Thursday, June 9, 2011

Naming Your Book Is More Important Than Naming Your First Born

I adopted both of my dogs and I didn’t feel right about renaming them, so I fondly call Buzz and Daisy by the names they were given. But when it comes to naming your book, you need to make sure you do so strategically.

One of my clients asked me for guidance the other day about naming his upcoming book.  I began to think about how other writers and editors struggle to get the right title down. So what should go into a great book title?  Follow these steps and you’ll likely come up with something pretty good:

1.       Make sure another book doesn’t share the same title. Google your proposed title and it on Amazon for potential duplication.

2.       See what other titles are being used for books in your genre. You may get ideas from the competition.

3.       Keep it short; the sub-title can be longer.

4.       The title can be something catchy -- maybe just one word or a question or a play on a saying.  But if the title doesn’t fully explain what the book is (and that’s okay), the sub-title absolutely needs to spell it out.

5.       Design the cover image once you have a title and sub-title in mind; don’t look for an image and then build a title in mind; don’t look for an image and then build a title around it.

6.       The title needs to resonate with consumers – one they can easily remember, spell or say, and one that speaks to them.   It can’t be a name or phrase that holds significance to the author but does little for others.

7.       Does the title state a benefit, indicating why you should want to buy the book?  Does it make a prediction or issue a warning?  Does it provoke a debate?

8.       Consider having a number or a year attached to it, such as:  The 2042 Drought:  What To Do When Clean Drinking Water Dries Up.  It gives people a sense of impending danger and a deadline.

9.       Have your title suggest a solution, such as:  Divorce No More:  How To Marry The One Who Will Stick Around.

10.   Consider using humor if it seems appropriate.

11.   Consider off-color language if you think you can get away with it.

12.   Think about the targeted demographic for your book –what words, terms or reference points would mean something to that type of person?

13.   Challenge assumptions, conventional wisdom or current news events, such as:  how to Live Well on More Debt, or Gas Guzzlers Can Fight Global Warming, or Skip College and Earn More Money.

14.   Have your title read more like a headline – it should say something that makes people curious.

15.   Often a book’s Web site corresponds to a book’s title, each influencing the other.  Take that into consideration too.

16.   Link yourself to some bigger name or bigger issue. For instance, if it’s a book about personal finance, maybe try this:  How to Invest Like Warren Buffett, Live Like Hugh Hefner, or maybe:  Diet Secrets Angelina Jolie Would Want to Know.

17.   Touch upon people’s emotions:  love, hate, fear, lust, greed, jealousy or their needs or their desires.  It all comes down to family, money, sex, fun, death and maybe a few other push-button areas.

18.   If the title seems too familiar, don’t use it.  You want something fresh and new, not something that connotes more of the same.

19.   Take a cue from porn.  They change one word of a more famous title and give it a whole new meaning.  Don’t make your book title sound x-rated necessarily, but try playing with the words of a well-known movie or book title and see if one fits for you.

20.   Be aware if words have more than one meaning or association.  You may think people see your title and think it means one thing when you really meant another.  Sometimes people play with such ambiguity to their advantage as well.

21.   Be careful not to get caught up using industry jargon, SAT words, or Ebonics in your title (unless it is relevant).  If people stumble over a word or have to first think about a title’s meaning you have lost them.

22.   Test-drive title ideas.  Go to a book store and survey the workers to see what they think of your potential title.  Ask friends and family as well.

23.   Take into consideration for your title the fact that you plan on writing more books, especially in the same genre, or are planning a series.  If that’s the case, think of a title that can be reused, like Chicken Soup for the Soul…for the Teenager, Pet Lover, Retired, etc.

24.   Some books might resort to another language for a title or the use of symbols.  In rare instances these might work but I’d sooner stick to words and the English language.  Maybe one day we’ll see a book title that just says “Buy Me.”

25.   Sometimes just be straightforward and say what it is:  Get Rich Fast, Risk-Free, or Lose Weight Now.  The drawback is these titles are too generic and yet they really summarize what the book’s about.

No doubt about it, a book title is important for sales and publicity.  It gives people an image of the book, a feel for what you want others to be drawn to.  Just as we may form impressions of a company or a person based on a name, so it goes for books.

A book title is your calling card.  A great title invites conversation; a poor one brings puzzled looks.  I remember the research my wife and I conducted to name our first-born and later our second child.  We looked through several baby name books, some containing tens of thousands of names.  We used a number of filters – can’t be a name that’s hard to pronounce or can be misspelled; can’t be something that can be shortened to something we wouldn’t like; can’t be one that doesn’t clearly identify gender; mustn’t be one that rhymes with a word people can ridicule…and on and on this went. We concluded no name is perfect or foolproof, but we did use a process and we did feel good about our choices (Benjamin and Olivia). 

So it’s the same with a book title – use the steps above to filter out what you’re looking for in a name.

***Brian Feinblum can be reach at and followed on Twitter @theprexpert.

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