As with pretty much everything from Catching Butterflies to Cooking Bread, you’ll find “how to” advice for creating book titles on the web.

  An article that begins with “a good book title can mean the difference between a bestseller and a lifeless shelf-dweller” caught my attention. I mean, why do this ungodly amount of work only to spawn a “lifeless shelf-dweller”!

 So what, according to this commentary, makes a good book title good? IT –

    • IS ON TARGET & UNIQUE: It captures the book’s essence, provokes curiosity,  and    “stakes out new territory in the arms race of book naming. You  get an idea what’s inside and want to know more.

   • CATCHES THE READERS’ ATTENTION: My favorite – “Death in The Time of Cholera”

   • IS EASLY REMEMBERED: As in “Pride and Prejudice”.

   • IS EASILY PRONOUNCED – Jennifer Lopez’s/Ben Affleck’s “Gigli” wasn’t.

    • AVOIDS CONFUSION WITH OTHER BOOKS – “Girl on a Train” and “The Girl on the Train” are two different books. The first “Girl” wasn’t a best-seller, but it did get lots of sales by mistake.


“How To Plant A Garden” is pretty vague, but “Six Steps to the Perfect Garden” is clearer. Another example: How to Win Friends and Influence People” is a lot better than “How To Be A Leader”.


Instead of getting straight to the point, fiction titles should make you curious, provoke thought, and be mysterious. In other words, a potential reader would pick up the book not because they need information but because they are intrigued.  Some Examples:

• Single Words: “Endurance,” “Nevermore”, “Boneshaker”.
• Poetic: “For Whom the Bells Tolls”
• Famous Sayings: “Till Death Do Us Part”, “Double Jeopardy”
• Quotes From Within The Book: “To Kill a Mockingbird”
• Wordplay: “Pride and Prejudice”, “Of Mice and Men”
• Opposing Subjects: “War and Peace”

OK, that’s the basics. Now, how does the author actually come up with a title?

Brainstorm – e.g. ask yourself what the book is really about and answer in three or four words. Use lines of poetry, song lyrics, etc. Ask family and friends for ideas. When desperate, turn to title generators (yes, they exist).

Write all this stuff down, then go back and choose the best ten. Reduce the number to a few based on suggestions above (e.g., is it catchy?)

Maybe test a few titles – e.g., create ads on Facebook and see which get the most clicks.

The draft of book number five in my Maine Oceanographer Mara Tusconi Mystery series is nearly done, and I do have a working title: THE SHARK, THE GIRL & THE SEA. Applying the rules above, I believe the title:

     – Would make a reader curious, provoke thought, plus be mysterious and intriguing.
     – Is true to the book and unique.

Bottom line, I hope this title will prompt potential readers to literally and figuratively pick up book five in the Mara Tusconi Mystery series, thumb through it, and purchase it!

About Charlene DAvanzo

I'm a marine ecology/college professor who never, ever thought I'd write fiction. That assumption changed in an instant as I listened to another scientist - a climatologist named Ray Bradley at UMass, Amherst - describe being harassed by climate change deniers. The idea to write mysteries with climate change understories to help readers understand what's happening to our climate in the context of a fast-paced exciting story came to me out of nowhere. That's what I do in my "Maine Oceanographer Mara Tusconi" series.
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