Imagine you are in an airport, about to be whisked away on a journey somewhere for a week of relaxation. As you kill the hour until your flight is called you think; I’ll buy a book.
Now, you’ve not really got anything in mind. No one has recommended anything to you lately. You don’t even have a vague idea what is on the bestsellers list. So, as you browse the shelves of WHSmith or Waterstones, looking at what is on offer, how do you choose?
You will pick a book on the strength of the title of course. The best title will leap out at you, compel you to pick it up, read the back cover, flick it open to look at the flaps and maybe the table of contents and wham, you’ve got your holiday read.
Yes, while most authors agonise over the 80,000 words in the middle, it is usually the dozen or so on the front cover that do all the hard work. (It is worth pointing out here that the publisher is usually responsible for the final decision on titles, but it won’t do you any harm to get the strongest title possible from the off. It will certainly help at the pitching stage).
It is the dream of every author, agent and publisher to create a title so powerful it sells a book without the buyer knowing a thing about what is inside. Or, even better, imagine a title that is so good it even becomes a catch phrase in itself such as: The Power of Positive Thinking, or, well, Catch 22.
How do you get your title to interrupt the thought patterns of a would-be reader and get them to choose your book over all the others?
Good titles generally fall into one of four groups. They make a promise, create some sort of intrigue, identify a need, or simply say exactly what it does in the tin (well, within the cover, but you get my point.)
An enticing promise to attract immediate attention in the target reader may be something like: I Can Make You Thin or 4 Hour Work Week.
Good examples of intrigue being created are books like: Who moved my cheese? Or Freakononmics.
Titles that identify a need often use direct language, as in the case of these popular books: Think and Grow Rich or Toddler Taming.
While, the final option is to simply state the content as these books did: Complete DIY Manual or Self Sufficiency Guide
To get started in your own title, think carefully about the genre of your book and what it is trying to say. Have a browse through Amazon and look at titles in the same group. Are there any titles you particularly like? Why do you like them and, equally, why do you dislike others?
Brainstorm a list of words associated with your book, writing them all down on a piece of paper or a whiteboard. Think about verbs that capture the core argument or story in the book. If you are writing non-fiction, give some thought to the single-most important message you’d like the reader to take away with them.
To begin with, nothing should be off limits. Jot down everything you can think of that connects with your book.
When you’ve got around 100 words, look carefully at the list and see if any single word jumps out at you. If not, start experimenting with two or three word combinations. Keep a thesaurus handy to look up words with similar meanings for alliterative impact, or to tweak a combination that is nearly there.
Aim for up to a dozen or so titles you think might work and then take a break for a day or so. Let your subconscious have a say in the matter and come back to it with fresh eyes.
If you can then whittle it down to just two or three favoured titles, try them out on trusted friends or colleagues. If a clear front-runner begins to emerge, test it out against others on your early list of similar-genre books from Amazon. Would your title stand out? Or is it too similar, or generic?
You may need to go through this process a few times to get the best possible outcome, but, clearly, as the title can make or break a book, it is worth spending the time on getting it right. If you do, maybe you will have the pleasure of watching someone picking out your book on spec in a crowded bookstore. Now that would be something to celebrate