How important is your book’s title?

By Midge Raymond,

  Filed under: On Publishing, On Writing, The Writing Life

Does your book title have a chance at being a bestseller? According to Lulu Titlescorer, Forgetting English has a 79.6 percent chance of becoming a bestseller. (I’m still waiting.) And apparently Everyday Writing has a 35.9 percent chance of becoming a bestseller, and Everyday Book Marketing a 31.7 percent chance. Interesting.

So how do writers know whether a title will help a book sell?

The truth is, we never really know. We simply choose the title that we think best fits our book, and then we send it out. But beware of becoming become too attached to a title: Your editor and/or publisher will likely have suggestions for changing it — and this is usually a good thing. Your editor/publisher is in the business of marketing books, and he or she not only has the background and experience most writers lack but also the necessary emotional distance from the book. Often we writers fall head over heels in love with a title, for any number of reasons, without realizing that something about it may hinder a book’s marketability. And, if publishing your book is your goal, you’ll have to be open-minded about changing your title.

I’ve always loved the title Forgetting English, and fortunately neither of its two publishers, Eastern Washington University Press and Press 53, ever suggested changing it. But, having worked in publishing for many years and having sat through plenty of long meetings in which editors, copywriters, publishers, and sales staff discussed titles, I’d braced myself for the possibility of change. And even now, I’m careful not to fall too much in love with any title I come up with, whatever the project. Even when I publish a short story, an editor will occasionally want to change or tweak the title, which so far has always been fine with me.

If you come up with the perfect title for your novel and there’s already another book out there with the same title, don’t worry; titles can’t be copyrighted. That’s not the only consideration, however — you want to avoid having the same title as another book coming out around the same time (not that this is unprecedented, but it’s certainly not ideal), and you also want to avoid replicating very famous titles. Be sure to do a thorough search before finalizing your title.

Most of all, know that titles can and do change throughout the writing and publishing process — the key to happiness with your title is being open and flexible. After all, imagine the literary world today had Fitzgerald stuck with his original title for The Great Gatsby (The High-Bouncing Lover), or if Carson McCullers had gone with her original title, The Mute, instead of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.

I’m not sure whether Lulu Titlescorer is a great predictor of your book’s potential success, but I’d suggest checking it out for fun, as well as for what it does offer: a chance for you to analyze your book’s title in a way you may not have already. It’ll ask you to note the grammar, the language, whether you’ve named your book after a character, whether your title is literal or figurative. All of these things are worth considering and playing with to discover the best possible fit for your book.

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