16 Approaches to Titling Your Book

16 Approaches to Titling Your Book

U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser said that titles “…represent the hand you extend in friendship toward your reader.” He was talking about titles of poems, but his words apply to titling your book as well.

Yes, people buy books because they’re interested in the concept, but just as important is their assessment of the cover. So, titling your book is a huge marketing decision.

A title tells people what to think about your book before they ever open it. Your reader will get an idea of what genre your book belongs to or whether it’s serious or playful. They might get a sense of whether the book is literary or more commercial. Right away, the title will give them a vibe about your book and it will be a vibe that interests them or doesn’t.

If you’ve had the same working title since you started drafting, you need to put some thought into whether it’s the best title before you send it out for possible publication. And although book titles do not generally fall under copyright protection, it’s best to have a unique title so as not to confuse readers.

Ask yourself if there’s a certain tone, mood, or impression you want to capture. Once you have some guiding ideas, then start experimenting with possible content and structures for titling your book. Here are a bunch of approaches to get you started:

1: Rhyme and Alliteration

Billy Bathgate by E.L. Doctorow

Beach Read by Emily Henry

Ill Will by Dan Chaon

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

2­: The Object Title

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

The Pelican Brief by John Grisham

3: The Vivid Image

Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Perfume River by Robert Olen Butler

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

The Bride Wore Black by Cornell Woolrich

4: One-Word Titles

Inland by Téa Obreht

Silence by Shusaku Endo

Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks

Lit by Mary Karr

Snap by Belinda Bauer

5: Long Titles

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton by Jane Smiley

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

6: Who the Novel’s About

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

Dalva by Jim Harrison

The Great Santini by Pat Conroy

7: Who the Novel’s About, Expanded

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré

The Brief Wondrous Live of Oscar Wao by Juno Díaz

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

8: What the Novel’s About

An English Murder by Cyril Hare

Leaving the Land by Douglas Unger

A Death in the Family James Agee

What’s Done in Darkness Laura McHugh

Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea

9: Use a Time Period

July, July by Tim O’Brien

After Dark by Haruki Murakami

Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin

Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian

The Paris Hours by Alex George

10: Go With Setting

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

The Dutch House by Anne Patchett

The Round House by Louis Erdrich

11: Emotion as Titles

Fury by Salman Rushdie

Atonement by Ian McEwan

Euphoria by Lily King

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone

12: Give Us a Theme

The Flicker of Old Dreams by Susan Henderson

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Kindred by Octavia Butler

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

13: The Trendy Title

I’m thinking of those titles that follow a specific pattern, something like—The X (number) A of B, or The A (person) of B (place).

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

14: The Artsy Title

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer

You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

15: Familial Relationships

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

The Invisible Husband of Frick Island by Colleen Oakley

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

16: Borrowed Lines

The Final Solution by Michael Chabon

Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

One Two, Buckle My Shoe by Agatha Christie

A Time to Kill by John Grisham

Titling your book carries the burden of coming up with something unique, specific, memorable, and shareable. If people can’t remember the title of your book or if they confuse it with another book, you’re in trouble.

Even if you think you’ve settled on a title, I’d advise you to come up with some alternates, experimenting with style and content, so that you can make sure you’re titling your book with the best possible option.

Written by Kim Lozano

Kim Lozano is an editor and creative writing coach from St. Louis. Her work has been published in The Iowa Review North American Review DIY MFA CRAFT and many other publications. You can find out more about her classes and the writing resources she offers at

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