It’s a huge and common mistake to fiddle around with possible book titles and expect a bolt of lightning to hit when you finally spot “the one.” Often the one you fall in love with is the title no one else understands – or worse, gives entirely the wrong impression of the book. On the other hand, sometimes a million-dollar title needs to grow on you.
For those reasons, before you start brainstorming for your book title I strongly recommend you set aside some time to create a list of criteria, the qualities the best title for this particular book needs to have. Use the following rundown and commentary to create your own unique list of what you want and need in a title.
Factor #1: Audience
Is the wording of your title going to click with the intended audience of the book? I’ve seen instances where an expert overestimated his/her audience’s familiarity with a key term and used a title that had great appeal for specialists but not for folks in his actual customer base. If in doubt, find out whether or not folks in your target market understand the words in your title that you assume they will.
Factor #2: Tone
Is the tone of a possible title light-hearted where it should be serious or vice versa? Does it sound like a popular book where it should sound academic or vice versa? Might it sound to some people like you are advocating something that you’re actually against? Does the tone of the title make it sound like the book is for young readers when it’s for adults, or vice versa? Wherever the tone is wrong, eliminate those options from your list or change them so the tone is right.
Factor #3: Differentiation
You can’t always know the titles of similar books that are in the publishing pipeline, but you can research books that are already published or officially announced for publication. Is there an existing book whose title could be easily confused with yours or worse, is identical? Book titles can’t be copyright protected, but it’s neither to your advantage nor to theirs for such confusion to take place.
Factor #4: Legal
Eliminate any title options that might get you into legal trouble. Are you making any kind of promise that you can’t thoroughly back up? For example, if created a title like The Rheumatoid Arthritis Cure, you open yourself to much more stringent legal scrutiny than if you called the book Overcome Rheumatoid Arthritis or RA: Natural Relief. Beware also about infringing on trademarks. For example, American Express holds a trademark on the phrase “Don’t Leave Home Without It,” so you could count on legal action if you used that as your book title.
Factor #5: Fits a Series
Is there even the slightest chance you might end up writing a series of related books, not just one? If so, then you are better off choosing a title that lends itself to a series. For example, the title Locavore Adventures could easily be followed up by More Locavore Adventures, and if needed by Further Locavore Adventures, Even More Locavore Adventures and a few more titles in that vein. It’s harder to see how to do that with the title Plenty: Eating Locally on the 100-Mile Diet, which is on pretty much the same topic.
Factor #6: Connotations
Unless you’re deliberately hoping to cause offense, think carefully about whether your top titles might have any unwanted connotations or double meanings or provoke protests because of ethnic, gender, disability or other slurs. If so, cut those from the running.
Factor #7: Keywords for SEO
Don’t forget to give some thought to keywords that would be helpful to have in the title from a search engine optimization point of view. These may be in the subtitle rather than in the main part of the title. Including keywords in the title or subtitle will definitely help your book come up in search engine searches and help strangers discover your book.
Factor #8: Brevity
Finally, examine your surviving titles and make sure they are as concise and clear as possible. Eliminate any extra verbiage and tighten it up as if you have to pay for every letter on the cover. Chances are, you then have a winner!
Marcia Yudkin is the author of The Sound Bite Workbook and Head Stork of Named At Last, a company that brainstorms catchy tag lines, company names, product names and book titles according to the client’s criteria. For a systematic process of coming up with a compelling new name or tag line, download a free copy of “19 Steps to the Perfect Company Name, Product Name, Book Title or Tag Line” at www.namedatlast.com/19steps.htm .