The Title is Everything
A title tells the reader, viewer, or listener what they will encounter, but it is also the first line of marketing. “Shogun” is bold, simple, mysterious, and telling. It begs a reader to open the book. “Star Wars” is overwhelming, scientific, and poignant. Perhaps the best movie title. “Thriller” is sexy, scary, and intelligent. It may be the best song title of all time.
Sometimes, the title is the only thing going for a book. Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey are astounding titles hiding awful works. The Road is a splendid book with a mediocre title. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is the perfect title for the perfect book.
How do I come up with my book titles? My first step is to list the appropriate words. For example, I would research nautical and water terms if the book is about a ship. A thesaurus is helpful in this area. Next, I will list action, related, and exciting words. Now, I spend a few days connecting them and brainstorming. Remember, there are no wrong answers at this stage. A fantastic resource with existing book titles and title generators like:
I stop when I have approximately 100 titles because any more would be redundant. I made preliminary titles for my first book, Interviewing Immortality, about a 500-year-old woman (Grace) who forces a disgraced author to interview her.

Surviving Grace
Finding Grace
Saving Grace
Stepping Towards Immortality
Grace the Immortal
Interviewing an Immortal
Experiencing Immortality
Gruesome Grace
Guts and Grace
Recording the Harvest
Selected for Harvest
You Will Do
Gracefully Immortal
A Graceful Interview
A Step Towards Immortality (obscure song with this title)
A Grave Misfortune
Deadly Biography
The Author and the Immortal
The Forever Interview
Authoring Immortality
The Immortal Grace
Forever Grace (book with this title)
Biography of an Immortal (book and article with this title)
Learning to be Immortal
A Step Toward Immortality
How to Interview an Immortal (I liked the movie How to Train Your Dragon)

The next step is to search the titles for existing works. (You can see the results on my above list.) I eliminate it if I find another work with that exact title or a near miss. Note: A book titled, “Interviewing for Immortality” came out after I published.
Next, I put all my titles into Excel in a single column. (Alright, truth. I am such a geek that I started my crazy process in Excel, but I wanted to sound cool by using the word “list.”) Then, I add two more columns with follow-on titles in the same theme. Why am I thinking about future junk? How about “The Last Dance.” How can you follow that? “The Last Dance Two” “The Last-Last Dance” “Last Dance the Next Generation” Lame.
Locating titles of other works and doing the future title process limits the choices to around ten. We must pick one (and the following books in the series).
Remember during the decision process that the title is the most essential 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.” Should it be tropical to gain maximum buzz? “The Weakest Link in Dieting” Errrr, I would avoid those two practices.
When I am convinced I have enough strong titles, I rank them as Low, Med, or High. Of course, you can use a scale of 1-5, A-F, or Yes/No. I also share my titles with friends and ask for feedback. As I am narrowing down my list, I sometimes (out of earshot) verbally criticize the title. I find some exciting inspiration there. Ultimately, the title I settle on is the least objectionable.
Why don’t I try to fall in love with a title? Love is an emotional response, and the love for the title will come later. My process is to treat the title as a business with employees. Either an employee performs, or they get fired. Marketing is cutthroat.
For my first book, I settled on Interviewing Immortality, followed by Finding Immortality and Saving Immortality (in editing). I believe the word “immortality” is bold and transitions into different titles, yet it is not overused in other titles.
Will my series succeed? Only time will tell. (I made an immortality joke.)

You’re the best -Bill
April 17, 2019 Updated March 16, 2024

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