Choosing a Book Title

Hey, SE Readers. Joan with you today. For those in the Northern Hemisphere, I hope you’re enjoying the summer. Those in the Southern Hemisphere, well let’s just say I’m not a fan of winter. But let’s talk about writing, not the weather.

Choosing a title can be one of the hardest parts of writing a book. Yet it is one of the most important. A title should capture the reader’s attention and also encompass the essence of the story.

You want the name to be unique. Because titles are typically short, they don’t fall under copyright protection. (Some titles, such as The Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, are trademarked.) You could name your book Gone with the Wind or In Cold Blood, but it’s not something I would recommend.

The Girl on The Train was a best-selling thriller a few years ago. Around the same time, another author published Girl on a Train. It was not nearly as popular, but many readers accidentally purchased this book by mistake. You can imagine it garnered several reviews by disgruntled readers.

So how do you choose a title? Do you wait until you finish the book or before you write the first draft? There’s no right or wrong way.

The first book of my Driscoll Lake series had the working title Willow Lake. I never planned to keep the name, although I had chosen it as the name of the town. Shortly before completing the first draft, I looked on Amazon and discovered another author had a series of books with a fictional place called Willow Lake. That’s when I changed my town name to Driscoll Lake to avoid any possible confusion.

The book’s working title became Hidden Intentions. Another author whom I know published a book with that title, so I didn’t want to use the same one. I turned to a thesaurus. Motives is a synonym for intentions. Voila! I came up with Ulterior Motives. Good one, right?

Wrong. There are umpteen million books with that title. Back to the thesaurus again. I finally decided on Unseen Motives. By this time, I decided to make my stand-alone novel into a series. I wanted the titles to have cadence. It was easy to decide on Unknown Reasons and Unclear Purposes.

The title of my current WIP is from a line of a song. Since I’m writing another series, I’ve already decided on three of the four titles. Again, I like a bit of cadence, but that’s a personal preference.

A book title should also fit the genre. You wouldn’t want to name a fantasy novel Murder on The Orient Express. Nor would you name a romance book Day of The Jackal.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder tells me this book is a Cozy Mystery, while The Martian indicates the book is science fiction.

How do you choose your book titles? Do you name them before or after you write? Where do you get your ideas? Please share in the comments.

59 thoughts on “Choosing a Book Title

  1. Titles perplex me. I am not good at them and they take me forever to come up with. Once in a while, one comes easily to me. Most of my works have working titles, nothing close to what I would use the title. Some of my WIPs are simply titled by character and genre. Not original at all.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Choosing titles (for me) is as big a deal as choosing character names. I like titles to obviously suggest the genre, but I also like them to have layers of meaning to the story itself. And, I have them picked WAY in advance (I have books II and III of my current series set in stone, and am working on the titles for my fantasy trilogy to come after my current series).
    As for how I do it, usually I write down keywords and play with them all (mentally) until something clicks.
    Great topic, Joan – I could go on for HOURS about titles!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have yet to write a book (or short story) in which I didn’t change at least one character name!

      You sound like me as far as titles. Books one, two, and three of my upcoming series are already named and I’m 90% sure I have the forth title.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. With my first book, I didn’t decide on a title until five minutes before I sent it to my publisher. With the second, I knew in the early stages of writing exactly what the title would be. With the third, my editor (thanks, Staci!) suggested a title and it fit perfectly. It just varies with the project for me, I guess.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And Staci says she has trouble coming up with titles. I think she underestimates herself. 🙂

      Sometimes names just click and other times it’s harder. I want to publish a book of short stories sometime next year and for the life of me, I can’t think of something suitable to call it!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Finding a unique book title that there aren’t already hundreds of on Amazon is getting increasingly difficult. The title I had for the novel that the Wild Rose Press picked up for publication was “When Two Worlds Collide.” The title fit the story perfectly, but I hadn’t done the proper research to know there were already several on Amazon. So, they came up with “Ghostly Interference.” Do I love it? No. But it is unique. I have a working title of “Jagged Feathers” for the second book in the series, but who knows what they will want to change it to. The alternate title I have for that book is “A Soldier and A Psychic.” 🙂 So, we’ll see. Thanks for your awesome post, Joan!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do like “When Two Worlds Collide.” And “Jagged Feathers” intrigues me. Hopefully, you can keep that one. But I’d want to read it by the alternate title as well.

      You’re right. Coming up with something unique is getting to be a chore.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. With my fantasy series, it took me a while (and some research) to come up with my fictional beings, the Diasodz. Because I knew it would turn into a series, I knew that Chronicles of the Diasodz would be part of the title. I chose to have each book start with The One because the story’s focus on Sofia’s journey and the Diasodz considered her their savior, “the one.” A quick search on Amazon showed that The One Discovered wasn’t used, so that became book one. The rest of the titles focused on what was happening in the book (Enlightened, Betrayed, Revealed, Awakened).

    For my short story, Breathless just keep hammering itself into my head. It fits perfectly for the story. A quick Amazon search showed many books with that title, but I learned that if I changed the title to Breathless: A Short Story, then my book shows up at the top. So, I decided to go with that. I have no idea what I’m going to do for the full-length novel that will follow the short story. I wanted to go with Just Breathe, but there are SO many books with that title already, so I’ve got some brainstorming to do. Lol!

    Titles are so important because that is how most people will search for a book that a friend has told them to read. Getting it right makes a huge difference. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  6. The title I start with usually isn’t the one I end up with, but I always start with a title. It helps me keep the theme of the book in mind. My editor changed the title I had for the first Jazzi book and suggested I use The Body In…. for each book in the series. That’s made those titles easier to think of:) Titles are hard for me, in general, though.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:

    If you’re like most of us, coming up with titles for your books is often a real challenge. Check out today’s interesting and informative post by Joan Hall on Story Empire. Lots to think about here! And as always, please consider passing this one along so others can enjoy it, too. Thanks, and thanks, Joan, for a super post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m back and forth with how titles come to me. Sometimes I have them before I start writing (Weathering Rock, Twelfth Sun, A Thousand Yesteryears and A Cold Tomorrow). Other times, it’s excruciating to a arrive at a title (Solstice Island, A Desolate Hour, Eventide). I’ve even had my publisher change one of my titles before publication. Ultimately, I came up with the new title (Cusp of Night), but I must have discarded three dozen possibilities before the publisher and I agreed it was a good fit.

    I also remember when I published Myth and Magic there wasn’t another book by that name, now there are several. Like you, I do check to see how many other books carry the same title I may be considering. Usually, if there are many, I’ll opt for something else.

    Right now, two of my WIPS have no titles, despite the fact that I’ve been kicking around ideas for months. Titles are torture for me, LOL!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I didn’t know you struggled with the name Eventide. I love that title!

      Back in the day of strictly traditional publishing I was told not to worry about a book title because it was likely the publisher would change the name. Don’t know if that’s true but I do think authors should have at least some input.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Excellent post, Joan. Man, titles are the hardest thing sometimes. I do a search on a title that I think I want and try to find something no one has. My titles are usually born somewhere near the start of the manuscript. Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Good points, Joan. Choosing a title is definitely important as you say, and I’m no expert, by any means. I do usually have a title in mind before I’ve written more than a couple of pages. And I do google it to be sure it’s not in use already. Not that I can’t use the same one, if it’s not something hugely well-known, but more that I really don’t want to. And I don’t want anyone else using mine, so as one measure to help prevent that, I set it up with an “identifier” (see, I don’t even know what you call this) to help differentiate it from anything else. For instance Swamp Ghosts is actually listed on Amazon as Swamp Ghosts: Riverbend Book 1. That’s an official part of the title. While someone may decide to title a book Swamp Ghosts, I doubt they’d also set it in a fictional town called Riverbend. I think (hope) this helps keep the book distinct from anything else. I titled my first novella The Emissary: A Riverbend Spinoff Novella. On the covers, the second line is usually at the bottom, so it doesn’t look ungainly.

    So far, this system seems to have worked pretty well for me, but as with anything dealing with writing, I’m always learning new things every day. Thanks for a super post! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Book titles are always a challenge. I’d say that only 25% of my titles survive until I sit down to write the book. That’s usually my cut off point because I use the title to help guide me towards the main story. With ‘Legends of Windemere’, they were fairly blunt and direct in terms of what will be at the core of the story. ‘War of Nytefall’ has been all one word titles, which was tougher to come up with. I wanted the word to capture a key component of the story in terms of events and emotions. Some of my books ended up getting their titles changed every month. Yet, I still don’t feel comfortable starting a book until I have the title down. It probably goes along with my detailed outlines that make it easier for me to dive into a first draft.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Years ago, I came up with a wonderful book title. That was in the days when I was just a “want to be” writer. I’ve never used it, although I used some of the ideas for the story I planned to write in my first Driscoll Lake Book. Again, I planned to use the title in one of the books of my second series, but it doesn’t fit. However, it has served as inspiration for the series.

      One word titles are a challenge. I applaud anyone who can do that.


      • I really hope you get to use it some day. Titles that stick with you for years are hard to come by.

        I don’t think I’m going to do single word titles again. Not for a series unless I can think of an amazing set. It was a real headache at times.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m all over the place here. Sometimes I have a title from the very beginning. Sometimes it comes to me while writing. I think I’ve been fairly original, and doubt there are many books I share a title with. I would like one of my series to have mostly musical sounding titles, but don’t think that’s sustainable. There’s one that is the title of a song, and I’m wobbling on whether to use it or not.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. My first published novel had a different working title. The publisher changed it without telling me. (Came as quite a shock.) But I’m not going down that rabbit hole… My last publisher let me title the books without their input. I probably could have used some input. My current publisher keeps pitching me ideas, so some of what I’m writing now has a title before I have an idea for the content. (That’s kind of interesting.)

    If a title doesn’t come to me immediately upon conceiving the idea, I’ll probably never be happy with it. And I speak from experience here. I’m not good at titling. I do look online to see if a title is original, but that’s harder and harder every single day. I think, at this point, it’s more important for a book to have an appropriate title than it is for it to have an original one. Though, if you can manage good and original, that’s a big win.

    Great post, Joan.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. I agonised over choosing the title of Someone Close to Home simply because every idea I had was already taken and not just by one author, either! I’m more familiar with the situation now and know that a huge number of books share titles – but at the back of my mind is that example you give of The Girl on The Train – not even identical, but the less popular book did suffer some unkind reviews as a consequence. My thesaurus is treasured like a good friend!

    Liked by 2 people

    • An upside to the train story is I found some reviews from people who accidentally bought her book liked it better than the more popular one. While I wanted my first books to be unique, I haven’t checked to see if there are the same (or similar) titles I have picked for the others.

      What would we do without our thesaurus?

      Liked by 2 people

  15. I used to check that other titles weren’t the same as mine on the web, but I’ve found that some time after publishing other books of the same name spring up eventually anyway, so I don’t sweat that too much now. Of course, I’ll avoid big-name well-known book titles.

    My process changes from story to story. Sometimes, I have the title before anything else. With FALLOUT, I’d almost finished the book before I had a title, which was a first for me. With my current WIP, The Colony Trilogy I have the titles and covers all done well before the books are finished. But then this is also the first time I’ve written such a detailed outline for a story as well.

    Great food for thought. Thanks for sharing, Joan 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • With tons of books on the market these days, it’s hard to find something unique. As I commented above, I haven’t even checked to see about the titles I’ve selected for my upcoming series. I don’t have the covers done but I have the names, characters, and a general idea of what I want to do with the remaining stories. I wrote the blurb of Cold Dark Night before I penned a single word of the story. Now that’s unusual for me as I hate writing blurbs.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I usually start with a working title and then feel it out later. I go through several after checking on Amazon. Sometimes it can be really hard to get the right one. Great post, Joan.

    Liked by 4 people

    • It can be hard. I’ve been toying with the idea of publishing a book of short stories. I’ve partially written a few of the stories and a couple I just can’t figure out what to call them. On the other hand, a title came to me the other day and I feel I “must” use it. Have no idea what the story will be.

      Liked by 2 people

  17. The title of a book is important, Joan. I remember searching for a book on Amazon. After I entered the name of the book, A whole list of the same title with various subtitles. I finally enter the title and the author before I located the book. If I wasn’t sure about the name of the author, I could have gotten a wrong book or I just didn’t want to bother.

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    • Amazon searches are often difficult. At times, I’ve put in the “exact” title and couldn’t find the book. I often have to include the author’s name. I’ve also put in the name of a popular author and only got a partial list of their books along with titles by other authors. Go figure!

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      • I know, Joan. So far I only have one book but without investing too much time, I had the books translated into two languages, and have one paperback in color because I included many photos and my paintings. But Amazon doesn’t show all the versions. When I found the color version, it doesn’t included the reviews. I contacted them many times with no results.
        I have a couple WIP books and started looking at the titles on Amazon. The titles I likes for the two books turned out to be popular song titles. I don’t know. I guess because I like music and tend to like those titles but not remember that they were song titles.

        Liked by 1 person

  18. A book title is very important, Joan, I agree with you. I haven’t come across another usage of any of the titles of my books to date. I actually never thought to look for my titles in advance of publishing my books but when I look for them by name on Amazon no other contenders pop up. I’ve been lucky. My title usually comes to me when I think of the concept for the story and becomes entrenched in the ending which is the target I work towards when I write.

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