Professional book editor in the UK explains how authors can easily pick the perfect title for their novel!
The saying, ‘don't judge a book by its cover’, in the literal sense, was only applicable centuries ago. When George Eliot wrote that line in her book, The Mill on the Floss, in 1860, she probably didn’t envision this new crazy world where we have a gazillion things battling for our attention daily; tens of concurrently running browser tabs, hundreds of book-reading apps, endless 30-second videos, a flurry of memes, the list goes on. Welcome to the 21st century, where the attention span of humans has dwindled.
When you put all of this into context, you realise that if your book doesn’t instantly hook people, they won’t pick it up. So, your title is your elevator pitch, your less than 5-second YouTube ad to your potential reader, so you have to make it count.
While there are no fixed rules for titling your story, there are tested guidelines and tips that can land you that eye-catching word, phrase, or sentence to splash on your front cover.
Think of your title as the peephole potential readers use to get a first peek into your story. What do they see through this tiny bit of opening? A crumbling society? A budding romance? A slasher psychopath?
Your title shouldn’t be too distant from the substance of the story itself but should provide enough insight into what your story is all about. It’s necessary to consider how the string of words you want to choose for your title relates to the plot.
Imagine if Harry Potter was titled ‘Bad Aunt’ or ‘Gifted Orphan’. These things are indeed reflected in the story, but the series is so much more than the death of Potter's parents or his maltreatment by his aunt. He was central to the events of the story, and it was only fitting that the books were titled after him.
So, without further ado, here’s list of 9 diverse types of titles you could use for your novel.
1. Eponymous Titles
This is easy and usually effective. Several of the greatest stories in history are eponymous in nature. If your story revolves around the life of a character, especially if it's about their coming of age, an eponymous title stands if all others fail. Oliver Twist is such a brilliant example that it has today become an expression synonymous with ‘wanting more’ (a memorable situation in the life of Mr. Twist.)
Harry Potter, The Great Gatsby, and Romeo and Juliet are all examples of great titles that not only give an insight into what the story is and who it’s about but have also transcended into having symbolic meanings of their own in present times.
2. Titles About Places
If the setting of your story also plays a key role in the sequence of events or the lives of your characters, titling the story after that could also be a great idea.
With Alice in Wonderland, the readers are caught by the idea of a place filled with ‘wonder’. Indeed, their expectations are met with this place of strange meals that drastically change the size of the girl in the story and the weirdest of situations.
The Chronicles of Narnia is another series that’s named after the setting, intriguing readers into wanting to know where it is and how to get there.
3. Titles About Events
An event pivotal to your story would also be a viable choice for titling your book. Bonus points if this event is something of an entirely new creation in the story.
The Hunger Games, for example, is a periodic event that defines the workings of a dystopian society. Using it as a title is a strong reflection of what’s to be expected in the story: the dour lives of people who are starved of a happy existence by their government and their fight for freedom.
The 5th Wave is another example of a title that describes an event, which may spark a bit of curiosity, making some people wonder, ‘the 5th wave of what?’ So, although some titles named after the events of the book may give readers an idea of what to expect, some can be vague and create intrigue.
4. Serial Titles
If your story is a series, it’s important to make each title match or bear similarities to each other. For example, in the Fifty Shades trilogy (Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Free), even though the titles are technically different names, they are variations of each other, and it was easy for readers to know that these books were connected.
If you weren’t aware that E.L James had another book coming out after the first and you were patiently waiting for the second, seeing Fifty Shades Darker on a shelf may have piqued your interest if you've read the first story in the series. You could also consider subtitling your serial books while retaining the original headline. Two of the most popular examples are Harry Potter and