How to Title a Book: 13 Steps to Choosing a Title That Sells

By Dave Chesson
Last updated on July 20th, 2021

To write the title of a book, craft a title that is:

  • Enticing to potential readers
  • Relevant to your genre
  • Relevant to your story
  • Search engine friendly

Lots of writers struggle with how to title their book. There’s no shame in grappling with what your book title should be. It can be overwhelming to sum up your book in 1-5 words.

Second only to your book's cover design, good book titles can lead to sales conversions and high discoverability on Amazon.

Having worked with publishing companies and multiple The New York Times bestselling authors, I've been a part of the NYT bestselling titling process on many occasions.

To help you craft the perfect title of your book, I’ll go through 13 actionable steps to choose a title that sells, as well as the crucial elements that every good title needs.

In this article, you will learn:
  1. Good book titles and why they work
  2. 4 crucial elements of the perfect book title
  3. Proven step-by-step process on how to title a book [13 steps]
  4. Advanced resources and tactics to help

Links in this article may earn me some commission if you use them to purchase products. There’s NO extra cost to you! I like to think of it as my coffee fund, fueling me to create articles like this one for you.

Chapter 1

Do book titles matter?

Yes, having the right book title matters because having a poor title hurts your sales, reaches the readers, and hinders your book marketing efforts.

Let’s look at a prime example of why book titles matter, from the book titling genius Emanuel Haldeman-Julius and his famous title experiments.

Emanuel-Haldeman
What book publishing moxie this guy had!

Haldeman was a writer and publisher in the early 1900s who ran a tight publishing company. If a book didn’t sell at least 10,000 copies a year, he’d send it to his “hospital,” where he would brainstorm new ideas for the right title until it performed well.

  • Original title: Gautier’s Fleece of Gold
  • Original title’s sales: 6,000 copies/year
  • Why the original name: French writing was the rave at the time.

Here are his documented change, results, and reasoning:

  • New title: The Quest for a Blonde Mistress
  • New title’s sales: 50,000/year
  • Why he believed the original title failed: The title doesn’t tell you what it's about.

You read that correctly. Haldeman’s publishing company sold over 44,000 additional units because they changed the name to something less broad and more to the point. People ate it up.

In the following example, you'll see that significant changes aren’t always necessary. Sometimes just a simple tweak is all you need:

  • Original title: Mystery of the Iron Mask
  • Original title’s sales: 11,000/year
  • Why the original name: It was mysterious and to the point.

His changes:

  • New title: The Mystery of the Man in the Iron Mask
  • New title’s sales: 30,000/year
  • Why he believed the new title worked: A man wearing an iron mask is an intrinsically more intriguing mystery than just some iron mask.

(I would argue extra alliteration also piques readers’ interest.)

His list of book title changes and their dramatic increases in sales goes on and on. These examples serve as empirical proof that book titles make a difference in your marketing and sales.

Even modern-day authors like Joanna Penn have discovered this.

Let's face it, writing a book is super expensive. Best to make sure when you publish, you do everything you can to make it sell, including re-titling it.

Chapter 2

What’s in a bestselling book title? 4 Crucial Book Title Elements

Before we get into the step-by-step process of how to write a book title, let’s talk about the crucial elements that should go into book title selection.

What makes a good title for a book? Here are 4 crucial elements that make a good title for a book:

  1. Intrigue factor
  2. Title discoverability
  3. Genre pairing
  4. Relevance & specificity

Based on your situation, fan base, marketing tactic, and type of book, you may find that one particular element deserves priority over the others. I recommend using all 4 ingredients, but you may find the perfect title that only uses one.

You need to make sure your book title stands out for the right reasons. These 4 vital parts of a book title are proven to increase sales and draw in the right readers.

Intrigue Factor

Nothing draws a reader in more than creating intrigue with your title. The intrigue factor plays upon one’s curiosity and is a powerful motivator for readers to hit the “buy” button.

WARNING: On the path to creating intrigue, it’s easy to stray from the genre or get too broad, causing confusion. Watch out for this mistake!

3 examples of using the intrigue factor in book titles:

  1. Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies: I bet you weren’t expecting that last part.
  2. Trust Me I’m Lying: Anything contrarian catches a reader’s eye.
  3. John Dies at the End: This great title makes you wonder why they just gave away the ending.

Good-book-titles-that-are-intriguingTitle Discoverability

Bestselling authors have the luxury of not worrying about whether their titles are discoverable because their name recognition and author brand sell books.

The rest of us need to consider title discoverability.

That’s where Kindle keyword generation and research can come into play. If you want your book to show up on Amazon every time someone types in “How to train your border collie,” you should consider making that your book’s title.

If you'd like to see which words you can use in your title to improve the chance of discovery, you should definitely use Publisher Rocket. (Check out my full review of Publisher Rocket.)

Here’s a good book title that is very discoverable: How to Write a Children’s Book by Katie Davis. Straight and to the point, this book clearly tells both the buyer and Amazon precisely what this book is about.

(Check out Kindlepreneur’s free article on How To Write A Children's Book.)

Test it out. Go to Amazon and type: “How to Write a Children’s Book.” That’s discoverability!

screenshot of how to write a children's book audiobook on amazon

Genre Pairing

Your title should match your genre. There are plenty of helpful tropes for fantasy titles, young adult titles, horror titles, mystery titles, non-fiction titles, etc. These tropes are not bad. Genre pairing helps the right kind of reader find your book.

A romance book should not be called Warborn: Battle for Arrakis. The cover may show images of love and passion, but the title screams, “epic sci-fi military book.” In your effort to be different, try not to alienate your genre and potential readers.

3 examples of genre pairing in book titles:

  1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: It’s evident that this is science-fiction, but it also tells us it's about robotics and that it will be a deep thinker. (This is the book that the Blade Runner movie was inspired by.)
  2. Neverwhere: I love Neil Gaiman’s mystic cryptic fantasy. With just one compound word, Gaiman perfectly captured his genre.
  3. Slasher Girls & Monster Boys: It immediately harkens to the thriller and horror genre without question. It even emphasizes the YA punch with the terms “Boy” and “Girl.”
Good-Genre-Specific-Titles

Increase Your Book Marketing

See the Publisher Rocket effect, when you use the right keywords and categories to help get your book seen more on Amazon.

Get Publisher Rocket Now!

Relevance & Specificity

The title might be the only thing a potential buyer ever sees, so your title needs to convey what your book is actually about. The book title needs to be relevant and specific.

(I lumped in “relevance” with “specificity” because to be specific is to increase your relevance. The more specific your title is, the more relevant it is to your story, and the better a reader understands what your book is about.)

For non-fiction, you must title your book in such a way that a reader knows exactly what they’re buying. Often, non-fiction books will feature a simple, eye-catching title with a longer, more informative subtitle.

For fiction, relevance is still super important. Don’t mention dragons if there aren’t any dragons in your book. Don’t mention sexual themes if there are no sexual themes. Don’t mention corporate America if it doesn’t feature in the book. (Definitely do mention these if they show up in the book.)

Ensure your title helps the reader know what the book is about or what to expect from the get-go. That way, you draw in the right kind of reader instead of setting up the wrong reader for disappointment, leading to negative book reviews.

3 examples of relevant titles:

  1. The Devil Wears Prada: Easy to see that this involves fashion and someone who is a complete pain in the butt from someone’s point of view. And I got all of that from 4 words!
  2. I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell: Pretty easy to know immediately that this book is centered around the crazy antics of a jerk — no offense to Tucker Max, because he's a heck of a writer.
  3. How to Lose Friends & Alienate People: This gets a nod for the intrigue factor because it’s using the familiarity of a famous book. However, it’s clear this is a book about… well, losing.

As far as specificity goes, a title tends to be more intriguing (and more relevant) if it offers specific details. Here are 4 examples of specific titles:

  1. Moby Dick is more specific (and therefore better) than The Whale.
  2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is better than Down the River.
  3. The Fellowship of the Ring is better than The Fellowship.
  4. The Shining is better than The Hotel.
Chapter 3

Amazon Rules and Requirements for Book Titles

It's very important that these rules are followed, or your book may not be able to be published on Amazon.

Amazon has certain book title rules and requirements that authors must follow:

  • The title on your cover must match what you put into Amazon.
  • You can’t use claims of bestseller, rank, etc., in your title, even if it’s a bestselling book.
  • Don’t mention deals, discounts, or reduced prices — even if it isn’t a lie.
  • You can't reference other books or any other trademarks.
  • You can’t reference other authors or their pen names.
  • No irrelevant advertising is allowed.

Many books violate this and don't get dinged by Amazon. But if you intend on making a name for yourself, keep it above board — follow Amazon’s book title rules.

Chapter 4

13 Steps to Choosing Your Book Title

Choosing a book title is more than just creating a catchy phrase or memorable title.

Try this proven, step-by-step process for crafting a good book title:

  1. Use parts of your story
  2. Look up famous phrases
  3. Consider a one-word title
  4. Keep it simple
  5. Obey your genre
  6. Put a hook in your title
  7. Use relevant keywords
  8. Speak in benefits
  9. Consult book title generators
  10. Add emotional trigger words
  11. Check discoverability (including international)
  12. Test your title for success
  13. Add a subtitle

1. Use Parts of Your Story

For fiction, in particular, use parts of your story to come up with a relevant title that is both specific to your book and evocative to your target audience.

Look at these examples of book titles that use parts of their stories:

  • Character names: Harry Potter, Emma, Robinson Crusoe
  • Settings with embellishments: Murder on the Orient Express, Animal Farm
  • Dates/time/season: The Winds of Winter, 1984
  • Character motivation: Call of the Wild, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
  • Main event or showdown: The Last Battle, Red Rising
  • Central theme: Return of the King, Waiting for Godot
  • Important lines: Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird

2. Look Up Famous Phrases

Consider using familiarity as a way to catch a potential reader’s eye. Look up famous phrases and words from poetry, classical literature, or popular culture.

This strategy is best to do before you write the book. Looking up a famous phrase for your title may feel tacked on if you simply… tacked it on.

Here are 7 examples of book titles that use famous phrases:

  1. Fault in our Stars
  2. For Whom the Bell Tolls
  3. Double Jeopardy
  4. The War of Art
  5. Till Death Do Us Part
  6. Liberty or Death
  7. A Song of Ice and Fire (inspired by Robert Frost)

WARNING: Don’t use trademarked material, such as an author’s name or copyrighted work from the past 100 years or so.

3. Consider a One-Word Title

One-word titles are all the rage in today's fiction and non-fiction books. Consider a compelling one-word title for your book. I’m not recommending most of you should make your title only one word, but simply consider it.

Don't pick a random word. Select a powerful word that represents your book’s hook and themes and complements the strong imagery of your book cover.

One-word titles don’t necessarily need to refer to an event in the book, although they may. Sometimes, a robust emotional word, or even a word you make up, provides the power you need.

Examples of excellent one-word titles include:

  • Referential: Nevermore, Allegiant, Wicked, Frankenstein
  • Powerful and emotional: Endurance, Atonement, Euphoria
  • Made up words: Freakonomics, Essentialism, Brisingr
  • Iconic imagery: Twilight, Boneshaker, Ulysses, Lolita

WARNING: One-word titles can wreak havoc on your discoverability, particularly if they’re ubiquitous words or misspelled/made-up words. (Have you ever tried to look up Stephen King’s It?) If you use a one-word title, make sure it is unique and easily searchable.

When it comes to search, many readers will add the word “book” to your title if it’s a single word. Before selecting your title, try searching for “Your Title” + “Book” to see what appears.

4. Keep It Simple

It’s a proven fact; people don’t like to feel awkward. Titles with inappropriate words or hard-to-say words can make readers feel uncomfortable.

Keep it simple. Don’t use overcomplicated words that people may have trouble saying (or spelling in a Google or Amazon search box).

Also, don’t make a long title that won’t fit on your book cover. Short titles aren’t just for short stories.

Pro tip: Imagine people saying your title out loud.

There are exceptions, of course. But those are the exceptions that prove the rule.

Long words, nonsense words, archaic words, and made-up words from your story have their place in titles, but make sure they are at least easy to say and spell. You want readers to be able to search for your book on Amazon or Google.

Intriguing, eye-catching, evocative titles can be simple. In fact, it’s easier to market a book that uses simple words to evoke powerful emotion.

5. Obey Your Genre

If you don't stick to the titling tropes of your genre, your readers won't know what to expect. This leads to unhappy readers and bad Amazon reviews.

You must obey your genre. Research your genre’s titling norms. Look at other books in your genre, topic, or niche. Analyze their title structure. Write down a list of genre-specific terms that sound right for your book.

If your book is a crossover genre, feel free to research all the genres that are combined in your book. To help your readers know what to expect, you should probably include terms and tropes in your title that apply to both genres, coupled with the powerful imagery of your book cover.

If you're still stuck, then this is where genre-specific title generators can come in quite handy.

6. Put a Hook in the Title

A good hook can get people to say, “I need this,” or, “What the heck? I better check this out!”

If done right, a hook in the title can stop the right readers dead in their tracks.

Turning genre tropes on their head tends to work.

You can also take a cliche title structure and turn it on its head, such as “The Art of [TOPIC].” This could sound cliche, but you could make it hook and surprise a reader with a twist: “The Art of Making Bad Art.” (I just made that up, but now I want to read it because it’s such a good hook.)

Hopefully, you wrote your book with an initial hook in mind — or at least a one-sentence synopsis to draw in readers. You should already have a hook for your story, so consider using it in your title.

5 examples of putting a hook in the title:

  1. I Still Miss My Man, But My Aim is Getting Better
  2. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters
  3. Death of a Salesman
  4. In Search of Lost Time
  5. A Season in Hell

7. Use Relevant Keywords

This one's my favorite. By doing your Kindle keyword research, you can find what terms people are searching for. Once you know this, you'll be able to use relevant keywords to boost your discoverability and marketability.

Example: Someone writing a resume might call it a “CV” or a “curriculum vitae,” especially outside the United States. Research may also reveal that people writing resumes are writing a cover letter as well.

A non-fiction author notices this and includes relevant keywords, increasing discoverability and sales. They could insert “resume” in the title and “CV” and “cover letter” in the subtitle.

Now that you have a short list of keywords people are actively searching for, use them in your title and subtitle to make sure your book ranks for those searches. That way, your book has a better chance of being discovered and bought.

If searching for Amazon keywords seems rough or time-consuming, you're going to love Publisher Rocket.

With Publisher Rocket, you can achieve the following:

  • Know how many people are searching for a phrase on Amazon
  • Gauge the competition for your book on that topic
  • Determine how much money others are making
  • See how much money a specific keyword makes on average
  • Ensure your book beats the competition and ranks at the top for that keyword

8. Speak in Benefits

Especially for non-fiction, it is often more compelling to speak in benefits the reader will receive rather than the problems you are solving.

In marketing speak, this is the argument of features vs. benefits. The features are what many companies (or authors) tend to focus on, but consumers tend to buy the product (book) they feel can offer the benefits they need.

As Krista Walsh of Honest eCommerce puts it: “Features tell customers what, and benefits tell customers why.”

Imagine you’re suffering from migraines. Which book would you prefer? Pain-Free Mind or 4 Ways to Treat Migraines?

“Pain-Free Mind” makes you think of better days and more pleasant scenarios. “4 Ways to Treat Migraines” sounds like a dull pamphlet from your doctor’s office. Plus, using the word “migraine” may subconsciously remind the reader of their pain, which may sour them to your book.

In this example, Pain-Free Mind is likely the preferred title for most authors.

(Don't worry about it being too ambiguous; that's where the subtitle comes in. Pain-Free Mind: How to Completely Eradicate Painful Debilitating Migraines and Headaches.)

3 more examples of non-fiction book titles that speak in benefits:

  1. How to Win Friends and Influence People — instead of “how to be a leader” or “why you don’t have friends”
  2. Winning: The Ultimate Business How-To Book — instead of “how to be good a business person” or “why you aren’t winning”
  3. How to Be a Real-Estate Millionaire — instead of “how to sell more real estate” or “you’re not as smart as I am”

9. Consult Book Title Generators

Book Title Generators use algorithms, Google, and Amazon information to create random titles that can inspire the perfect title. Did I mention that basically all of them are free?

For a list of the best book title generators, check out my article on the Best Book Title Generators. In that article, I list the different book title generators and break them into categories and genres.

WARNING: When you consult book title generators, remember these are often generic story titles that reference random genre tropes. Some allow you to insert your own info, but most generators simply spit out general, randomized titles that are mainly meant to inspire you. Don’t take their suggestions as prescriptions.

10. Add Emotional Trigger Words

There are fundamental words that hold more weight in readers’ minds. We call these power words or emotional trigger words.

A few word changes can instantly evoke emotion in your potential buyer. These power words may elicit urgency, mysticism, intrigue, etc. They are proven marketing words that increase engagement and drive better conversions.

Switch out the weaker words in your title with the right emotional trigger words to drive a better mood or feeling.

Imagine telling someone that a book is good. Now imagine how much more weight your description would have if you said mind-blowing.

Here are a few other examples:

  • Big versus ginormous, monumental, or gigantic
  • Neat versus exciting, exhilarating, or jaw-dropping
  • Scary versus monstrous, repulsive, or unnatural
  • Get versus obtain, steal, earn, or pilfer
  • Beat versus slaughter, destroyed, or obliterated
  • Small versus tiny, miniscule, or bite-sized
  • Hit versus slam, strike, or pound
  • Soft versus tender, hushed, or muffled

In writing your book, not just writing the title for it, watch out for common modifiers that try to strengthen “weak” words. Very strong is a weaker way of saying powerful. These modifiers, like the word “very,” help spot your weakest words and rewrite them.

Bonus download: Check out my personal list of 400+ Power Words to help improve your book titles and give you superb ideas.
Download Now

Bonus download: Check out my personal list of 400+ Power Words to help improve your book titles and give you superb ideas.

11. Check Discoverability (Including International)

Check your book title’s availability and discoverability by doing a simple Google and Amazon search for your potential title. If there are no matches, you’re golden.

However, if your title is exactly the same or very similar to another book’s (or movie or board game), you may want to go back to the drawing board.

In the US, there are no copyright laws on titles. For this reason, you will see a lot of books and movies with the same title, like these.

(Check out Kindlepreneur’s article on How to Copyright a Book in the US — Written by a Lawyer to cover yourself legally.)

Don’t compete with a more-popular book of the same title. Some scheming people might think this would be a great strategy to trick readers. But if someone downloads your book by mistake, be prepared to earn a scathing review.

Self-publishing authors should also check discoverability and marketability internationally.

When J.K. Rowling published Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the UK, her marketing team realized that the US market wouldn’t be as receptive to the name. To Americans, the word “philosopher” didn’t have the same connotation as in the UK and was perceived as boring.

They changed the name for the US market to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

As it turns out, many movies, TV shows, and novels change their titles internationally. Check out some examples here.

You should also check for your book’s domain name availability.

I don’t recommend creating a website just for a book. If you are going to make a website, it should be for you as an author, and you can showcase all your books there. This is author branding versus book branding. Some disagree with me on this.

If you intend to create a website just for your book, make sure you can get your book title’s domain name. This will really help the discoverability and marketing of the book.

Alternatively, you might buy your book’s domain name and turn it into a redirect to your author website.

12. Test Your Title For Success

You should be brainstorming multiple title ideas. All authors need to test their new book titles among their target market to set themselves up for success. This includes side-by-side testing, Facebook groups, SurveyMonkey, and more.

Just ask Tim Ferriss.

In 2007, Ferriss finished a fantastic book, and he thought he had the perfect title: Broad Bands and White Sands. Thankfully, he didn’t just go with his first impression. He tested his possible titles and found his third option, The 4-Hour Workweek, resonated most with his target reader.

If Ferriss had gone with his personal favorite, he would have missed the success that he soon found. He spent maybe $200 on testing, but it likely earned him a 1,000x return on investment.

Ask the experts. Instead of asking family, friends, and coworkers who may not fall in your target audience (and who may just want to make you happy), show your working title to individuals with experience in all sides of book publishing, including:

I say librarians and book store clerks because they see what people are reading and buying. They can tell you if your title (and cover) sounds (and looks) like something their customers would pick up.

Use PickFu to test your title for success. PickFu is a robust service that allows you to submit your different titles (or covers) to anonymous people who vote on which they prefer. It’s super easy to use and quick to set up. And it’s affordable when you use Kindlepreneur’s link to buy.

Steve Scott of Authority.pub credits PickFu for helping him choose the right book cover and ultimately helping his 10 Minute Declutter book become as successful as it is.

Use Facebook groups to test your title for success. Social media is a free and easy way to test your book title among potential readers.

Find a book group on Facebook and create a poll post. In the poll, list your potential titles and ask group members to vote on which they prefer. This is not a perfect system, but it’s free.

WARNING: One mistake many authors make with this is that they use just any old Facebook group. However, you need to ensure the group you use relates to your niche and contains potential buyers or professionals in your target market.

13. Add a Subtitle

Regarding non-fiction, you absolutely should use a subtitle to help your book's sales conversions and discoverability.

For fiction, you may or may not use a subtitle. Your book cover and title should effectively tell potential readers exactly your book’s genre and target audience, without the need for a subtitle.

Some fiction authors put “a novel” or “a young adult novel” as a small subtitle to clarify any potential confusion.

Of course, book series often use the series title as the main title and the individual book title as the subtitle.

Ask yourself, if you gave your fiction book cover to a total stranger and asked them what genre it was, would they get it right? If yes, then you're good — no subtitle needed. If no, you might want to use your subtitle to clarify the matter.

To understand how to effectively create a book subtitle, be sure to check out my full article here.

Chapter 5

Good Book Titles: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Real life examples and why they're good, bad or just plain ugly.

Check out my video on the best book titles. Plus, at the end, we have a little fun covering some of the more horrendous, terrible, and absolutely ridiculous book titles out there.

Want more videos like this? Then SUBSCRIBE to my YouTube channel.

There are a lot of great resources out there that can help you with this process. During my years of research on the topic, here are some that I would recommend you check out so as to build a stronger title selection.

Podcast Episode – When and How to Title a Book

When and How to Title a Book                                          

What’s your title going to be?

Let me know if you composed the perfect title using this step-by-step guide.

After all, it’s how I title my books. It’s how The New York Times bestselling authors title their books. It’s how self-published authors should title their books.

Fun example: Although this book cover typography could use some work, I consider this book title a success because it catches my attention and makes sure that when I double-take, I see that it is actually about quilting:

Bad-Book-Title-example

Hey, you go, girl!

As you can see, crafting a perfect book title is not an exact science. Follow my 13 steps, and you’ll come up with an interesting, relevant, marketable title. It needs to convey the point of the book, not alienate the genre, be discoverable, and convert customers into buyers.



Sell more books on Amazon

rankings-ebook-mockup
Free Download

Amazon Kindle Rankings E-Book

Learn how to rank your Kindle book #1 on Amazon with our collection of time-tested tips and tricks.

32 thoughts on “How to Title a Book: 13 Steps to Choosing a Title That Sells

Comments
  1. Vicki

    Excellent post Dave. And so rich with additional links out to other articles
    thanks Vicki

  2. Jasonera

    Cool post Dave.

    Many people miss the 1900s book title experiment and believe that ebook titles are a “new thing” or just something that you throw together that makes it sound nice.
    Another way to test a title is to ssend people through Adwords and see which title they click on. it can be expensive in the long run, but a couple of hundred dollars can make a world of difference (search for Google $100 coupon for free Adwords cash). It will also gain a really good understanding of what exact searchers are looking for.
    Kind regards
    Jasonera

    1. Dave Chesson

      Very true. That’s how The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss got his title. It was going to be something like White Sands and Broad Bands until Ads told him otherwise.

Comments are closed.