The Title is Everything
“Shogun” What a bold title. Simple, dramatic and telling. A perfect description that begs a reader to open the book. “Star Wars” Overwhelming, scientific and poignant. Perhaps the best movie title ever. “Thriller” Sexy, scary and smart. Perhaps the best song title of all time. The title is the first line of defense for marketing. It tells the reader, viewer or listener what they are about to encounter.
Great works can be ruined by a bad title just as an awful work can have a great title. In my humble opinion, Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey are astounding titles that hid awful works. The Road, is a great book with a mediocre title. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is an example of the perfect title to the perfect book.
So, how do I come up with a title? Being an engineer, I have engineered a solution. The first step is to define the words that the title should contain. For example, if the book is about a ship, I would list nautical terms and other terms related to water. Next, I open up an excel spreadsheet. Column A is a list of titles, Column B is the sequel title, Column C is the ranking and Column D has notes. It is important to think about the sequel title at this stage (if the book needs to have a sequel.) For example, “The Last Dance” How can you follow that title with a sequel? “The Last Dance 2” “The Last-Last Dance” Lame.
The next step is to use a good title generator. Here is a great site that has a bunch of them:
I also read other titles on Amazon in the same category as the intended work. The next step is to do an open-ended brainstorm. I list every conceivable title that I can come up with. I keep refreshing the random title generator and adapt these titles to my own particular words and themes. I also use my own created titles and combine them together. I then look at titles on Amazon to get other ideas.
What kinds of titles do I make? That depends on many personal preference factors. Keep in mind that the title is the most important advertising tool. This means it should be bold, exciting, sexy, daunting and most of all intriguing. Should it contain a bit of humor or a pun? Perhaps. Should it be misspelled? “The Wrekked Ship.” Maybe. Keep the readers perspective in mind.
When I get a title that makes sense, I put it in column A. At this point, the validity of the new title isn’t important. There are no rules and I keep inventing. At around 100 titles, I find that I have exhausted all possibilities, and the process has become redundant. This should take about three afternoons of work. I then sort them, remove duplicates and mark obvious duds in the ranking column. It is important not to delete the dud titles as they can still serve as inspiration.
The next step is to fill out the sequel column B. For example if my maritime title is “Into the Storm” the sequel might be “Into the Rain.” Some titles don’t lend themselves to sequels and I leave column B blank.
The next step is to do a search of the titles and the sequels. I want to make sure there are no other works with the same title. If I find do find another work with that title or a title that is very close, I eliminate the title in the ranking column. Then I sort the list to eliminate the undesirable titles.
When I am fully convinced that I have enough titles and sequels, I rank them. My scale is “Low, Med, High” Of course you can use a scale like 1-5, A-F or Yes/No. When I have ranked them, I narrow down the list to about 10 titles. How? I start with ones that “read wrong.” For me, I try not to “warm up to a title” but instead, I try to find one that has the least objections.
Why don’t I try to fall in love with a title? Love is an emotional response. The love for the title will come later. At this point, I treat the title as a business with employees. Either an employee performs or they are fired.
I then show the titles to people and I get a feel for what they like. With a lot of thought and effort, I settle on a title that works and can be made into a sequel. Ideally, this process takes a month or two. This is an important part of the process and should not be approached lightly. A great title will set a work above all others.
You’re the best -Bill
April 17, 2019
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