Guide: Coming Up with a Story/Book Title
It’s funny you should ask this now, because normally I’m someone who tends to come up with titles, or title possibilities, fairly easily. If anything I may have to tweak a title to make it shorter or stronger, or choose my favorite out of a list of possibilities, but I rarely find myself in the position of having to find a title from scratch. Except that’s where I am right now…
First, I want to clarify that I don’t think it’s necessary to come up with anything other than a working title prior to writing the first few drafts. Final titles should usually be chosen after all the revision is complete and you’re into the polishing stage. You’ll probably want to come up with a working title as soon as you figure out your plot. Working titles don’t have to be fancy or even related to what the final title would be. I seem to recall Maggie Stiefvater referring to The Raven Cycle as “magical story” back during its early days. A working title for The Hunger Games could have been Katniss’s Story. A working title for the first Harry Potter book could have been The Train to Hogwarts. Whatever it is, don’t put too much thought into it. This is simply your placeholder title. Just something for you to use in reference to your WIP when you don’t want to just call it “my WIP.”
Final Titles and Traditional Publishing
Second, a word of caution… if you’re planning to pursue traditional publishing, you should know in advance that publishers are very unlikely to use the title you come up with, especially if you’re a debut author. While that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still try to find a perfect title, it does mean you should be prepared for them to go in another direction. That will hurt less if you’re not “married” to the title you pick. So, just keep that in mind.
Coming Up with a Final Title
1. Brainstorm List
When you’ve completed the major editing/revision phase of your WIP and are heading into the non-structure affecting edits and polishing phase, you’ll need to go ahead and start thinking about your title. This is especially important if you’re planning to self-publish and are hiring a cover designer, as they will need to know your title when they create your cover. The first step in this process for me has been to have a brainstorming session in which I list out every possibility I can think of, no matter how lame. I keep this list even after I’ve chosen a final title because A) there may be some gems on there that will work for future stories, B) you never know when you might realize you need to change your title, and it’s handy to have that document to go back to. That’s where I find myself now. Needing to go back and look at my original brainstorm list to see if there’s anything that works.
2. General “Title Ideas” Document
One of the most important things you can do as a writer is have places where you can record ideas when they occur to you. That may be an app on your phone, a notepad or word document on your laptop, a physical notebook, or all of the above. For me, it’s all of the above. One of the documents I have is a general “title ideas” document where I’ve listed random title ideas that have occurred to me in the past. This could be a good place to keep any unused gems from your title brainstorm lists, too, if you want to save yourself from step three…
3. Look Through Old Title Ideas
If that doesn’t work, I’ll probably go back through my brainstorm lists from previous novels and stories just to see if there’s a hidden gem somewhere that would work for this story.While I’m at it, if I see any particularly good unused gems, I’ll go ahead and transfer them to my general “title ideas” document to save myself the trouble of this step in the future.
4. Create a New Brainstorm List
If I still haven’t found a new title by this point, I’ll have no choice but to come up with a new title brainstorm list. The first thing I’ll do to get this list going is write down several keywords to use as inspiration. These can be story elements, themes, motifs, places… anything. Next, I’ll probably come up with a list of adjectives that relate to my story in some way. I might even look through my bookshelves at book titles I like and write a few down as further inspiration. Then, I’m going to sit down and start spitballing possibilities based on my keywords, adjectives, and inspiration titles. These will likely be horrible, possibly hilarious, but the point is it gets your brain waves in sync and moving in the right direction. If all else fails, I might even go in search of some title generators to bulk up my list. Sometimes you can find ones that allow you to put in keywords and it will spit different combinations back at you. You could also try taking titles you like and plugging your own keywords in. Like, instead of The Fault in Our Stars, maybe you come up with The Problem with Your Parents. Or, instead of All the Crooked Saints, you come up with Every Parent Lies.
5. Title “Mad Libs”
Try filling keywords from your story into the following title templates…
– The __________
– The __________ __________
– The __________ of __________
– __________ of __________
– __________ of the __________
– The __________ __________ in __________
– The __________ __________ on __________
– The __________ in the __________
– The __________ in __________ __________
– A __________
– A __________ for __________
– A __________ __________
And so on… you can actually look at book titles on your shelves to come up with other templates to try out. Ultimately (hopefully) you’ll be able to come up with something!
6. Go Back to Basics
Sometimes, you just have to look at your keywords, find the strongest one, and go with that, because sometimes one-word titles just happen to work the best. Twilight, Forever, Graceling, Wintersong, Magonia, Ballad, Emma, Caraval, Everless… you get the idea. And you can always go for the two-word title, too, like: Crooked Kingdom, Catching Fire, Dark Shores, Deep Blue, Catching Stars, Cruel Prince, Little Women.
I hope something here works for you! (I hope something here works for me, too!)
Good luck to us all! <3
Have a writing question? My inbox is always open, but make sure to check through my FAQ and post master lists first to see if I’ve already answered a similar question. 🙂