Naming Your Baby: How to Choose a Selling Title By Carolyn Campbell

Your book title is very important. It encapsulates the essence of your book in just a few words. Like choosing a name for your child, selecting a title for your book is a critical decision. Just as your child is known by his name for a lifetime, your book will be known by its title for its entire publishing history. Even before you sell your book, its future title can help attract the interest of a literary agent or publisher when you include it in query letters. It will also appear on the first page of your book proposal. It’s never too soon to start creating a possible title for your book.

Your book title is actually the most frequent form of advertising that you will use in generating free publicity for yourself. When you are a speaker after your book is published, you will be introduced as William Writer, author of the book, The Big Blockbuster: How To Write Your Way To A Fortune. At the end of articles you publish, you can often add your title to your bio, stating, “William Writer is the author of the book, The Big Blockbuster: How To Write Your Way To A Fortune.” Too, when you call a bookstore to arrange book signings, as you schedule yourself on radio and TV interviews, and each time you seek any type of free publicity, your book title will be included.

It’s therefore important to choose a title that is a grabber, a hook. Include words that are lively, intriguing and fresh to attract your reader’s interest. Words such as mystery, lure, secret, and insider are often considered intriguing words. Create a title that will make readers want to pick up your book and find out more about your topic. One example of a grabber title would be Guerilla Marketing: Secrets For Making Big Profits With Your Small Business. The grabber title of “Guerilla Marketing” is a catchy phrase that hints of powerful success hidden within the pages of the book. Another title with a hook is Creating Wealth: Retire In Ten Years Using Allen’s Seven Principles of Wealth. The idea that it’s possible to create wealth is enticing. Two other examples of “hook” titles that are self-help books are Codependent No More: How To Stop Controlling Others And Start Caring For Yourself. and Alcoholocaust: Breaking The Family Curse.

“How To” is often considered an effective phrase in choosing a title. People love the idea of finding out something they didn’t know before, or even better, inside information that other people may not know. They appreciate the prospect of somehow being rewarded for the time they spend reading your book. Titles such as What Men Won’t Tell You, But Women Need To Know and The Weekend Millionaire’s Secrets To Investing In Real Estate: How To Become Wealthy In Your Spare Time, make the implicit promise that the reader will discover previously obscure information. Readers also like the idea of gaining success or acquiring knowledge through reading a book. A title such as Make It BIG: 49 Secrets For Building A Life Of Extreme Success or Lower Your Taxes-Big Time! Wealth Building Tax Reduction Secrets From An IRS Insider” offer the hope of increasing success and saving money. Other self-help titles offer the implicit promise of overcoming a problem in one’s life, such as Pain Free: A Revolutionary Method For Stopping Chronic Pain or The Discipline Book: How To Have a Better Behaved Child From Birth To Age Ten.

As you will note in the examples above, most titles are short; between one and four words in length. Many are two or three words long. Almost all book titles on the market today are seven words or less. To add more information to a title that is less than seven words, many of the nonfiction titles above also include a subtitle that elaborates on the short “grabber” title. While the “grabber” title is often a play on words or a clever hook, the subtitle, or wording that appears after the colon, usually offers a more complete and often more straighforward explanation of the book’s contents. Some examples of a subtitle that follows a grabber title are: Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, Excuse Me, Your Life Is Waiting: The Astonishing Power Of Feelings, You Just Don’t Understand: Men and Women In Conversation and As Far As My Feet Will Carry Me: The Extraordinary True Story Of One Man’s Escape From A Siberian Labour Camp and his 3-Year Trek To Freedom.

It truly is to your advantage to add a subtitle to your book if you can. As you can see, utilizing a subtitle allows you to expand on the original “hook” that is your title and offer additional information or implicit promises or explanations about the material that is contained within your book. Adding a subtitle is like getting a few extra words of advertising for free. It can describe your book and offer additional appeal to the reader. Notice the difference in the following two titles. Would you rather read a book titled Conversations With Millionaires or one with the title, Conversations With Millionaires: What Millionaires Do To Get Rich That You Never Learned About In School.

If your book is a fiction book, sometimes a character or a phrase within the book will work as an appropriate title. A well-known example is To Kill A Mockingbird. One of the main characters utters this phrase once within the book. Just as the title suggests the killing of a harmless bird that the character describes as “a bird that does nothing but sing to provide pleasure for people,” the novel renders a story about an innocent man wrongly accused of a crime. In the young adult novel titled, I’ll Love You When You’re More Like Me, that single phrase also paraphrases a theme within the book, that people’s relationships are often more congenial when they are more alike, or agree in crucial matters. Sometimes varying the usual sequence of words within a phrase creates an interesting fiction title, such as Watch With Me For Sunrise. In traditional English vernacular, this phrase would more likely be worded, Watch For Sunrise With Me.

A play on words can also create a catchy fiction title, such as the story of two mischievous young hikers, which was titled Partners In Climb, a variation of the phrase “partners in crime.” A mystery novel by Jill Churchill has the “play on words” title, Grime and Punishment. Mystery author Ayelet Waldman plays off the fact that her protagonist in her Mommy Track mysteries is a young mother by utilizing phrases that relate to child-related matters. Among her titles are A Playdate With Death, The Big Nap, Death Gets A Time-Out and Nursery Crimes, which is also a play on the common phrase, “nursery rhymes,” Another mystery author , Sherry Lewis, ties the titles of her mystery series together by beginning them with the words “no place.” Some of her titles include, No Place For Sin, No Place For Secrets and No Place For Memories. In her nonfiction series, Dian Thomas has followed her success with Roughing It Easy by varying her original title, yet continuing her outdoor theme in Roughing It Easy Recipes and Backyard Roughing It Easy.

Brainstorm Your Title

To brainstorm your title, visit your local bookstore and find the shelf relating to your subject heading. Study the titles of a variety of books-in both your subject and others– and decide which ones you feel are most effective. Notice words that jump out at you and create an image or feeling within your mind. Evaluate and write down words that are effectively descriptive, motivating or persuasive. Record title and subtitle phrases that convey meaning in just two or three words. For fun, and to get your mind in the brainstorming mode, substitute words in the titles you see. Try to make them even more descriptive and powerful, and try to make them describe your book. Create a title for your book, then vary the words within the title or subtitle to see which ones you feel are most powerful, original and effective.

Another way to research possible titles is to go to the library and bring up the magazine archives database. (This might be called the Infotrak or Ebsco database.) Insert your topic into the search engine, and research the titles of magazine articles that relate to the subject of your book. Notice and write down words that appear to be especially powerful, motivating or effective.

Log on to one or more websites that feature the titles of books-such as or There are four million book titles on Within the search function, insert key words or subjects that relate to your book’s topic. Again, write down words, phrases or titles that you find to be possible title words.

You may also want to consider which word will be first when potential readers research your title in a database. Databases-such as and– usually include the first 30 characters only. If your title is long, part of it may be cut off. You may want to consider which words are among the first 30 characters of your title, and be sure that they convey a message that identifies your book’s subject and entices future readers.

Too, consider how a bookstore clerk will handle your title if someone calls to order your book. Will the clerk be able to find your book easily? For example, in the title listed above, Pain Free: A Revolutionary Method For Stopping Chronic Pain note that there is no hyphen between the words “pain” and “free.” This would eliminate the possibility of a clerk’s being unable to find the book because he forgot to include the hyphen.

Write a Title List

Feel free to brainstorm as many possible titles as you can. Continue to try out a variety of possibilities, feeling free to change a single word, or several words as you consider variations. You may want to consider utilizing a thesaurus to evaluate synonyms for the words that you choose. After you have created a list of prospective titles, set it aside for a day, or for a week or two weeks if possible. Revisit the list and reconsider the possibilities before submitting a final title. Consider “trying out” your title list by running it past friends, business associates, list serve members, other authors and anyone you feel may offer a valuable opinion. They may point out that a particular word has a confusing definition, a double meaning -or is even offensive to a segment of the population. For example, a woman who wanted to write a book about liberal politicians wanted to use the word “fringe” until a colleague pointed out to her that the word “fringe” could be associated with the phrase “lunatic fringe.”

Another way to evaluate your possible title is to go to the library and consult Books In Print and Forthcoming Books. The multivolume set of reference books lists all of the books currently on the market by author, subject and title. By checking there first, you’ll get an instant picture of whether someone else has already published a book with a title that seems “too similar” to yours. While titles can’t be legally copyrighted, it would be to your disadvantage to choose a title that could be confused with that of another book, especially if the other book is out there first. You want your book to stand alone, to not be confused with another one, and-most important-to not lose sales potential because readers mistake it for another book with a similar title.

Understand That Your Title May Be Changed

The publisher is more likely to change your title than any other words or aspect of your manuscript. Unless you object strongly, accept the change and remember that the publisher possesses many years of marketing expertise and has chosen many other successful titles. You can take heart in the fact that your original title was successful in marketing your book to the publisher.

Carolyn Campbell has published more than 600 articles in national magazines such as Ladies’ Home Journal, Family Circle, First for Women, Woman’s World, Writer’s Digest, Redbook, Family Tree and Guideposts. She is currently a reporter for the Los Angeles Bureau of People Magazine. Her articles have also been published internationally in China, Japan, Germany, England, Denmark and Australia. Her books include Together Again: True Stories Of Birth Parents and Adopted Children Reunited (Penguin-Putnam), Love Lost and Found: True Stories Of Long Lost Loves Reunited At Last (Berkley – an imprint of Penguin-Putnam), and Reunited: True Stories Of Long Lost Siblings Who Find Each Other Again (Penguin-Putnam).

She was named Writer Of The Year by the Utah State League of Utah Writers in 1997. Her areas of specialty include profiles, informational topics, relationship and lifestyle issues and articles about people, particularly those who overcome obstacles to achieve success. However, she has written about a wide variety of topics ranging from carpet maintenance in school districts to wedding ettiquette to real estate investment.

She is a regular contributing writer to five magazines, Woman’s World, First for Women, Business Startups, Salt Lake City and Family Circle. She is a regular contributing writer to the newsweekly, Salt Lake City Weekly. As a contributor to Ski Utah, and Wedding Festival, she has also written regarding tourism and consumer topics. Her work has also appeared in Guideposts and The Washington Post Magazine.

She has co-written company portfolios for Franklin Covey and worked as a freelance advertising copywriter for Probe Advertising, Inc. She served as a regional contributing writer for Family Circle. She has received awards from the Utah Headliners Chapter of The Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists in four categories–general, feature, social issues-related and investigative reporting. She has received more than thirty awards in fiction, nonfiction and poetry from The League Of Utah Writers. She has received three honorable mentions for full-length book manuscripts in both fiction and nonfiction in the Utah Arts Council Original Writing Contest. In addition, she has published short stories, poetry, educational film and filmstrip scripts, and one children’s song. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband and four children who range in age from twenty-five to eleven.