The Trouble with Titles

The Trouble with Titles:  A Look at Creation

by Marie Lavender

I wrote an article recently about the varied methods authors use to write their books. That should be published soon on Publishing Addict. In the article, I likened each method to a unique fingerprint. For this article, we’ll go a step further and establish that constructing a title is like a thumbprint. Your thumbprint is unique, separate from anyone else around you.

Everyone knows what a title is. It summarizes your topic, and it draws attention. We’ve seen them on movies, music, books, essays, poems, even blog articles. But, it’s hard to find something that just pops, that is apart from the other zillions of titles in the publishing sphere, right? There are even articles out there, advising us how to making a winning blog title and, more often than not, they encourage you to throw a number in. (i.e. 13 Reasons You Should Get Out of Bed in the Morning). That last one was my poor attempt at humor. LOL. Let’s back on point though, shall we? 

You don’t often seen articles advising you how you should title your book. Why? I imagine that it’s partly because finding a title is so darn difficult, and if the author has managed to achieve it, they don’t use the same method for every book. Or, perhaps the creation of titles is a far too complicated creature to break down into an executable plan. It’s true that dealing with titles is a double-edged sword, a necessary evil yet the process of finding the right one can actually be fun! It may end up being a very satisfying experience for you.

“Have you gone off the deep end again, Marie?”

No. Allow me to explain.

When a new author, or perhaps we should say “aspiring author” if he or she is not published yet, looks at the number of titles on Amazon, it can be incredibly daunting. 

“Oh, man. That’s a really good one. Why can’t I come up with something like that?” 

Well, you can. But, the truth is that some titles get recycled. Not on purpose, of course, but because one person can’t own a word, so to speak. There are many words in the dictionary, and so many get added every day. So, someone is bound to use them. Would you title your book Disestablishmentarianism? Probably not, unless you were writing about that concept. But, even then, a string of words paired along with it is a bit catchier, right? Consider this. Let’s say your book is about female pirates, or at least one of them. 

“Really, Marie?”

What? LOL. I couldn’t come up with anything better, and it’s one of my future story ideas. Yes, they did exist in the past, but I digress. Let’s look at the competition. Here are some pretty cool titles:

Anne Bonny: The Legend of a Female Pirate

Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates

Hen Frigates: Passion and Peril, Nineteenth-Century Women at Sea

Not too shabby, huh? How did they come up with such amazing titles? And that doesn’t even count the fiction books about piracy.

Tread Carefully on the Sea

Scarlet And Gold

Malcolm's Return (The Highland Renegades Book 4)

Across A Moonlit Sea (Pirate Wolf series Book 1)

The Iron Rose (Pirate Wolf series Book 2)

A Pirate's Prisoner

“Hmm. This is getting complicated. With so many choices, how can I possibly compete with that?”

Well, it’s not really about competition. You figure out your title in your own way, and go with it. Most likely, you didn’t write the book as a sales tool or to compete with anyone else, but rather because you actually enjoy writing and your characters (or topic) compelled you to write. At least I hope you did. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t try to create a unique title that will stand out. 

If you’re like most writers, you’re probably at one end of the spectrum or the other by now. If your manuscript is finished, you’ve both brainstormed and found a few possible titles, or you are still wondering what to call this masterpiece you’ve just written. Here’s the rub. You’re the only person who knows your story in and out, upside down, through and through; at any angle you come at it, you know your story the best. Unless the editor at your publisher or your agent makes a title suggestion, you’re on your own. And even if that is the case, they will want you to have established a title firmly on the manuscript whether it’s great or not. In essence, this title-making thing is on you as the author.

“Oh, great! That makes me feel a whole lot better.”

Well, it should. Regardless of how hard it is, once you do find a title, you will feel that much prouder of the work you accomplished. So, take your time and give it a shot.

Do I stress over titles? Of course. Who doesn’t? In fact, with some books, I actually struggle with them. But, that doesn’t mean that the final sense of pride doesn’t come about. I just have to be patient while I’m figuring it all out.

“So, what’s next?”

Good question. Now we have to decide what stage you’re at as a writer. Have you written the book? No? Well, maybe you should know your story and your characters a little better before you try to come up with one. 

Perhaps you’re in the process of writing the manuscript, and we can fully term it, as writers often do, a work-in-progress. Yay for you! You’ve made some headway, and I’m so proud of you for getting this far. If you want to throw a title on your work-in-progress, then by all means brainstorm to your heart’s content. If you’re struggling, however, you can use my fallback technique. Throw a temporary title on it until you can find something better. I do this a lot. Even Second Nature, my newest release, had the temporary title of Love or Blood until I came to my senses. 


Yep. Coming up with a temporary title relaxes you, and frees up your focus for you to exclusively write your book. Who knows? Somewhere in the process of writing your manuscript, you may find the perfect title. If you check out my website here, you can see a list of my works-in-progress. Most have temporary tiles because I am not certain of a title until I’m fully focused on a book. Some titles like my series books are more permanent, but if they aren’t, I’ve clearly indicated that it’s a temporary title. Writing is work, and title creation is no different. But, I can’t tell you how much easier it is to slap a temporary one on, however silly, in order to free up space in your mind to focus on the book. Remember that temporary titles can still be applied before you even tackle writing your book. Just for fun, here is a little tool that tells you how successful a title would be. Now, if I relied on this tool, I would never publish or sell a book, but it is kind of amusing to see what they come up with. 

Let’s say your book is finished, but you’re still struggling with that elusive title. Are you writing a standalone book or is it part of a series? Nine times out of ten, that will have a significant impact on a title. For example, when I came up with Upon Your Return for a title, I wasn’t aware at the time that there would be sequels. A year later when I knew for sure, it took me awhile to come up with titles that not only honored the books’ themes, but also tied back to the first book in some manner. Hence Upon Your Honor and Upon Your Love, which I am writing now. Not every series book, of course, must have a related title. Even J.R. Ward, one of my favorite paranormal romance authors, has begun to stray away from her original titles in the Black Dagger Brotherhood Series. Consider the following titles:
The Shadows (coming soon)

Do you see how the final two are completely different? The book tells the author which road to follow. Even the sequel to my book Second Nature is different, titled Blood Instincts, but it fits the storyline well. The final book in the Blood at First Sight Series will be called The Bloodseer Legacy

“But, how did you know, Marie? Especially if you’re not done writing those books?”

The titles just came to me one day, and everything began to make sense. I’ll get into ways you can jumpstart title creativity in a bit. Now, if you’re writing a standalone novel, the sky is truly the limit. You can use a temporary title, and then figure out a better one later. I can’t stress enough that the better you know your book, the easer a title will come. If you understand the plot, the characters and any inner themes, you’re more likely to create a very good title.

“But, how do I get there?”

All right, you’re trying to pin me down to one method. The truth is that every writer’s journey is different, and he or she may use separate techniques for every book that is written. Having said that, every writer will, at some point, have a “Eureka!” moment. The lightbulb will pop over their heads and they’ll know they have the right title. If you are lucky, this “Eureka!” moment will happen many times during the writing of a manuscript, and it’s a particularly satisfying experience to know that the plot is falling into place, the characters are well-developed, your setting is sound, and the ending provides a good resolution. But, I digress. How do you find your “Eureka!” moment with a title?

1.     Rely on instinct. Always, always trust your instincts as a writer. If your inner calling is saying, “Nah, that’s not it,” then maybe it’s right. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use that option for a temporary title. I encourage you to trust your instincts with your book and titles. 

      I have an author pal who was encouraged to change her perfect title in order to get published. In the end, however, she followed her heart, found a different publisher and that title has given her great success. You can check out her book, The Scale, here. The moral of this story? Trust your instincts, capiche? LOL.

2.     Brainstorm. Word association can truly work wonders, but I hope you know your story well enough to do this kind of session as well. Here are some tips on brainstorming for writers.

3.     The plot or topic. Knowing your basic plot can help you create a title at any stage of writing. The more you know about your book, the better. But, if Character A seeks revenge upon Character B, and does, in fact, achieve it, then maybe something in that storyline can give you your title. What elements stand out to you? Revenge, vengeance, vendetta…well, there are all kind of words for what the character aims to accomplish. Make a list of major plot elements. Merge them into a whole if you must, or scramble the words around until they appear senseless. Then pick some random words out of the bunch. Maybe that can lead you to the right title.

4.     Pay special attention to themes. As you work on your book, themes will start to arise. Perhaps a theme came from the plot, or even from a character’s determination for something. Maybe it came from a strong personality trait. But often a book will carry themes. Make a list of these themes or concepts, and decide if playing off of one of them will lead you to your title.

5.     Be ready for anything. Keep yourself open to random acts of brilliance.

“What, Marie? I think your arrogance is showing.”

LOL. Not really. If you’ve struggled long and hard for a good title, having that “Eureka!” moment can be powerful. 

Keep your mind open and allow the creativity to flow through you. This may drive you straight to your perfect title, and who doesn’t like closure?

6.     Don’t be afraid to ask. Ask your potential readers, even your family and friends what they think of the title, and if they saw it on a book, would that make them pick it up? 

      Don’t base your entire decision on this, but it’s not a bad idea to take that into account.

7.     Nothing is permanent. This can really help you in the long run. Even though you might think you have a good title, there’s still room to create something better. Now, I’m not saying you should change it, just that you should be open in case fate and the “Eureka!” moment happen again. It may be even better than you thought. You have plenty of time to come up with a great title.

Now, I imagine that some of you may say, “This article is great and all, but you still haven’t helped me create a title.” Well, I can’t create the title for you. I can only push you in the right direction. Every author is different, using entirely separate methods. Some use music for inspiration; some brainstorm in the shower. I have done both. If that makes me weird, oh well. Authors are strange creatures. 

The number one thing I want to stress is patience. 

Don’t let the need to create a title keep you from writing your book. And even if you’ve left the title-making until the last possible moment, don’t fret. It will come to you, even if it happens after rounds and rounds of brainstorming. Or, maybe it will come to you during the editing process, after you’ve done a final read through of the book. That “Eureka!” moment will possess you, and the wait will seem worth it. Keep your mind open, know your story, and that title will come to you, I promise. 

Barring that, here are some other links that might help with the title creation process:

In any case, I do hope I have steered you in the right direction at the least. Your thumbprint, or title, should be as unique as you. As always, happy reading…and writing! :)


  1. These are all good points. I rely a lot on instinct, but when my instincts are not working, I do a lot of brainstorming. Sometimes it helps to go back and read your book and let something jump out at you. I've done that.

    1. You are right about that, Carole. Familiarizing yourself with everything really helps!

  2. I enjoyed reading your article. I live for those Eureka moments.

  3. I like your advice "Don't fret over your title". For my third Matt Proctor cop series novel my interim title is MP 3. Now I can get on and write the book.

    1. Exactly, Tom. Worrying over it can just halt progress, and give us an excuse to procrastinate.

  4. I always fret over my titles, but eventually my subconscious comes up with something suitable. It's nice to know that we all agonize a bit on how to encapsulate the theme of our book in a few well-chosen words!


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