Director, Author Services, LinDee Rochelle, November 24, 2010:
While our day of thankful feasting may be bountiful, a bounty of words is not recommended for your book’s title.
So how do you alert the reader to all that awaits them between the print or electronic pages? Titles are tricky, no doubt about it. Of course, some salient differences apply to fiction vs. nonfiction books; but the basics that matter most will get you started. Let’s explore our rose one petal at a time.
What basics you ask? Well …
Most of us will have a working title from the beginning – often it is the premise on which we write the whole book – and sometimes our first title idea turns out to be the best. But don’t get too attached to it; more often than not, it will change.
What makes a great book title and how to achieve it? One popular tip advises to wait until the book is finished; you’ll have a better overall awareness of its scope, which should help inspire a truthful title.
I actually follow that principle for magazine articles and this blog. I’ll often begin with a thought and general premise, but as I’m writing, a completely different focal point emerges; although my core idea may still be evident, it is no longer the hub. An outstanding title may become obvious.
Another recommendation suggests the other end of the spectrum and ignores the book’s content altogether. Go for sensational it shouts! The title doesn’t need to portray the true tale of your book, it says. Grab the attention! We know that a title must be a head-turner and though I agree to a point, you don’t want to dupe your readers.
Most experts advocate short titles of not more than four words. That’s all well and good, but some nonfiction books especially, defy description that makes sense in four words. So …
What about subtitles: How to get your point across
Subtitles can work well – however, ensure your primary title still aligns with the context – and can stand alone for promotional purposes. Example, Fall Prevention: Stay on Your Own Two Feet (Second Edition by Gail Davies & Fran Scully). “Fall Prevention” tells you what the book is about and can be quickly, easily alluded to in conversation; while the subtitle further clarifies the content.
My personal preference is not to use a colon between your title and subtitle. In marketing formats the colon often confuses more than it clarifies. Strive to create a cohesive primary title; in an interview or speaking appearance, if you need to rattle off the whole title w/subtitle every time you reference your book, it generally becomes cumbersome and everyone feels the impatience – even you. If you must spew the whole two-part title during your elevator pitch, make sure the subtitle is the crux of your pitch, or you’re wasting your breath.
Take a look at the New York Times Best Sellers List (Nov. 28, 2010); you’ll note that in the top three categories: Hardcover Fiction; Hardcover Nonfiction; and Paperback Trade Fiction, only two authors out of fifteen top-rated books opted for longer than four words.
Stieg Larsson has his “girl thing” series goin’ on, so that doesn’t count. Most of the others however, actually try to grab us with only two or three words. Wow. That’s impressive. And that’s what we should strive for – impressive.
I’ve been trying to ignore one major factor of 21st century book titles – SEO. (Heavy sigh.) Once upon a time we chose our titles for the book and its readers, alone. Not so much anymore. Like it or not, we need to consider our titles’ searchable qualities – and, for many nonfiction authors especially, branding.
L’s Seven Suggestions … for creating a book title:
- Focus: your book’s core idea may be evident from the get-go; but sometimes an underlying significant context comes to light as you’re writing, suggesting the perfect title phrase.
- Attention: create attention with shock-power, a play on words, alliterations – get creative, but don’t mislead!
- Shorter is better, but not if it doesn’t make sense.
- Is one particular line or phrase in your book particularly memorable? Could it beget a great title?
- Consider a subtitle only if the primary title leaves too much guesswork for your readers.
- For SEO and branding possibilities perform browser searches for keywords of your book’s subject and/or premise of course, but don’t forget to check out Amazon, B&N, etc., to see how many times your proposed title(s) is used; it’s OK if it is, because titles can’t be copyrighted – but they can be branded – and you don’t want to be floundering in a sea of similar titles.
- Domain names and branding: first stop, the US Patent and Trademark Office; search for trademarks already registered with the same or similar series or character/text branding – second stop, Go Daddy or other domain registration site; search your title for the three top level domain extensions available: .com, .net, .org – subject to your needs; if a long title, you will of course, seek a shorter combination of domain name words.
And there are always exceptions to the rules – but my motto is to know the rules first, so you know how to break them right. J
Warm wishes from our families to yours for a thankful and bountiful day.