How to Choose a Fiction Title

titles and ISBNs pull quote image

This past weekend a fellow writer asked me how I decide to title my fiction books. Let me tell you, this is probably the hardest part of writing for me, especially as an independent author. Here were my answers to his questions…

What is the process you use to title your fiction books?

I spend a lot of time obsessing about titles, actually. My first step is I write down recently published titles that are in a similar genre so I know the latest trends. I do this by hunting through Amazon and Google, and asking my teacher friends (I write middle grade and young adult historical fiction).

Then I come up with a list of title options that feel good, and search Amazon and Google to see if anyone else has come up with it before. I take the unique titles and run them past family, friends, my writer’s group, and beta readers to get their input.

Eventually, I have to make a decision. Seriously, it’s like pulling teeth… the scariest part is that once the ISBN is assigned to that title, I have to stick with it, or, if I choose later to change the title, I have to use a different ISBN.

Is there a set number of words you like to stay within for fiction titles?

I prefer to use titles that are three words or less. I used to think short, pithy titles were the way to capture attention, but really, you just need a good title that hooks a reader. Give them a title that makes them ask, “Now what’s that about?” or “Now that sounds interesting…” Length is not the most important factor. There are some amazing books that have long titles, like Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Do you find a phrase in the book itself and use that?

I did that once, but that’s the title that people don’t seem to understand. I either chose the wrong phrase, or I just shouldn’t ever do that again haha. I liked Amy Timberlake’s One Came Home because it made me ask, “One of what came home? Came home from where? Why did they leave?” And it turns out that phrase was in the book somewhere and the title made complete sense.

If you’re going to pull a phrase, it better make things click in your reader’s head when they get to it in the prose.

Do you have advice for authors and publishers in titling their fiction books?

Take time and don’t use the first title you come up with. There’s a reason why there are entire teams in the Big Publishers who come up with titles. This is hard work!

Don’t get frustrated. Come up with as many titles as you think would apply, and whittle it down from there using the tips I mentioned above. Good luck with your fiction titles! Let me know how it goes!