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!

When Your Title Doesn’t Fit, You Must Acquit

Dear Reader,

A funny thing happened last week while rewriting Catching the Rose.

I realized I wasn’t writing Catching the Rose anymore.

Now, the funny thing is the characters are the same from Catching the Rose, and the plot is the same. But my writing style has changed so much in the eight years since I wrote the original Catching the Rose that I feel weird about continuing to call it Catching the Rose.

I mean, the book that’s out there now, known as Catching the Rose: Second Edition, is still the book I wrote in high school, but with grammatical fixes, etc.

I laid in bed late at night staring at my ceiling wondering what I was going to do. The fact is I don’t write that way anymore. I’ve learned a lot in the past eight years.

I couldn’t call it Catching the Rose: Third Edition. That just felt clunky.

I thought about calling it Catching the Rose: Redux. That felt good for about twenty minutes.

Then I thought, you know, people who really enjoy Catching the Rose as it is might feel betrayed. So I decided I won’t call this rewrite Catching the Rose at all.

Which meant I had to come up with a new title.

Well… crap.

I suck at writing titles.

But ok, if I can write an entire novel, I can write a title. Right?

I started thinking about titles I like. For whatever reason, I like three-word titles. Everything feels better in threes. It flows off the tongue better, don’t ask me why. So I knew the title would be three words long.

I began thinking about themes of the story. This is about Veronica, a rebellious young woman who is proud to be a Confederate (known a a Johnny Reb to the Yankees). She’s on the hunt for her Prince Charming. She has no idea where her Prince Charming is, but at this point in the story, there’s suspicion he may not exist anymore.

You know what Veronica needs? Veronica needs a hero. She needs a hero until the morning light. He’s gotta be sure and it’s gotta be soon and he’s gotta be larger than life.
Bonnie Tyler – Holding Out for a Hero

So now the book I’m writing is called The Rebel’s Hero. It’s a working title; I’m only seven chapters into the rewrite so I have time to live with it.

The Rebel’s Hero.


P.S. Check on the other ROW80 writers this week…

Overdone and Cliche Titles

Cliche titles, unfortunately, are usually not within the realm of control an author has (if traditionally published). The title is considered a part of the marketing of the book, same as the cover and back copy. The thing is, titles, same as covers, are at the whim of the current trend…and trends get old. That’s why they are a trend to begin with.

BookEnds, LLC the other day made a post about titles that are overdone and should never grace bookshelves again. Their list included:

  • anything with “DESTINY” or “CODE”
  • THE LONG WAY (“ROAD” is interchangeable here) HOME

Their readers added such things as:

  • THE ______’S DAUGHTER
  • vague titles
  • THE _____ AND THE ____
  • anything with DARK

I am tired of such titles like:

  • TO ______ A ______ (MARRY, CATCH, LOVE, HATE, SEDUCE; DUKE, EARL, ROGUE, JERK…whatever)
  • THE _____ AND I (you guessed it: DUKE, EARL, ROGUE, JERK…)
  • anything playing with Shakespeare’s titles…MUCH ADO ABOUT YOU, THE TAMING OF THE ______
  • anything with “UNLIKELY” or “SCANDAL” or “BELOVED”
  • BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (how many beauties does it take to tame all the beasts in this world, anyway?)

What do you have to add to the list?

Test Your Title

Found something fun and nifty online, I can’t remember how I stumbled upon this but I thought I’d share it anyway: you can test your work-in-progress title for popularity.

Now that I’m writing this, I think I found it in Writer’s Digest, which I’m reading in between classes and while I wait for programs to compile. has been working with statisticians, apparently, to come up with this nifty little Title Scorer, and the results are pretty accurate to a certain degree. You as an author, reader and writer will have to use your own judgement, of course, to decide whether you should believe it.

The highest score you can get is an 83, I’m not sure why, but such is life. My first novel, Catching the Rose, made it up to the 70s somewhere. The Winslow Charade got a paltry 20-something score.

Give it a try! Play around with popular titles. The DaVinci Code gets a laughably low score, I think, for being a best-seller, and Gone with the Wind doesn’t do so hot either.

Creating a Title They Won’t Throw Back

Yes, I accept e-mails from AuthorHouse even though they were sued for libel because they accepted a self-published author’s book which had been rejected by another self-publishing company for libel. I accept e-mails from AuthorHouse even though their contract is less than stellar. I accept e-mails from AuthorHouse because they sometimes (SOMETIMES) send helpful information like the following:

Sink or Sell: Creating a Title They Won’t Want To Throw Back

You labor over every word. You make sure all stylistic elements are perfect. Yet, the first words of your book most people read will be the title. It is important to give as much care and thought to your title as any other part of your book. Here are some helpful tips on creating a sell-worthy title:

  • Research your title idea/concept: Scope out your proposed title on e-commerce Web sites, like If there are many like it, you may want to rethink your title. Otherwise, your book could get lost in a sea of similarity.
  • Avoid an excessively long title: If I can’t remember it, I won’t be able to tell others about it, plus the type size on the cover will be too small to read.
  • Speak to potential readers to pique their curiosity: There may be a phrase or word that resonates with your target audience. If so, consider using it in your title.
  • Reward the reader of your title: Make sure your title gives some hint of what readers will find within the pages of your book.
  • Consider the language you’ll use: Positive language makes your book more likely to be well-received by your audience. Avoiding unnecessary profanity may also sit well with your readers.
  • Bookselling is competitive—plan to take 1st Place: Your book is in a marketplace with thousands of other authors trying to do the same thing you are: sell your book. You want your title to spark curiosity and cause the reader to continue being attentive to your work.
  • Be true: Sure, you want your book to catch attention, but by using a title that has nothing to do with your book, you’ll risk betraying your audience.
  • Take a break: Let your proposed book title sit with you for a day or two. See what you think about it the next day and if it’s still resonates with you.
  • Give your friends the title test: Find out what your friends and family have to say about your title. Does it pique their interest—or confuse them? They’ll let you know their honest thoughts and this may help you ultimately decide if the title really fits your book.