September 8, 2015

How to Give Your Book a Classic Title

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine
Every author wants a book that will hold its own against the 300,000 new books that are published in the U.S. each year.  To give it a fighting chance, it has to capture the reader's interest instantly, and a solid title will help make that good first impression.

As always, we learn much from the ones who've gone before.  Let's consider some of the classics of literature, and see how the pros did it:

What could be easier than simply naming your book after its lead character?  That said, don't do it.  These books were written in a different era, when it was in vogue to to do.  Robinson Crusoe and Anne of Green Gables sound classic to us today because they are classic.  In this day and time, it's unlikely that a new book called Regina Thornbush or The Adventures of Wallace Hampton would attract anyone's attention.

If you must hone in on the hero, these days it's more popular to keep things faceless and generic, like the titles of these current New York Times bestsellers: 

This approach, immediately answering the question of "Where?" still works as long as the locale happens to be intriguing or evocative, like in the above examples or, more recently, The Great Zoo of China. John Grisham's Gray Mountain and Sycamore Row say little as titles, but hey, he's John Grisham, and his fans will buy anything he writes.

Overall, it's better to play it safe with some of the following titling strategies:

Giving your reader insight into the subject matter gets their imagination going.  Or perhaps you'd like to get specific:

Identifying the main premise simply and directly may help your reader determine on the spot that it's something of interest to them.

Would you have any idea what these books were about from the title alone? Unlikely, but their vague sense of importance conjures curiosity.  As with 2015 bestsellers Go Set a Watchman and Secondhand Souls, a thought-provoking title demands extra consideration.

And then there are titles whose very wording suggests an air of greatness:

Again, the premise is unclear, but the overall feel of erudition commands a certain respect.  All the Light We Cannot See is a current example.  You feel smarter just saying it.

Choosing the right title for your novel is one of the most important things you'll do, but it needn't be the hardest. Find the title that is an inviting reflection of what makes your book unique, and you'll have your reader at hello.

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