Our mothers may have suggested to us that we best not judge a book by its cover, but let’s face it – first impressions matter.
Creating a book title is one of the writer’s most important tasks, as the title creates the reader’s first impression.
To make the best out of your book cover – and help you improve your book sales – apply this list of ground rules.
Keep Titles Short
Your book isn’t a Morrissey song. It’s best to keep your book title under 30 characters – you may have difficulty selling a longer title to your publisher.
This doesn’t mean you should limit your book title to a single word, but you’ll want to make sure it fits on the front cover.
In addition to thinking short, think catchy: Make it memorable. An intriguing title will entice readers.
Stick to the Subject
A title should make a clear suggestion as to what a book is about.
Resist the urge to be overly clever, as this can muddy the waters. If your snappy title doesn’t underscore what the book is about, readers may be disappointed with its contents or pass it over completely.
Your readership must understand what a book is about before they can relate to it, and the title should be their first introduction to the book’s subject matter.
Use Your Title to Paint a Picture
Use your title to suggest a scene from your book or evoke an emotion in your potential reader.
“Fast Food Nation,” for example, creates an instant image in the mind’s eye, while clearly portraying the book’s subject matter.
Titles like “Band of Brothers” and “Beloved” hint at their respective subjects in a way that induces specific emotions in readers.
Save the Punctuation for Later
A book title is no place for a question mark, even in this postmodern era.
A title should exude confidence. If you must, add a comma, but know that doing so isn’t all that attractive.
Don’t use an exclamation point – not even if you’re writing a children’s book. It’s not cute and the emotion it suggests can be better portrayed by the cover art.
Use the Active Voice
There’s no place for passivity in a book title. If you don’t use active voice in your book title, you may miss an opportunity to establish a hold on your audience’s attention.
Be the First
Before you write the final draft of your book title, check online publishers, like Amazon, to see who else is using your book title.
There are no copyrights on titles, so technically anyone can use anyone else’s book title. However, a one-word title may get you into trouble if 50 other authors have already used it.
Also, using a title made famous by another author may cause confusion amongst readers. A book title should stand out, be remembered, and be relatively unique to your book, so be the first to use yours.
Leave Out the “How to”
Your book isn’t a blog entry; there’s no need to optimize your book for search engines.
A title that begins with these two words is also likely to be a passive one, breaking yet another of our title-choosing guidelines.
“How to” takes something away from a title’s overall appeal. After all, isn’t “How to Taste What You’re Missing” better left as “Taste What You’re Missing”?
Besides, remember you are trying to stand out and offer something unique. Start with a catchy title, like is suggested above to make sure it sticks. If you need to, leave the “How to” as part of a less-obvious sub-title.