Name Your Book in 4 Steps or Less

Picking just the right title for a short story or poem can be difficult, but crafting the title for a novel can be a nightmare if you don’t know where to begin.

Having options is key. A good brainstorming session will get you started.

picture of a yellow lined notepad with a pen


1. Brainstorm

Popular wisdom on the subject says to think about what your story contains, the genre, the theme and voice, and write down what comes to mind. This could be a list of words, phrases, or ideas that “feel” like your novel.

These can be used to bounce off more complex ideas, or mixed and matched until you find the right fit. I often like to do a free writing session, churning out as many as possible, then going back and marking out the ones that just don’t feel right.

image of a storm over water

2. Dynamic Verbs, Specific Nouns, and Meaningful or Popular Phrases

Some research suggests that there is an art, and even a science, to naming a bestselling novel. (There is even a “Titlescorer” over at Lulu where you can get a percentage on your prospective titles.)

They propose that bestselling novels use strong, active verbs, and explicit nouns, instead of plain, everyday ones. They also say that most bestsellers have titles around three words long, though a host of simpler (and longer) ones have gained massive success, like IT, Rebecca, The Red Badge of Courage, and To Kill A Mockingbird.

Compelling titles are made up of verbs and nouns that create an emotional response in the reader.

image of a laughing animal

Phrases that are meaningful to your story, or even snippets from the work, can also be fast titles. And don’t forget popular phrases, such as Running With Scissors or In Cold Blood.

Character and place names, as well as proper nouns, can also be used, as in The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Bourne Identity, and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.


3. The Summary Statement

Most writers already have a synopsis of their novel by the time the first draft is finished. This can be a great tool from which to draw your novel title. If you don’t already have one, jot out a quick summary of your novel’s main idea. Also, if there is a particular theme in your novel, explore that for title ideas.


4. Skip the Slush

A bad title can send your novel to the slush pile, never to be read by an editor.

It’s also important to remember that titles should be original, easy to remember, and create interest. A dull, unimaginative, or boring title can be the death of a worthwhile story. Don’t let your novel fall into the slush pile because you didn’t put in the time to craft a title worthy of your masterpiece.

image of a person walking through rainy slush

Your Turn

Writers: Which of your stories/novels was hardest to title? Do you have any published books or short stories with titles you still don’t like?

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