Warning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.
Choosing the right title of your book is harder than naming your kids. No matter how bad a name you give your young’un, family and friends will be obligated to love them, whereas a dud of a book title can junk up your sales figures and scare away readers for years to come.
Can the right title rocket your book to the top of the bestseller lists? I haven’t looked it up, but let’s just go with “yes.” Will these tips on how to craft a brilliant book title land you a huge publishing deal? I haven’t looked that up, either, so we may as well say “yes” to that one, too.
Choosing the right title is all about identifying the nine magical traits of excellent book titles. Basically, all of the great book titles have one or more of the following characteristics:
- You can pronounce it. That means using words. Numbers are okay. Symbols or ancient runes are right out. You are allowed to use no more than two umlauts.
- Not embarrassing to say out loud. Nothing sells like word of mouth, and nobody’s going to recommend a book to their friends if it’s called Comfy Coffins You Can Build Yourself.
- Ladylike. Think The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl on the Train, and many more. The word “woman” is apparently not allowed in book titles, with the notable exception of Little Women, and even that one is basically a different way to say “girl.” Framing women in terms of proximity to a man is fine, though, as in The Pilot’s Wife and The General’s Daughter, or The Zookeeper’s Wife. You could score a two-for-one by writing a book called The Archduke’s Sister/Mistress.
- Sopping wet. Bodies of water sound great in titles (Into the Water, Gap Creek, Cane River, and many more). Fully half the books in Oprah’s Book Club have to do with rivers, creeks, and tributaries. Personally, I prefer oceans, since they are by far the wettest.
Vaguely Biblical. Titles like Song of Solomon, The Book of Ruth, The Rapture of Canaan, Paradise, and The Poisonwood Bible stir up powerful associations with many readers’ Sunday-school lessons. Fact: The Bible is a public domain work, which means that nobody can stop you from writing a sequel, or a gritty reboot.
- Numerical. Numbers imply sequentiality and significance. Also, it’s a little-known rule that if a publisher buys your book and the title has the number 1 in it, they have to publish the sequel.
- Exactly what it says on the tin. Give your manuscript a title that tells your reader everything they need to know, like my upcoming work, The Ultimate Book.
- Cheating. My novel, The Wheel of Death by Stephen King, by Bill Ferris, is sure to sell a gazillion copies.
What are your secrets to creating a dynamite book cover? Share your tips in the comments section!