Get Attention with the Right Title

 When an agent or her assistant tackles the email slush pile, she sees one subject line after another written by authors vying for attention. Some lines describe the book category, while others make a claim about the author himself. But most include the book’s title. I tell authors not to get attached to titles because all too often, they are changed somewhere between the time the editor takes the proposal to Committee and when the book goes to press. However, putting thought into the title at the proposal stage will help orient us to the book and a really catchy title might excite us enough to open your email proposal right away. Who wants to read a boring book?

Consider these fiction titles:

Rodeo Sweetheart by Besty St. Amant

The Guy I’m Not Dating by Trish Perry

Sketchy Behavior by Erynn Mangum

These titles made me smile and want to learn more.

Non-fiction books work a little differently. Often title is simply descriptive and helps the reader learn right away the benefit the book offers. Some start with a catchy phrase, then use a subtitle to explain the book:

Real: Owning Your Christian Faith by Daniel Darling.

Beyond Me: Living a You-First Life in a Me-First World by Kathi Macias.

Attitude-inize: 10 Secrets to a Positive You by Jan Coates

Notice that the first phrase is a quick reference point for the book’s title, but on its own, doesn’t tell us much about the book. However, the subtitle elaborates on the felt need the book serves.

Another word of advice I give my authors: To avoid confusion, do a search  to see if your title has been used recently. Use the Amazon.com database for a comprehensive history. Then use ChristianBook.com to see what is currently available in the Christian market. In the past, a title used over five years ago was fine to revisit using the same the title (Within reason, of course. Please don’t use something like Harry Potter Got Left Behind).  However, with ebooks never going “out of print,” I have changed my advice. For example, Amazon Publishing recently purchased Avalon Books’s 3000-strong backlist,  meaning many titles will be re-released in ebook form. I’d encourage every author to be as creative and original as possible. Using the heroine’s name in the title often helps for romance, and the hero’s name might save the day for adventure novels.

Having trouble? Ask your critique partners. Poke around the Internet for ideas. Most of all, have fun!

For further help, read Karen Ball’s great three part series on “Finding the Perfect Title.” Part one. Part two. Part three.

Your Turn:

What is your favorite book title? This may or may not be the title of your favorite book.

I can never remember the title, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, by Paul Zindel although I must be alone since this is a famous book and movie. What titles do you have trouble remembering? (Search key words on Amazon to remember!)

Here is a fun list: 276 Best Book Titles. Which titles grab your attention?

12 Responses to Get Attention with the Right Title

  1. Kara I August 9, 2012 at 3:36 am #

    I stood at my bookcase pondering this for awhile but I think my favorite titles have to be Jennifer Spinola Roger’s series – Southern Fried Sushi, Like Sweet Potato Pie and Til Grits Do Us Part. I love that they are quirky and carry the same theme through the series :)

    I think my favorite standalone title has to be Rachel Hauck’s Love Starts With Elle – whoever came up with that deserves an award it is just so clever and straight away you get what kind of book it’s going to be.

  2. Jeanne August 9, 2012 at 3:57 am #

    I always knew a title was important but now I see more why it is. :) I especially appreciate the suggestion to check out Amazon’s database beforehand. I’ve gone on there a couple of times to find a specific book by title, and Amazon has pulled up a number of different books with the same title.

    Hmmm, my favorite titles. Two that I like are The Shadow of Your Smile, by Susan May Warren, and Dining With Joy, by Rachel Hauck. As for titles I have trouble remembering–I’ve forgotten them. :)

  3. Laurie Alice Eakes August 9, 2012 at 5:39 am #

    I tend toremember authors more than titles. And, if this isn’t too shameless of me, one of my favorite titles of a book is one of mine. I feel I can say this because it wasn’t my idea.

    My ideas rarely fly, alas. Revell has changed very one of mine. I didn’t mind, as I know this is not my forte, especially when they came up with A NecessaryDeception.

    To me, coming up with good titles is a gift and not one I possess.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 9, 2012 at 6:29 am #

      Laurie Alice, you have just illustrated why I tell authors like you not to stress. The CBA houses I work with have great editorial and sales teams who put a huge effort into titling. At the proposal stage in particular, fabulous writing can overcome a so-so title.

  4. Amy Leigh Simpson August 9, 2012 at 5:52 am #

    Great post! I do tend to be that type that gets too attached to my titles. :) I love the titles for Lynette Eason’s new series- When the Smoke Clears and When a Heart Stops.

  5. sally apokedak August 9, 2012 at 6:27 am #

    I think BEYOND ME: LIVING A YOU-FIRST LIFE IN A ME-FIRST WORLD is a great title.

    I also loved the title HAVING A MARY HEART IN A MARTHA WORLD.

    A fiction title that grabbed me was a middle grade book, THE BARK OF THE BOG OWL. It sounds kind of lonely and mysterious. Anther MG title I like is THE RISE OF THE WYRM LORD. Creepy.

  6. Kathi Macias August 9, 2012 at 6:39 am #

    Thanks for this great post, Tamela. I must confess that BEYOND ME: Living a You-First Life in a Me-First World wasn’t my original title for the book. Thanks to New Hope Publishers for coming up with it! I love it.

  7. Heather Day Gilbert August 9, 2012 at 10:14 am #

    Hmmm…Honestly, one of my favorite titles (and books) is Smilla’s Sense of Snow. I know alliteration can be perceived as gauche in writing these days, but somehow it works for Smilla.

  8. Rhonda Gibson August 9, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    I like titles too. But, I”m not “married” to mine because I know that my publisher or agent will come up with something even better for the book.

    My favorite title is Fletcher Hatches An Egg. It’s a kids book. Lady Outlaw is my newest title I like. It just sets my creative juices to flowing :)

  9. Jackie Layton August 9, 2012 at 7:45 pm #

    I’ve been trying to think of a catchy title for the story I want to pitch at conference. I came up with a list and even ran it by my sons and husband.
    I appreciate the reality check that it probably won’t be my last title, but I don’t want it to be boring either.

    Thanks for this post!

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  1. Industry News-August 12 » RWA-WF - August 12, 2012

    [...] Agent Tamela Hancock Murray offers tips for book titles that sell. [...]

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