by Brian Andrews

If you ask ten published authors how they pick a title for their novels, you’re likely to get ten different answers. As a Career Author, I can speak from personal experience that sometimes a title comes easily, and other times it doesn’t. Sometimes I know the title before I start writing a book, sometimes it’s not apparent until the bitter end. Sometimes the perfect title reveals itself in a moment of profound epiphany, and sometimes you have to hunt it down in a game of hide and seek. Regardless of how you decide on a title, it is critically important to the success of every book.

A title is your first and best opportunity to make an impression on potential readers, so it’s not something to be taken lightly. So if your next title is giving you trouble, here are 6 Tips to help you pick the perfect one! 

1. Must Capture the Soul of the Work

A title should capture the soul or essential essence of the novel it represents. If you don’t know what the essence of your story is, then selecting a title will be much more difficult than it would be otherwise. To identify the essence of your book, consider the themes, message, plot, and central conflicts of your narrative.

What is the heart of your story? Is it a tale of betrayal, of intrigue, or a globetrotting thriller? Think about the feeling you hope your novel evokes in your readers and choose a title that reflects that thematic sentiment. 

One of my favorite all time titles is JURASSIC PARK. In just two words, Crichton captured the soul of his book about dinosaurs resurrected to be attractions in a theme park. 

2. Should Be Catchy, but Clear & Concise

Great titles pique readers’ curiosity while also providing a powerful cue of what the book is about. Avoid titles that are overly vague or cryptic, as they could leave potential readers confused or disinterested.

Two and three word titles are the sweet spot. I caution you to steer clear of titles longer than five words as cover real estate is limited and so are people’s memories. Think bold and short. 

A perfect example of a catchy, but clear & concise title is SHARP OBJECTS, by Gillian Flynn. In two words, the author hits us with a title so powerful and disturbing we feel the vibe of the book before reading a single word. SHARP OBJECTS is certainly a book with murder, disturbing violence, and yes, sharp objects.

3. Should Pique Curiosity 

My fellow Career Author Hank Phillippi Ryan is particularly skilled at picking “Catchy, but Clear” titles with masterpieces like: THE MURDER LIST, THE HOUSE GUEST, and HER PERFECT LIFE to name a few.

Hank’s titles are intriguing but also informative. They use evocative subtext and hint at a possible alternate meaning that automatically makes you want find out what the book is about.

For example, is the protagonist’s life really perfect in HER PERFECT LIFE? In just three words we get the sense the answer is no, but now we want to find out why! This what a great title does is poses a question in the potential reader’s mind that they want to answer by buying the book. 

4. Must be Memorable & Marketable

While it’s important for your title to pique curiosity, it’s also crucial that it is marketable and memorable. When Paula Hawkin’s THE GIRL ON A TRAIN came out, it was a sensation. The title was memorable and marketable and became a best-selling sensation.


Do you see my point? With first mover advantage back in 2015, Hawkin’s title was both memorable and marketable. Try publishing a book with “THE GIRL…” today and you’re going to have the opposite effect of being neither memorable or marketable. 

With millions of books published each year, finding an original title that no one has used before is close to impossible, and yet authors continue to succeed in finding new and clever titles. Try as many combinations as you need, and eventually you’ll find one that sticks.

5. Should Signal Genre

In today’s fast-paced world, attention spans are shorter than ever, and readers are bombarded with an endless stream of content vying for their attention. To cut through the noise and make an impact, your title should make it easy for them to know exactly what they are getting. People are too busy to research whether your book is the type of book they like to read. Your title must work hand in glove with your cover art to signal genre so that potential readers know with a glance if your book is romance, mystery, thriller, comedy, domestic suspense, sci-fi, or horror.

One of my favorite genre signaling titles of all time is Stephen King’s PET CEMETERY. In just two words, we know this book is about dead pets. Dear God, it gives you goose bumps just thinking about it. 

6. Must Pass the “Gut Check” Test

Once you’ve brainstormed a list of potential titles, don’t be afraid to test them out on friends, family, and beta readers. Solicit feedback from other authors, editors, and agents. Pay attention to their initial impressions and ask them questions about what the title makes them feel and think about. Does it pique their curiosity or make them ask follow up questions?

Ultimately, it’s your book which means the choice of title is your call. Which means IMHO, the final and most important hurdle a potential title has to pass is the “Gut Check.” If it doesn’t feel right for some reason, then it’s probably not the right title. Every book that I’ve published the final title just felt right. That doesn’t mean the title was perfect or that a better title couldn’t have been identified with more time or effort, but I can honestly say there’s no book with my name on it that has a title which I hate. This, my friends, is critical, because you’re the one who has to live with the decision!

Finding the perfect title for your novel is no easy task, but with careful consideration and these five tips in mind, you can increase your chances of finding a title that captures the essence of your story and entices readers buy your book. Remember, a good title should capture the soul of your story, be catchy, yet clear & concise, pique curiosity, be memorable and marketable, signal genre, and pass the gut check test. If you have advice to share on the topic, join the discussion on Facebook.