Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 4, 2010

Book Title Tips

Yesterday, I was talking with Laurie Wallmark and she said her publisher wanted her to change the title of her book that is being published next year.  I gave her some suggestions, most of which she hadthought of already.  So as luck would have it, today I ran across a post by Literary Agent, Rachelle Gardner from Word Serve Literary on her Rants and Ramblings blog discussing this exact subject. 

One of the questions I always ask an author is, “Was that the title you started with?”  I can’t remember anyone telling me, “Yes,” yet.  Titles – they are so important and yet, so hard to get right.  Anyway, I thought I would pass on Rachelle’s tips and give you the link to her blog, since she has lots of other good stuff you could use.  Here’s Rachelle’s 9 excellent tips.

1.  Know the genre of your book, and identify what kind of feeling or tone you want to convey with the title. Write it down. This is important, as I’ve seen humorous books with dead-serious titles, contemporary books whose titles say “historical romance,” novels that sound like self-help books… you get the picture. Be clear on what your title needs to instantly communicate.  Now you are ready to start brainstorming.

2.  Find twenty books on Amazon that are in the same genre as yours and whose titles you like. Write down their titles. Try to get a feel for what works with your genre. What do you like about the titles? What don’t you like? Then put the list away for awhile.

3.  Sit with a pencil and paper (and maybe your critique group and a white-board) and free-associate, making lists of words related to your book. Put them in columns: nouns, verbs, adjectives. If it’s a novel, list words that describe or suggest the setting. Then think about each of your major characters and write down words that relate to them. Think about the action in the story and write down verbs that capture it. If your book is non-fiction, list words that capture what you want your reader to think, feel or do after reading it. And words that describe what your book is about.

4.  Nothing is off limitswrite down anything you can think of that conveys anything about your book. Use visual words that suggest a scene. Other words that evoke an emotion. A sensation. A location. A question. You should have at least 100 words. 

Laurie Wallmark added, “When you’re brainstorming, don’t reject anything–write down every possibility that pops up. You never know when yesterday’s “ridiculous” idea puts you on the path to today’s “perfect” solution.”

5.  See if any of the words would work as a single-word title. Then start experimenting with different word combinations. Adjective-noun, verb-noun. Keep a thesaurus handy and look up other words. Write down as many word combinations as you can. Try not to self-censor at this stage.

6.  From these lists, come up with at least 20 possible titles. Then put them away for 24 hours. Two things will happen: your subconscious may still be working on it; and when you come back to your list, you’ll have fresh eyes.

7.  Go back to your title list. Add any new ideas you’ve had. Then narrow it down to three to five possibilities. Run them by a few people. (This may or may not help, depending on if there’s a consensus or the opinions are all over the map.) Take a little more time before narrowing it down to one. If you can, wait another day or two.

8.  Remember your list of titles from Amazon? Go back to it. Ask yourself if the title you’ve chosen would fit the list—without being too similar or generic.

9. Ask yourself the following questions about your title: Does the tone of the title match the tone of the book? Does it convey the right genre (including time period if applicable)? Would it attract attention? If the book were spine-out on the shelf (so the cover and sub-title were not visible) would it still attract attention? Would a reader have any idea what the book is about just from the title?

Now that I have gotten you all excited about Rachelle, I should point out that she is not accepting any children’s middle grade or young adult novels until further notice.  That was back in October of last year.  I would assume she would change when she is open again.  Rachelle is not open to any picture books, either.  Click this link  if you want to review what she does want.   Click here to link directly to her blog.

Rachelle Gardner
WordServe Literary Group, Inc.
P.O. Box 1089
Monument, CO 80132

See not all agents are in New York and LA.  Hope this helps and thank you Rachelle for helping all of us in this writing process.

Maybe someone else has a few other ideas for coming up with a good title.  Please let me know and I will add them.




  1. These are some great suggestions. Thanks Kathy (and Rachelle, of course). I have one more to add. When you’re brainstorming, don’t reject anything–write down every possibility that pops up. You never know when yesterday’s “ridiculous” idea puts you on the path to today’s “perfect” solution. Laurie


    • Laurie,

      I put you comment under Rachelle’s number 4.




  2. This is a great post – thanks. It’s not that often that we see articles addressing the choice of a title for our stories.


    • Jeanne,

      I know. This is the first one I have seen and it is something everyone deals with.



  3. Thanks once again Kathy, for a great and valuable post. I recently changed the title of my manuscript (as per the suggestion of EVERYONE who knew of it!). I never thought about it too much because I figured the publisher was going to change it anyway, but I found out “first appearances” (aka: a title) really do make a difference. One person I met at a NJ-SCBWI workshop years ago pointed out how important it is when the kid looking for a book can only see the title on the binder, not the picture on the front (most of the time). My middle grade novel is about a pony, and with nothing in the title to imply such, I was consistently told it was going to make it harder to market. I was also told I needed to make the title “cozier” and more “bouncy” and “youthful”. Hopefully the new title satisfies all that criteria! I’ll keep you posted. Thanks again. I’m REALLY looking forward to the conference in June.


    • Nanci,

      You are such a tease! What is the new title?????



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