Sixty second writing tips: getting entitled

One of the biggest challenges an author faces these days is the title. Those words are often the first thing a buyer knows about the book.

1197094932257185876johnny_automatic_books_svg_medThat’s why publishing contracts give the right to select title to the publisher – and their marketing departments. They’re up with the play on what’s selling, and usually way more experienced than the author at picking the words.

But self-publishers face the same issue. It’s an art as much as technique.

These days the wording is more crucial than ever. The title has to be snappy, up to the minute and filled with verve. It has to be informative – to sum up the book in one or two punchy words. My tips:

1. Be brief. One to three words are best.

2. But phrases can work, if they’re cool, obvious and grabby. A book I’m reading now – ‘How to think like a Neanderthal’ – is sheer genius.

3. Avoid transient fashion words. Nothing dates faster than today’s slang.

4. Get other opinions.

How do you develop titles for your books? I’d love to hear from you.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

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11 comments on “Sixty second writing tips: getting entitled

  1. With Hold the Faith, it ‘told’ me. I had to wait a long time. Book 3 was easy, it came up in the course of dividing up Hold the Faith into three. Book 2 title eluded me for a long time.

    Your post was most informative. I knew what attracted my attention, but didn’t know how much psychology went into title selection.

    • Thank you. It’s a very difficult call. I’ve had much adventure over the years with book titles. About three quarters or more of mine have actually been publisher picks – in consultation with me, of course, but ultimately their call. It’s relatively rare that a selection of mine has gone through unchanged – and there have been one or two cases where marketing has taken precedence over actually describing the book. The hard part is that readers usually don’t realise it’s not always the author’s call – I get credited with the title whether it’s mine or not.

  2. wordpress123 says:

    For better or for worse I chose my title ‘How To Change Your Life – One Day At A Time’ right at the beginning. It describes exactly what the book is about. I’m sure a publisher’s marketing department would have thought of something snappier but hey ho! On reflection, I could have had a snappy title with mine as the sub title. :-/ Done now. Good tips for my next one Matthew.

    • Thanks. It’s possible publishers might go with that one. Some years ago I wrote a book which had the working title ‘New Zealand’s Military Heroism’. A precise description of what the book was about – and this was the title the book was published with. Kind of boring in a way – but it worked.very well.

  3. I’m only on my first draft but I’ve changed the title three times already. At the moment it’s a three word quote from a shakespeare play… but that may end up being way too pretentious! I’m sure it’ll change again…

  4. “Snappy … and filled with verve.” Spot on. I spend a lot of time on a title. I like to have a great title before I start writing a project. It helps bring it to life. ;-)

    • It does – kind of like a mini-logline. All my books have ‘working titles’ (usually defined in the publisher contract, actually) which then shape it. Later the published title may – or may not – follow suit… :-)

  5. […] M J Wright, A Blog about Writing, Reason, and Stuff […]

  6. I like to use alliteration (‘Dana’s Dilemma’, ‘Jordan’s Justice’), but that doesn’t always work. I’ve tentatively titled one book, ‘A Pinch of Sweetness, A Slice of Murder.’ I know that’s too long, but it seems appropriate. I’ll have to see what happens when I finally finish it and send it off.

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