Titles – How Important Are They and How Do You Come Up With Them?

Many authors who write book series, James Patterson, Janet Evanovich and Sue Grafton, to name a few, have written books that have common words in them. Patterson uses the word ‘Cross’, as in his character, Alex Cross, in such books as Cross My Heart, Cross Country, etc. Interestingly enough, however, he started out titling his Alex Cross books with nursery rhyme references like Along Came a Spider and Jack and Jill. 

Janet Evanovich uses numbers for her Stephanie Plum novels. She started with One for the Money and is about to release Hardcore Twenty Four. Sue Grafton used the more limiting letter scheme for her titles. Starting with A is for Alibi, she is now about to release Y is for Yesterday. Having titles like these for a series is a great marketing idea and, in the case of Evanovich and Grafton, it gives you an idea of the order of the series. Patterson didn’t use the strategy of indicating the sequence, he just weaves the word ‘Cross’ into his titles to make them catchy. I liked Patterson’s approach and decided to try this with my first novel assuming that there would be a series. Right out of the gate, I was afraid I painted myself into a corner.

My first book, Frankly Speakingwas titled based on the main character, Detective Frank Rozzani. For the second title, I actually used social media and, giving my followers a synopsis of the book, I ran a contest for the title and the winner had their name used as a character in the book. The winner came up with the title, Let Me Be FrankThis title actually fit the story quite well.

Sometime after this book was released, I attended an author event and sat on a panel. I said something about the title issue and, after the panel, a man approached me with a list of about 30 Frank-related titles that he came up with. I still have that list somewhere, although, I haven’t used any of them yet.

The next title, Frank Incensed, is a pun-based title on frankincence, one of the gifts from the three wise men. The book has more to do with Frank being incensed at what is done to him in the book.

Frankly, My Dearthe fourth book in the series, is a story about a woman that prides herself on destroying men that don’t give her what they want. The title comes from the famous Gone with the Wind quote.

The most recent book, Frank Immersed, was originally going to be titled Frank in a Box, but my co-writer and I decided it wasn’t a great title, so we changed it.

I’ve got some other ‘Frank’ titles lined up, but I’m not married to this strategy as it can be a limiting strategy.

So, How do you select your titles?

Here are some tips when working on selecting them:

  • Just write – your title will come to you eventually, don’t spend an inordinate amount of time agonizing over what to call your book or story. You can do that later, but, like me, the inspiration may come when you least expect it.
  • Be creative – Your title can be intriguing, tell the reader a bit about the kind of story it is and can draw them in.
  • Duplicate of other titles – Don’t worry so much about this. If your book is a different genre or fiction vs. non-fiction from a book with the same title, that’s okay.

65 thoughts on “Titles – How Important Are They and How Do You Come Up With Them?

  1. My title started of as the crystal cottage and ended up as The Curse of Time. With each book in the series a crystal will be in the title so book 1 is The Curse of Time #1 Bloodstone. Book 2 The Curse of Time #2 Golden Healer and no title for book three yet!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Titles are always a tough one. Kind of nerve-wracking too since it’s one of the first things people see. Probably right behind the cover in terms of importance. For some reason, I need to come up with at least a temporary one first. Guess it’s to mentally organize and help explain it to friends. With ‘Legends of Windemere’, I just came up with flowing titles that connected to something within the story. I remember a lot of fantasy books being like that or have something blunt such as ‘The Dawn Treader’ or ‘The Compass Key’. My other series are all taking different themes so far. I have 2-word titles where the second one is always Bedlam for my dystopian action adventure and my upcoming vampire stuff is all 1-word titles that depict a main theme of the story such as ‘Loyalty’ and ‘Eradication’.

    If there is a theme or method that helps books more than others then I haven’t found it. Might not ever do it because I get a bit too whimsical for my own good with titles.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t think there’s a foolproof formula. My fear is not so much attracting readers, but turning them off with a title. When I wrote Blood Orange, the opening scene is a basketball game. I thought about a basketball themed cover, but it’s actually such a small part of the book, which is a terrorism thriller, that I opted for a more ominous cover. It was well-received. The title, along with a basketball themed cover, would have, I believe, limited my audience.

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  3. Fabulous post, thank you! I love the line ‘the inspiration may come when you least expect it’. That’s exactly what happened with my second book (which became a trilogy). I was writing late into the night and during a pivotal scene where the protagonist and her love interest are alone for the first time (sitting on a park bench), a thunderstorm, fork lightning and all, kicked off outside my window. Fearing lightning for as long as I can remember, I transferred that to my protagonist and allowed her love interest to rescue her and become a real hero. From that moment, an unnamed love story about a girl on an internship became ‘Lightning Attraction’. I really didn’t expect my deepest fear to cause that!!

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  4. Titles are so important. There’s one of my novels that is always picked up first at book fairs and fantasy conventions – and it is always because of the title. It needs to be snappy and memorable, wherever possible. I do like your use of ‘Frank’ in yours – it helps to make them memorable, another desireable trait!

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  5. Pingback: Titles – How Important Are They and How Do You Come Up With Them? | Campbells World

  6. This informative post gave me an insight which had been eluding me.
    I was stuck for a title which meant something in relation to the fantasy novel narrative. During one grumbling session about title and quality the word ‘patchwork’ popped into my head, in a dismissive way. But Happy Day! ‘Patchwork’ stuck since the main story related to folk at the ‘ragged’ end of society struggling with a burden dumped on them, ‘Patchwork’ became ‘The Patchwork Warriors’ which in turn enabled me to forge stronger depth to the three central characters and the narrative and eventually gave me a cool(ish) idea for my own cover.
    So from this post I can conclude a Title can be a drive (during the umpteen re-writes).

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this on Stories from the Heart and commented:
    This is so true for me.

    ‘…the inspiration may come when you least expect it.’

    It did! As you’ll see from my ‘About me’ page, Lightning Attraction came as the result of writing during a storm. I turned my greatest fear into a positive, reshaped the story and gave it the perfect name.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Curated Writing Content | Story Empire

  9. You have great titles, Don. I look forward to reading more of them. My titles come to me before I begin to write. Then I write around the title. I only had to change a title once after I completed a book. If I don’t have a title I can’t begin to write. Funny, huh?! Best of luck with all your Frank titles! 🤗

    Liked by 1 person

  10. So far the titles of my books have tended to come to me ‘out of the blue’. However, my publisher suggested a title (or rather, titles as it’s a series) for my latest releases.
    I have, under a pseudonym, written in a different genre tht I’ve self-published, and the one I’m getting close to finishing I’m totally stuck with for a meaningful title.
    I think titles are important. If the title isn’t inspiring, then, after being attracted by a wonderful cover, the potential reader will put the book back down before even looking at the blurn. I know, I’ve done this myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I was originally going to title my novel Heart’s Delight because it takes place in the Santa Clara Valley which used to be known as The Valley of Heart’s Delight, back when it was teeming with farms and orchards. I changed it to Redwood Summer because it takes place in 1990, which is long after the decline of agriculture and the ascension of Silicon Valley. Redwood Summer was a series of proposed events that year designed to save old growth redwood forests. This isn’t a plot point in my novel, but it’s an analogous situation.
    And Redwood Summer is a better sounding title. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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