3 Strategies for Finding a Title That Works

by Marianne Stenger
Posted: February 17, 2015

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Whether you’re writing a novel, short story or magazine article, the title is one of the best tools you have at your disposal to hook editors and readers. 

So how do you find a title that personifies what you’re writing and captures your audience’s attention? At times, the right title might present itself from the very beginning, but as most writers will tell you, it usually involves hours of brainstorming, research and experimentation.

If you’re still new to the game, here are few strategies you can employ to find a title that works. 

1. Make it quirky 

When you don’t want to give too much away, a quirky one liner is often a good way to spark curiosity. Think of titles like “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society” or “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” They both hint at what the book might be about, while still maintaining an air of mystery. 

A subtitle can also help you clarify your meaning. For instance, “Lost On Planet China,” may not immediately tell you what sort of book it is, but the subtitle “The Strange and True Story of One Man's Attempt to Understand the World's Most Mystifying Nation, or How He Became Comfortable Eating Live Squid” immediately tells you that it’s a travel book. 

2. Include the names of people or places

Utilising unusual character names can add an element of mystery or quirky touch. Titles like “The curious case of Benjamin Button” or “The secret life of Walter Mitty” work well because the names are memorable. They wouldn’t stand out nearly as much with more commonplace names like “John Smith” or “Anne Thompson.” 

Including the name of a city or country, on the other hand, can help to set the mood of your piece and give readers an idea of what to expect, such as with titles like “I dreamed of Africa” or “The Last time I saw Paris.”  

3. Use a strong one-word title

Sometimes a good one-word title can make a much stronger statement than a longer one, especially if your book or story has a very clear theme. Think of famous titles like “1984,” “Divergent” or “Atonement.” They’re simple, straightforward and most of all memorable. 

One thing to watch out for with one word titles, however, is that your book doesn’t get lost in the crowd. For example, a quick Amazon search for books by the name “Haunted” brings up seven books by different authors on first page of search results alone. 

It’s the same for numerous other titles, from “Missing” to “Forgiven.” So if you do choose to use a one-word title, first make sure it hasn’t been done to death. Finally, once you have a better idea of the sort of title you want, whether it’s mysterious, descriptive or short-and-sweet, it’s time to begin experimenting with different combinations. You can get as much advice as you want, but at the end of the day, the only way to land that perfect title is through trial and error. 

Start by writing out a list of 20 or more different titles that come to mind and try varying the structure and word usage each time. You might throw every single one of them out, but by the end of the exercise you’ll probably have a much better idea of what you want, or at the very least, what you don’t want.


Marianne Stenger

Marianne Stenger

Marianne Stenger is a London-based freelance writer and journalist with extensive experience covering all things learning and development. She’s particularly interested in the psychology of learning and how technology is changing the way we learn. Her articles have been featured by the likes of ABC Education, The Huffington Post, Lifehacker, and Psych Central. Follow her on Twitter @MarianneStenger.

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