Monday, 6 January 2014

Choosing a Title for Your Fiction or Nonfiction Book


Starting the year with a guest post from one of my favourite bloggers, Nutschell over at The Writing Nut. The writing group she formed, the Children's Book Writers of Los Angeles (CBW-LA), has released a collection of writing exercises and short fiction based on those exercises.  And through January 50 percent of the proceeds will go to help aid in the Philippine Relief Efforts! 

Take it away Nutschell...


Story Sprouts Blog Tour: Choosing a Title for Your Fiction or Nonfiction Book

CBW-LA, my nonprofit writing group, published Story Sprouts, its first ever anthology last October 2013.  We learned a lot of things about the art of self-publishing both through tons of research and through our own experiences.

One of the things we learned about is the importance of a good title. When the other CBW-LA board members and I sat down to discuss our book’s title, we decided that we wanted something symbolic of the kind of anthology we would be publishing.

Story Sprouts’ co-editor Alana Garrigues sums up our title inspiration nicely:

Since authors created their anthology pieces in the moment, inspired by the seeds sown during the writing day workshop, it seemed fitting to call these entries “Story Sprouts.”

They are not polished pieces that took the authors months or years to perfect. They are the early saplings of writing, the ideas that will take root in the minds of our writers and take shape over time.

The stories are shared with the reader in their early form, in an effort to be transparent in the process of writing and to engage the reader in the process and craft of verbal creation, from seed to solid oak. 

Whether you are self-publishing or publishing traditionally, a good title is important as it is part of your book’s overall impression. It tells the agent or editor you’re querying what your book is about, what tone your book might have and what they should expect from reading it.

If you are publishing traditionally, your publisher will be in charge of deciding on your book’s final title. But if you have a strong enough title, your publisher might decide to use it instead of changing it.

If you’re self-publishing, choosing the best title for your book becomes even more important. 

The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing: Everything You Need to Know to Write, Publish, Promote and Sell Your Own Book by Sue Collier and Marilyn Ross lists down some tips for brainstorming a good title for your non-fiction book. 

Titling Non-Fiction Books: 

1. Pick a clear title over a catchy one. Start with two-three most relevant words so booksellers can easily understand what your book is about when they look it up in their database.

2. Look at the power of numbers: “7 Weeks to…, 21 Secrets for,…101 Easy…” Uneven numbers work best, according to some studies.

3. Identify the three biggest problems your book solves. Put yourself in your readers’ shoes and ask: “what’s in it for me?” or “why should I care.” Your answer to these questions can give you an idea for your title.

4. Check out other popular titles in your genre and consider a play on words. Charlie Haas played with the popular title “What Color is Your Parachute?” by titling his book “What Color is Your Parody?”

5. Magazine articles and teaser phrases on magazine covers might tickle some title ideas. Sometimes by substituting just a word, you may come up with a catchy title.

6. Look within your book for catchy phrases or key words.

7. Listen to songs and read poems. You may find a phrase that you can turn or play around with.
8. With slight word changes, cliches and common sayings might also result in an appealing title.

Titling Fiction: 

Fiction titles need to be appropriate to the genre, reflect the tone of your work, and resonate with a promise of what readers will find beneath the cover. A good title is also easily remembered and captures the essence of your story.

1. You can name your book after a character in your story (usually the main protagonist) as in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
2. You can name your book after a settting, or a place that is important to your story. Ex, Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin.

3. A catchy word or phrase in your novel could also be used as a title. Ex. Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. 

4. Just as in nonfiction, a play on popular sayings, clichés or phrases can also work for your novel. Ex. Best Friends for Never by Lisi Harrison.
5. An important concept in the story can also work as a good title, particularly in the case of Science Fiction and Fantasy novels. Ex. Divergent by Veronica Roth
6. You can also use an event around which your story evolves. Ex. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
7. If you’re writing a series, alphabets or numbers might be a good way to set apart your novels. For instance, Sue Grafton’s mystery series have titles like “A is for Alibi” and “B is for Burglar.”

Some Final Tips on Book Titles:

Titles are usually 2-3 words long, and no more than 6 words in length. One word titles are even better, since they’re easier to remember.  

When choosing a title, make sure that yours is original and not similar to another book in your genre. Titles are not copyrighted so you’ll see several books out there with the same name. Avoid picking a controversial title. It might attract attention, but it might also discourage other potential readers from picking up a copy.

A good title will entice a potential reader to not only pick up your book, but hopefully buy it. It should convey the genre, tone and central idea of your work. It should also be witty, dynamic, interesting and memorable.


Thanks for having me on your blog, Moody!

What happens when linguistic lovers and tale tellers workshop together? Inspiration. Wonder. Discovery. Growth. Magic.

Brave and talented, the writers featured in this anthology took on the challenge of dedicating one day to the raw and creative process of writing.

A rare view into the building blocks of composition, Story Sprouts is made up of nearly 40 works of poetry and prose from 19 published and aspiring children's book authors.

This compilation includes all of the anthology writing exercises and prompts, along with tips, techniques and free online writing resources to help writers improve their craft. 



Learn more about Story Sprouts at

Join the Children’s Book Writers of Los Angeles at
Find Nutschell at:


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Setting played a big part in naming mine. After the first one, my publisher continued with like-sounding words. All three are short, simple, and unique, which is great when it comes to a search on Amazon.
Good tips and congratulations, Nutschell and company!

Karen Lange said...

It's great to see Nutschell here! Thanks for hosting, Mood. :) This is timely info, I need to come up with a title for book soon.
Thanks for helping me out!

nutschell said...

Alex, I do love your book titles, so I think your publisher made a great choice. :)
Hi Karen! Lovely to be here. Hope the info helps you with your own book title.
Mood, aw shucks. You're one of my favorite bloggers,too! (seriously, i loooove your posts. they're all so helpful!0 THanks for having me here today. :)

Shannon Lawrence said...

Great post from Nutschell! I never realized odd numbers would be more effective. I guess they stick out more, just because even numbers are more comfortable?

Titles can be the bane of my existence sometimes. Sometimes the title comes before the story. Otherwise, it's usually a struggle (for me).

The Warrior Muse

J.L. Campbell said...

Hi, Moody & Nutschell,

Useful article, Nutshcell. Titles that are a take on everyday phrases do seem catchy. My personal choice is one-word titles.

Unknown said...

That is a great idea to donate through books. I am donate a little bit all the time. They are in such need of support.

mooderino said...

@Alex - a title that's easy to find using a search engine is pretty helpful.

@Karen - good luck.

@Nutschell - you're very welcome.

@Shannon - I like to come up with them first so I can at least tick one thing off my list.

@JL - a strong one word title is definitely easy to remember.

@Lady Lilith - definitely a worthwhile cause.

Ellie Garratt said...

Some great advice. I've bookmarked this page for future reference!

Alana said...

Such a great topic, Nutschell! Thanks to all for reading and sharing your thoughts!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Identifying problems and how you can help readers is one of the best ways to come up with a non-fiction title.

mooderino said...

@Ellie - glad Nutschell's visit has proved helpful.

@Alana - thanks for commenting.

@Diane - Narrowing that down certainly helps.

Christine Rains said...

Fantastic tips. I always have a big problem coming up with titles for my stories. I usually ask my CPs or writing group. They're brilliant!

Alana said...

@Christine - I think that titles and queries are similar in that way. When you're so close to the project, you see too many options. Having a critique partner or writing group help you hone in on the essence of what really matters in your story can help so much!!

I bet your writing group feels the same way about you. :)

mooderino said...

@Christine - CPs and writing groups are a vital part of the process.

@Alana - I'm sure you're right.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

Definitely bookmarking this post. Titles are something I struggle with continuously.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Great advice from the wonderful Nutshell. My publisher has selected better titles for some of my books that were better than mine.

Elizabeth Twist said...

Titles, like character names, can be major stumpers, but when they work, they work. I guess for me the titles that make you think about them as you read are really memorable, as though through the title the author has set up a bit of a puzzle that you have to work through as you read. I'm reading Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle right now - that title is a bit of a puzzle.

Weaver said...

Nutschell rocks! Great ideas there. It was interesting last year when an author shared within a writing group what her publisher had done with a new title which the author thought had nothing to do with the book. Her publisher explained the marketing reasons for going with the title they chose, and then the author understood and could live with it.

Unknown said...

You're right - a title is very important and says a lot about a book before the reader even picks it up. Thanks for all the tips. I find titles I like and then look them up on Amazon to see if there are any that haven't been used yet. There's nothing worse than having a title everyone else has used already.

Trisha said...

Titles are definitely something I am not good with - but admittedly I haven't sat down and really tried to come up with good titles yet. I am too busy writing and revising my stories for that. But I totally agree that a good, strong title is super important!

mooderino said...

@Mike - very useful most, well worth bookmarking.

@Susan - it's a tricky thing to get right.

@Elizabeth - sci-fi books have some of the best and most memorable titles.

@Donna - I expect there are a whole host of marketing angles to titles most of us aren't even aware of us.

@Lexa - I do that too. It's surprising how often some titles get used.

@Trisha - sometimes it helps to wait until the end to come up with the right title.

Rick Watson said...

Excellent post. My latest non-fiction book is coming out this spring. There are things here I can use.

Rusty Carl said...

Having a good title is beyond me sometimes. I still have a story from 2006 that just says "James" as its title. It's usually the last thing I do after finishing a first draft. If I can't come up with a title I can't revise it.

Rachna Chhabria said...

My book is named after a character. I like single word titles, unfortunately all my titles are long. I am trying to create catchy titles.

mooderino said...

@Rick - glad Nutschell was able to be of help to you.

@Rusty - a good title can also be very inspiring, if it comes to you early in the process.

@Rachna - a short, catchy title that hasn't been used before but feels familiar is a pretty tricky thing.

Unknown said...

Sounds like a great group to be part of.

Sarah Allen said...

Very cool. My titles of my two novels so far are The Keeper (about a zookeeper) and Breathing Underwater (about a fourteen year old girl).

Sarah Allen
(From Sarah, with Joy)

mooderino said...

@Lilith - check out Nutschell's blog to see a regular account of what her group gets up to. Pretty amazing and all started by Nutschell herself.

@Sarah - I really like both those titles.

PK HREZO said...

Congrats to Nutschell! I love the name Story Sprouts. It's perfect!

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hey, Mood,

Great featured book! I hosted Nutshell last week. Such a great cause...

ALL the BEST with sales, Nutshell!

mooderino said...

@Pk - It is a great title.

@Michael - I agree!

Beverly Diehl said...

Fun stuff, Nutschell. (But to be picky, it's A WIZARD OF Earthsea that was the first novel; Earthsea was the title of the TV series and the realm, not the actual stories by Ursula K. LeGuin.)

I have not infrequently picked up a book or drilled down into a blurb if the title catches my interest.

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