Mindful of What Works…

…not what you happen to like the most. As with cover design, it’s easy to become attached to a particular idea and assume it’s the best because you like it the most. But just as a beautiful piece of art doesn’t always translate into the most effective book cover, the title which means something to you isn’t necessarily the title which will work best at attracting the right readers. If feedback suggests that a different title would be a better commercial decision, be prepared to bin the one you prefer. If you love it that much, find a way to put it in your story instead.

Tom Ashford

Tom Ashford

Tom Ashford is a professional copywriter, author of numerous dark fantasy and sci-fi novels, and the Head of Content at the Self Publishing Formula Blog. His books include the Blackwater trilogy and the Checking Out series.

He lives in London with his wife, in an apartment that doesn’t allow pets. Find out more about Tom here.