Wednesday, July 31, 2013

It's worth spending the time

By Jenny Hilborne
Author of psychological mysteries and thrillers

Title is a big deal, maybe more important than the cover. Just like newspaper headlines, it has to have the power to grab attention. Choosing a good book title is difficult and it takes a lot of time.

As I remain undecided about the title for my upcoming suspense, I wonder how many other authors struggle with choosing their titles. How much attention do readers give to a title? Often when I've read a good book, I'll remember bits about the plot, perhaps not the characters, but I'll always remember the title.

A purchase could be based on a title alone, especially if it's a cool or intriguing one. I'm trying to remember if I've ever bought a book based on the title alone, but I'm sure I've certainly picked one up. I see it happen at book festivals, when a potential reader sees a book on a table that catches their eye and comments on the title. An interesting title gets the book in their hands. A great title offers the promise of a terrific story.

Some authors find it difficult to work on an untitled project - myself included, and we spend far too long analyzing labels instead of writing. When I think of titles for my work, I try to come up with key words in the story. If any jump out at me, they go on the possible list. In two or three words (I prefer short titles), I have to convey what the general story is about. It's not easy.

Putting on music, having a glass of wine, dimming the lights....none of this works for me when choosing a title for my books. Not even staring at the ocean. For my work in progress, I've put it out for a vote - and still can't decide. Maybe I'm overthinking it and if I forget about it for a while, the right title will come to me. That's the plan for now. While I was hunting around the web for ideas on creating a compelling title, I stumbled across a blog post by Michael Hyatt using the acronym PINC, which stands for Promise, Intrigue, Need, Content. Hyatt's post includes some good info. For anyone interested in reading it, I've included the link:

In his blog post, Hyatt states great titles do one or more of PINC: make a promise, create intrigue, identify a need, or state the content. This helps. I've noticed when I buy books, I'm drawn to the intrigue part of PINC, to the titles that raise questions in my mind; what's this book about? I think he's right that a title goes a long way towards making or breaking a book's success and it is worth spending the time to come up with the right one.

Readers: do you ever buy books based on title alone?
Authors: Do you change your title as your story develops? How do you know when you've found the right one?


  1. Finding the right title is a struggle for me too, Jenny. I almost always ask for help.

    For the manuscript I've just begun, I have a working title. It will either be changed as I get deeper into the story, or it will become perfect. More likely the first. ;-)

  2. Glad to know I have company with this particular struggle, Peg. I changed the working titles for several of my books, sometimes more than once. This time, the right title hasn't jumped out at me yet.

  3. This is an important topic, Jenny, and I'm definitely going to check out the link to the article you're recommending. I've picked up books based on the title (and cover design), and rejected others because the title and/or cover didn't appeal to me, so yes, a compelling, intriguing title is critical. Good luck with choosing a great one for your WIP! :)

  4. As a reader, I have to say I very seldom (but not never) buy based on title alone. Usually (but not always), my decision includes my familiarity with the author and/or how I feel about the cover.

    1. A great title might get a from an author you don't know into your hands, though, eh, Marlyn (even if you don't buy it)?

    2. That's supposed to read "book" from an author.....

  5. I actually bought "All That Remains" because I liked the title, but I think that's the only one. After hearing a talk by Barry Eisler about making the book's title sound like the book's genre and general topic, I changed the working title, "Hands of Time" to "Freezer Burn." For the next one, I thought of the title first, then wrote to it ("Hit or Missus"). "The Hot Mess" required a weekend alone and several glasses of good wine, all because I couldn't find a way to title a book "Fire" and make people think of the way the Ohio Players sing it.

    1. Freezer Burn sounds much more like a mystery than Hands of Time. You did a good job with that title, Gayle.

  6. The title is usually the last thing I come up with. I just finished "Jinx's book" in my Blackthorne series, and all I know is the book need to have "Danger" in the title if it's going to conform to the rest of the series.

    Terry's Place


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