Monday, December 12, 2011

First Impressions Matter: Choosing Titles

A book can be wonderfully written, yet a terrible title will keep readers away. Looking at this from the other end, a magnificent title can pull people into a terribly written book, though one would hope they wouldn't make it all the way through. Still, in terms of book sales, which of these methods works best? The magnificent title and lackluster writing. Sad, but true.

Obviously, the intent should be to focus on both the writing and the title, making both so spectacular that you bring in readers and keep them. This is true of any sort of entertainment media. A movie with a bad title may not get the viewers it deserves.

For all you bloggers out there, you know this principle applies to blog titles, as well. Sometimes it's easy to forget that your blog title still has to pull in readers or they'll skip over your post, whether they happen across it in a search engine, are linked to it from another blog, or get notices from their preexisting subscription.

This is mostly common sense. What isn't is how to choose that perfect title. Firstly, what is a title there to do? What do you want it to accomplish? You want it to titillate, to pull a person's attention to it and make them buy/click. At the very least, you want it to interest them enough that they read your description or a teaser, maybe the first paragraph. In addition, you want it to be descriptive. It should let the reader know what the topic is about, both today and in the future. For instance, a blog will have archives. One should be able to look through the archives and see what each article or post may be about. This gives you future business and helps one find important references later on.

Going one step further, you should know whether you want your title to titillate via topic, humor, mystery, fear or any other means. A funny title will bring in people looking for a fun read, but a fear-based one will grab a different audience. Consider who your audience is. Do they want just the facts? Lay it out for them in all seriousness, avoiding the humor. Will a question grab their attention more readily than the answer? Your audience should dictate every facet of your medium, including the title.

Once you've figured out your purpose and your audience, it's time to pick that title. First, consider what your piece is about. The title should reflect some important, or at least meaningful, aspect of your work. It's okay if the connection isn't readily available right from the start. Some of the best titles inspire that "ah-ha" moment during the read, and can be the most fun. This may not be appropriate in more serious pieces, though, as a serious piece should be more straight-forward in order to engender trust and gain the appropriate audience.

Another important factor is title length. A title that is too long may be a turn-off. It's also harder for someone to remember if they hear about the work in passing or want to recommend it to another. Don't shoot yourself in the foot that way! Choose a title that gets the point across with some measure of brevity. In this age of short attention spans, you want someone to read your entire title before deciding whether or not to move on.

If at all possible, make the title something that touches someone in some way. Whether this means eliciting a reaction or an emotion, there should be a connection there. It may make them question what it means. It may make someone nod in agreement and read on. Perhaps it will touch off a sense of fear within them, or even delight. Chances are, if it touches you in some way, it will do the same for them.

It's obvious to me that I don't have the market on titles cornered. It was this fact that made me want to talk about it and look into it a bit further. Setting aside blog titles (which I'm going to try to work on), I'm still not entirely certain I'm happy with the title of my YA novel. You see, I either come up with a great title and work from that, or come up with a great story and struggle (at least sometimes) to find the title that fits it and gets it across to others in the way I would like. As someone guilty of having a weekly dated title ([Mostly] Wordless Wednesday, ahem), I feel I need to work on bettering my titles. I'll try to start with those [Mostly] Wordless Wednesdays!

What do you think makes an excellent title? Can you think of any titles that have really stood out for you over the years? What was it about them that touched you or caught your attention?

Please return Wednesday for the photo of the week, and Friday for an interview with James Hutchings, independently published author of The New Death and Others.

May you find your Muse.


  1. I like titles that have a secondary meaning behind the words. The words in them suggest themes, or feelings, that relate well the theme of the book, or blog, or song ...

  2. I notice that I pay more attention to the blog titles that cause me to do a double take. A word not commonly used in "moral" conversations, or maybe a topic not often discussed.

    With books it's a whole different animal. I love titles that have something to do with the story.

  3. wow thanks for the tips , i will defiantly use this knowledge for my future titles :)

  4. I hate titles. I have a great title floating in my head, righ now, but no story to go with it. On the other hand, I haven't been able to get anywhere close to a title for my Tib stories.

    The best title I've seen is Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. That was the first book I ever bought on the strength of the title alone. It was so bad, I didn't make it half way through the book. It was one of the very first books I started and didn't finish, in fact. I still feel gypped by that title.

  5. Joanne, I like titles with a secondary meaning, as well. I like when I realize what it is referring to.

    Rachel, I can definitely say the same. I'll click on a blog post if it makes me go, "Wait, what?"

    Reina, glad it could help!

    Andrew, that is a good title; too bad it was a bad book. I feel the same way about titles. I always feel so much pressure to make a good one.