The Name of the Story

How hard can it be to think of a book title?

Well, actually…

Image of two women thinking hard.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

With all the great book titles in the world, it can seem like the title is one of the easiest parts of a book to create. I’ve been researching book titles in my current genre, in readiness for naming my own work in progress. And I’ve found sci-fi titles are not quite as simple as mystery titles. Not that mystery titles are all that simple. It’s relative.

Let’s start with the numbers

Now most of us can think of a great book title. Loads of them, in fact. But if you want to actually sell some books, the number of words in the title is very important. Because the title needs to say ‘This book is very definitely in this genre you like’. And that’s not just about the specific words used, it’s also about the length – or brevity – of the title.

One or two words are the signposts to a current sci-fi novel, three at a push. That means all the four, five, and six word titles I’ve come up with are out. Condensing a complex idea into one or two words is not so easy.

The sub-genre can also be included in the title. That’s if you’re clever enough to keep one genre prominent, while hinting at another. In my case, the book is a sci-fi mystery. But with two whole words to play with, I may skip this advanced level option.

So what’s the story about?

Now this may seem easy enough but it can catch an author out. I’ve seen many books, particularly in the sci-fi genre, with titles that are too specific to the story. The result? No-one has a clue what the book is about. 

Names of fictional people, alien races, or made-up places, mean nothing to anyone who isn’t already familiar with the premise. So they aren’t going to entice any reader to pick the book up to begin with.

A subject that was only mentioned once in the story, being used in the title, is going to leave readers scratching their heads. So perhaps the plot is not the best element to base the title on. With a short and snappy title needed, the main theme of the book is probably all that can be conveyed anyway.

The language used matters too

Getting the language level of a book correct includes the words on the front cover. Authors who choose rarely used words for their title do so at their peril. If readers will have to look up the title to find out what it means – well, they will most likely scroll on by. On the other hand, using only common words is unlikely to capture anyone’s imagination.

So, as with everything else in book marketing, the trick seems to be finding that delicate balance between being obviously like everyone else in the genre, while being subtly different from everyone else in the genre.

How hard can that be? Fortunately, there’s still time to work this out. And then it will be on to the task of checking which of my brilliantly original ideas are already in use!

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