Lots of writers title their novels or short stories early in the writing process. But you’re much more likely to choose a compelling title that reflects your book if you think about this once you’ve finished your first draft (or even your first few drafts).
So, make life easier for yourself and start with a ‘working title’. Don’t think too hard about this. Just choose a nickname for your book, and go back to rethink this later.
When it comes to rethinking your book title, the good news is that you can change your mind lots of times before publishing your work or pitching to an agent. I’ve worked as a beta reader for novelists who’ve retitled their novels as many as seven or eight times.
But what makes a good book title, and how can you come up with one?
What makes a good book title?
I’ve put together a checklist to help you come up with good book titles.
Make sure your book title:
- Reflects your themes and motifs
- Matches your book genre
- Isn’t wordy and doesn’t include complex language (picture how the title will look on your book cover)
- Isn’t just one word (these are difficult to rank for on Google, SEO-wise)
- Isn’t too similar to an existing book
- Is easy to remember
- Intrigues and entices readers (think of titles like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time).
How to pick a book title
The best advice I ever received on how to title a novel or short story was from a lecturer on my Creative Writing MA. She recommended reading your manuscript with a highlighter and highlighting every phrase that emphasises your theme or creates intrigue. This has worked for me every time.
Alternatively, you could try a free write. Note down anything that comes into your head about your novel or short story. Names, phrases, places, adjectives, whatever you like.
And you can draw inspiration from other book titles. Did you know that Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar inspired John Green to title his novel The Fault in Our Stars? Or that John Steinbeck drew inspiration from a Robert Burns poem to title his novella Of Mice and Men?
Testing your book title
Once you’ve chosen your title, or you’ve shortlisted a few titles, don’t be afraid to ask others what they think.
Ask your friends, family, beta readers, and social media communities for their thoughts and see if you get a general consensus.
At the end of the day, though, it’s your book. So choose the title that resonates most with you.
Charlotte is an award-winning writer and line/copyeditor who writes and edits for clients all over the world. She also works on the fiction team for Ambit, a UK literary and arts magazine.
She holds an international literary prize from Hammond House Publishing Group, two writing-related degrees, various marketing certifications, and training certificates from the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, of which she is a Professional Member.
Charlotte’s work has appeared in several anthologies, magazines, and literary journals, including Indigomania, Dream Catcher, and The Curlew.
She has also created a series of free self-editing cheat sheets to help new writers hone their fiction before sending their work off to a professional editor.
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