What should the child be called? For some authors, this question doesn’t even arise, because they already know before the first word is written what the book will be called later (or the series/series). For everyone else: Here are a few tips.
Unfortunately, there is no one ultimate tip that guarantees a title that sticks in your head. But there are a few theoretical approaches I want to introduce you to today. Maybe you will find a suggestion for your current project this way?
When is a book title "ideal"?
Before we come to the individual points, we should of course first clarify when we can speak of a good or even ideal book title.
An ideal book title stays in the mind.
It’s easy to remember, but still concise.
An ideal book title stands out.
Despite the simplicity of the title, it should stand out from the rest.
An ideal book title fits the genre.
You have to find the balance between "that’s how everyone does it" and "I do something completely different". A tightrope act!
An ideal book title (arouses) emotions or images.
If your title creates an image in the reader’s mind, they are more likely to remember it later on.
Not all theories cover all these points.
Below, we’ll go over fifteen ways you can come up with a book title. Not every way covers all of the above – if it did, you’d have a simple formula you could apply to everything. But unfortunately life is not like that& So it is a matter of trying out several titles and taking the one that comes closest to meeting the criteria for an ideal book title.
Remember to protect the title!
Before you publish your book with your ideal title, make sure that you are still allowed to use this title at all. Books (or. Publications in general) that have already been published under that title are automatically protected and you can’t use them ("Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone" would therefore not be a very good choice).
If you haven’t found your title so far (Amazon search, Google search, Verzeichnis lieferbarer Bucher), check it out at the common title protection sites as well: Titelschutzanzeiger, Borsenblatt and Buchmarkt are the first places to look.
If your title is nowhere to be found, it is free. You can protect it for up to 6 months (during this time, no other book may be published with your registered title). The costs are different, I usually pay around 14 Euro.
All clear? Now you’re ready to go.
Oh wait, one more tip at the beginning: I’ll give you a few examples for each of the ways. But feel free to turn the tables and search Amazon for successful authors and check out their titles. If you recognize a pattern?
Since most of the principles can also be applied to (movie) series and films, I have added them in a different color.
12 ways to your new book title
1) One-word title
Particularly succinct, but also often require a lot of thought AND have often been used before (cue title protection). Make sure the reader can do something with the word or that it has a direct connection to the content.
Often used for thrillers.
- "Decay" (Simon Beckett)
- "Infatuation" (Stieg Larsson)
- "Honey" (Ian McEwan)
2) Content title: What is it about?
The easiest method is probably to simply say what the book is about. Usually, this is also the first attempt to arouse curiosity. Very many book titles simply say exactly what’s inside, and it works:
- "Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone" (J. K. Rowling)
- "The Package" (Sebastian Fitzek)
- "My Ingenious Girlfriend" (Elena Ferrante)
- "The hundred year old who climbed out of the window and disappeared" (Jonas Jonasson)
- How I Met Your Mother
3) Alliteration and metaphors
When a title is made up of several words and they all start with the same letter, that’s alliteration. This stylistic device is often used in advertising texts (or also in poems) to achieve a higher memorability.
- "Miracles work wonders" (Eckardt von Hirschhausen)
- The Big Bang Theory (after all, the show isn’t about the Big Bang Theory, it’s about nerds).
- House of Cards
4) Peculiar statements
There are books where you read the title twice and think to yourself: "Hmmm?!". This effect means that people often pick up (or click on) the book to find out what the title is about.
Particularly popular with nonfiction books, by the way, to make them seem more upbeat.
- "There’s a way past the ass" (Alexandra Reinwarth)
- "A Whole Six Months" (Jojo Moyes)
- "And next door the stars are waiting" (Lori Nelson Spielman.)
- "The 4-Hour Work Week" (Timothy Ferriss)
- "Dream men and other fantasies" (Annika Buhnemann& )
- "Grandma sends her love and says she’s sorry" (Fredrik Backman)
- "I’m too old for this shit" (Julia MacDonnell)
5) Indication of the places in which the book is set
If you don’t want to give away what the content is, then you could go into detail about the location.
- "Night by the Seine" (Jojo Moyes)
- "In the shadow of the golden acacia" (Christiane Lind)
- "Sleepless in Manhattan" (Sarah Morgan)
- "Heartbreak on Gansett Island" (Marie Force)
- "In the forest" (Nele Neuhaus)
- "Downton Abbey"
6) The name of the main character(s)
Sometimes it can be useful to simply make the main character the title of the book. Of course, this is especially advisable if the main character has an interesting name (but this is not a prerequisite).
Disadvantage: At first the reader doesn’t associate anything with the name.
Advantage: If your book is popular, many will quickly remember the book title.
Currently (late 2016), this method is not finding huge appeal, at least in the German market.
- "Anna Karenina" (Leo Tolstoy)
- "Romeo and Juliet" (William Shakespeare)
- "Hamlet" (William Shakespeare)
- "Dr. House"
- Rizzoli& Isles
7) Titles with the main character and a description
If the individual character name might not say enough, you can also use it in the whole sentence. Works particularly well for character-driven series.
- "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (J. K. Rowling)
- "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" (Mark Twain)
- "A Study in Scarlet: the first novel featuring Sherlock Holmes" (Arthur Conan Doyle)
- "A Man Called Ove" (Fredrik Backman)
- "Grey’s Anatomy" (incidentally, also a pun on "Gray’s Anatomy," a classic in medicine)
Very often in romance novels and thrillers you see compound nouns that make a new word that ideally fits the novel exactly.
Very popular approach.
- "Friesenklinik" (Stefan Wollschlager)
- "Bloodclaw" (Amber Auburn)
- "Raven’s Gold" (Ellin Carsta)
- "Raspberry Moon" (Mella Dumont)
- "Death Tales" (Andreas Gruber.)
9) Let pictures emerge
At least in the realm of romance novels, this is one of the most common ways to create a title: Appeal to a sense, create an image, arouse longing (or curiosity or fear, depending on the genre). Either contrasting terms ("Silent Scream") or very pleasant, well-matched terms ("Sweet Kisses") are popular here.
- "The smell of books and coffee" (J. Vellguth)
- "When love tastes like chocolates" (Emily Bold)
- "The scent of cloves" (Noa C. Walker)
- "Barefoot in the Sand" (Hannah Siebern)
- "Chocolate Kisses Under the Mistletoe" (Dana Summer& Loki Miller)
- "Dirty Tears" (Ilona Bulazel)
- The Walking Dead
10) Use charming words of the genre
In marketing jargon there is the term "trigger", which can perhaps be translated quite well with the German "Reizwort", but not in a negative sense.
Simply put, if you write romance novels and incorporate words like "kiss" (kussen) or "love," there’s a very good chance that even readers who haven’t read your books before will click on your book because of that word alone.
If you want to try this method, first collect terms that fit your genre and are "in" right now. For romance novels, this would currently include "millionaire" (billionaire), "star" (superstar, rock star), or "bad boy" (bastard, etc).).
Also, term pairs like "forever," "for eternity," "you"/"we," and the like work well.
Now you know how the title "Kiss me, Superstar!" has arisen.
- "You. Forever." (Emma Wagner)
- "It’s Always You" (Vivian Hall)
- "You& Me, Forever" (Sarah Stankewitz)
- "Always You and Me" (Juliet Ashton)
- "So bitter the guilt" (Melisa Schwermer)
- "Yearning – Lapsed" (D. C. Odesza; other titles in the series all begin with "Yearning")
- "Extraordinarily in love" (Sarah Saxx)
- "Accidentally in Love" (Adriana Popescu)
- "Death between the lines" (Donna Leon)
- "Cheerleaders don’t kiss" (Poppy J. Anderson)
- "Bought by the Billionaire: Dominance and Submission" (Lana Stone)
11) English terms
Let’s not talk about the sense and nonsense of English titles now. The fact is that English titles sell well, especially in the erotica and romance genre (perhaps because we readers are bombarded with English terms so much in our everyday lives anyway, and therefore have an immediate access point?)
It’s often the case that authors preface a snappy English title and then choose something German as a subtitle. Also popular: Name a series or serial in English and then name the individual episodes/parts in German.
Make sure that you use the correct words and that they are not "technical English" that the reader has to look up. Or, as they teach you in marketing: KISS. Keep it simple, stupid.
- "Winter Love – A Doctor for All Seasons" (Lotte Romans; Trigger "Doctor" is also still in)
- "Strange Memories – Fateful Decision" (Mia B. Meyers)
- "Pulse of Passion – Longing for You" (Philippa L. Andersson; with Trigger "Desire")
- "Now and Forever: A Winter Love Novel" (Kim Henry)
- "Holding Tight" (Lisa Grant)
- "Love me like you hate me" (Cassidy Davis)
- "Blackout – Tomorrow is Too Late" (Marc Elsberg.)
- "Girl On The Train" (Paula Hawkins)
- "Bittersweet Dominance" (Mia Kingsley)
- "Crossfire" (Sylvia Day)
12) Adjectives to irritant words (or as an irritant word)
For our crime and thriller authors, I add this way in addition to number 9, because it is so common. Adjectives are often used to turn previously neutral nouns into triggers in thrillers and crime novels. So use words like "bloody", "evil" and so on in this approach.
- "In Cold Blood" (Thomas Herzberg)
- "Bloody Inheritance" (Daniela Frenken)
- "Black Scorpion" (B. C. Schiller)
- "Bloody Appearance" (Ilona Bulazel)
- "Dangerous Virtue" (L. J. Sellers)
- "Bloody Bondage" (Karin Slaughter)
- "Silent Deaths" (Eva Lirot)
Other possibilities for a book title
This list is of course not exhausted. Other ideas would be to use a metaphor ("Red Ribbon Club"), create contrasting imagery ("Silent Screams"), or hint ("Fate is a Lousy Traitor"). However, these methods overlap with the above, so I won’t list them separately.
What do you think about your titles?
Are you already an author and have published books? Then I’d like to know what you think of your titles. Do you approach strategically or by gut feeling? Would you take a title just because it fits the market well??
I am curious about your opinion.
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Hello Annika. First of all, thank you for your wonderful blog post. Was interesting to read what you think about this topic. It’s actually pretty chaotic for me when I’m searching for a suitable title. For my debut novel, which is coming out soon, I fortunately didn’t have to search for long. While researching, I came up with the words, which I then used to form the title – the subtitle, however, was a tricky challenge. I had more than just a hard time. But in the end I focused on the main topic and what my book is really about. That helped me and also a few private things, that I came then on the suitable subtitle. And if you ask me, there is no better title for it& Love .
Hi Annika, once again a very interesting post. So I find my titles as I write the book. I always have the title search in the back of my mind and make notes while writing. And out of these notes suddenly the title sticks out. I have published five books so far and the sixth is in the works, with title and subtitle already set.
Keep up the good work. I find your posts on the blog totally exciting and interesting.
So in all honesty? Finding a title is about as popular as pulling teeth, writing blurbs and crafting synopses … either I have one right away (which usually includes the name of the protagonist and I’m also a sucker for alliteration), or the publisher has to look for the title … I just couldn’t get away with "Katha und Keks", for example, and my "Maxi und Moritz" has always received criticism, too. From you for example ;o) For my Tinchen-series I will have to find another name, because with the -chen it is just too toddler-like. Bottom line, I haven’t really gotten the hang of successful titles yet, not even for chapter titles. But I keep practicing and hope for the patience of all those who may put up with my suggestions until then ;o)
Kind regards! Juliane
Hi Annika, a bit misleading, your page, because when I click on "add comment" and wrote a comment, then click on leave comment, what I wrote disappeared again.It only works via "reply", but I didn’t really want to reply to a comment. You have to figure that out first.
But to your question about book titles. I created my titles from my gut, with the protagonists giving the title with subtitles. I’m a self-publisher with little knowledge of the genre, so I don’t want to name the titles here, as that might be interpreted as advertising. But if these my book titles would be worth a discussion- then please. There are four so far, two of which are published.
For the first book of my romance series about the Bo’othi people, I was lucky to find a title that, first, stands for things that happen in the book in many ways, second, doesn’t give anything away, third, consists of words that fit the genre, and fourth, offers room for further variations in subsequent volumes.
Lost Star – The word star is the main symbol of the whole series, because it is from the light of the stars that the Bo’othi draw their life energy. Their pupils become starry when they use their abilities.
Lost – in volume 1 this was on the one hand the people themselves, who had lost their collective memory and had no cohesion any more. On the other hand, it also stands for the protagonist, who finds love and loses it again in the course of the book. But the protagonist is also a lost star, because in the end it turns out that she plays a much bigger role than thought and was just "lost" over the years.
Subsequent volumes will be similarly named. Volume 2 will go in the same direction with "Forsaken Star," again the "forsaken" appropriately stands for several story lines that occur in the book.
How I came up with the title, I don’t remember. During the writing it was simply there at some point. I just knew I wanted a quintessential word for my series, like it was z. B. is also the case with the Midnight series by Lara Adrian. The title alone should give away that the books belong together.
Thanks for this helpful article. Was a good thought starter for me.
In the meantime I made myself a small list of already existing titles of successful authors, which I find good. Now, when I’m looking for a new title, I go through this list and hope that I find an association and then a title comes out of it that fits my book. Doesn’t work so bad.
I think there’s something else you should consider as a self-publisher when looking for a title: The image on the cover has to match the title. Cover image and title should complement each other. The worst is certainly when they even contradict each other – so a test-picture-scissors arises. This is something you should avoid at all costs.
Otherwise I’m like Juliane: sometimes I have a title right away, and sometimes it’s extremely tedious. I am currently writing my ninth book. And what I had before the first line was the title. Sometimes the muse kisses you.