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Elements of a successful book: title

Book titles and subtitles feel pretty basic—every book has a title (at least), and I don’t think it’s controversial to say that your book won’t be very successful without one. Authors should, however, consider their book title carefully because nowadays book titles and subtitles are part of a book’s metadata, which in the age of the internet, is how your book is likely to be found.

There are, just like with most aspects of writing and publishing, many factors that go into creating a book title. It might help to think of your book title as a miniature showcase of your creativity and writing abilities. Book titles should:

1. Grab reader attention and pique their interest

At the most basic functional level, a book title should grab a potential reader’s attention and make them wonder what the book is about. Even before that moment, a book title has to be interesting enough to make the reader pause in their book search, whether they’re looking at spines on a shelf or scrolling through thumbnails on a website.

2. Be memorable (and searchable)

You want readers to remember your book, of course. Using a combination of words that are evocative will help your book to be more identifiable. One word titles are easy to remember, but consider whether an online search for your book will pull up many unrelated results (thus, burying your book). A more nuanced multi-word title may help this. Existing titles are another consideration. Doing a quick search for your potential title before you begin cover design will ensure you don’t accidentally use a title that is exactly the same or similar to your book. Book titles are not copyright protected, but having the same or a highly similar title as another book (especially a popular or well-known book) will make it much harder for your title to stand out.

3. Have impact without complexity (or blandness)

These four qualities are all intertwined. Having impact could mean being memorable or attention-grabbing. The difference here is that you want your title to have both of those qualities without being cumbersome or complicated. Your reader shouldn’t struggle to remember the wording of your title; however, you also don’t want them to trip over words that should be easy to remember but are so uninteresting that they don’t stick. This can happen when a title is too general or vague. Consider how you want readers to refer to and talk about your book. Your title should flow off the tongue. It might even be easily shortened into one word or an acronym or initialism (even better if those sorts of title “nicknames” come from your readers!). You’ll also want to avoid inadvertent references that may be harmful to your book or cause the wrong kind of attention.

4. Meet genre expectations

In a recent trip to Barnes & Noble that I wrote about in the blog post on cover design, I took note of cover and title trends. And just as I was struck by the clear genre trends for cover design, I was also struck by the trends for title formulation. In YA fantasy in particular, the “A ___ of ___ and ___” title formula is rampant. The connection to Sarah J. Maas’s NYT bestseller A Court of Thorns and Roses is obvious, and many, many authors have mirrored her titles, sometimes to great effect. I don’t know if it’s the structure of the title, the words themselves, or just the connection to ACOTAR (see, it even has a well-known and well-used acronym!) that generates the effectiveness, but this trend seems here to stay for now. So make of it what you will! Just like with cover design, consider what other authors in your genre are doing, but don’t necessarily feel you have to do everything exactly the same.

A final thought—

Make your title large and legible, especially if you are designing your own cover. Many authors underestimate the size and placement of their book title on the front cover. Remember the thumbnail test! If you can’t read your title off the thumbnail image, then potential readers won’t be able to, either, and they'll keep scrolling.


Elements of a Successful Book Blog Series



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