Crafting a Title That Stands Out and Pulls Readers In

The title, cover, and description are often a potential reader’s first impressions, which can mean the difference between someone picking up your book or moving on. We have mere seconds to catch a potential reader in an over-saturated market, so this article looks at the importance of a title.

What is in a title? A rose by any other name might smell as sweet (thanks, Shakespeare) but a poorly titled book may not be sniffed out by potential readers. (Too much? That pun was too much, wasn’t it?!)

A photo looking up at two evergreen sequoia trees reaching toward an overcast sky, surrounded by other less distinct trees.
A title performs two essential functions: 1) helping readers find the book, and 2) piquing their interest. 

The title helps establish the tone of the book and, in the Information Age, it also helps with search engine optimization: how a book is titled can make it easier or harder for readers to find it.

Helping Readers Find the Book

There’s a book I read last year whose title I can’t remember. It was a good book, and I remember the author, but the title used a fantasy name in it and I can’t spell it from recall. The author didn’t write something as memorable as bestselling as Eragon, simply put. I might be able to find the book, but it will take some hunting. There’s a second book in the series, but as a reader, I know it’s going to take effort on my part to find it. Make your book easy to find.

There are two considerations for helping readers find a book when we choose titles: the human and the machine. For humans, titles that are memorable and easy to spell seem like common sense approaches that don’t need much explanation, so I’ll focus more on the machine aspect of titles. Amazon and Google dominate where people search for books, for everything. Amazon relies on titles, keywords, descriptions, and categories; Google relies on Search Engine Optimization. SEO is constantly evolving as unscrupulous marketers find ways to cheat the system, but the title of a book, or webpage, remains important for results.

If a title is too generic or too similar to others, it will be a tree in a forest.
Photo of a magnifying glass held over a medieval-looking manuscript in black and red calligraphy.

A sequoia is one of the most memorable trees I’ve ever encountered. The beauty of them stretching above me was sublime and awesome, in the Victorian Gothic sense. I love a hike in the forest, and often that’s been filled with shorter trees. Maples, tulip trees, and Virginia pines come to mind for me when I think of trees, though now I’m more likely to encounter Cottonwoods or Aspens. I find most trees lovely, but Sequoias are unforgettable. Wouldn’t you want your book title to stand out among search results like a sequoia?

Piquing the Reader’s Interest

If a title is easy to remember but doesn’t intrigue a reader, then why should they look any further?

Personally, I find the titles that do not pique my interest are a) one word titles like adjectives or character names [Think Carrie, Tangled, Wicked, and Encanto], b) overly vague [Think Kafka on the Shore, Counting Stars, and Kingdom of Ash] or c) use overly specific names [Think Tek Wars, Eragon, and The Silmarillion]. Perhaps they intrigue you; so much of writing is subjective, so your mileage may vary.

Black and white kitten in hay with an excited look on its face.

One of the reasons I pointed out these bestselling titles that don’t pique my interest is because I don’t want to critique book titles that are not as successful if that could be detrimental to them.

Why don’t these titles pique my interest?

One Word Descriptors: they are too simplistic. By itself, these titles don’t pull me in. They don’t say enough about the book. Disney can have vague titles like Tangled, Frozen, Luca, and Encanto because they are relying on their name and their commercials. Emerging authors don’t have this luxury.

Overly Vague

In particular, the reason the title Kingdom of Ash doesn’t pique my interest is because it is so vague and formulaic. There are similar titles names (like Kingdom of Ash and Bone and Children of Blood and Bone) lining YA fantasy bookshelves, so if I had not been an established fan of Throne of Glass, I probably wouldn’t pick up that title.

A search engine will probably suggest results of a too similar title that already has success rather than a book that is brand new, so a name too similar will be lost in a forest of results.

Albert Einstein quote: Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

Kafka on the Shore, for some reason, makes me think of the musical piece Einstein on the Beach by Philip Glass, but this title doesn’t tell me who Kafka is or what the shore is, and if the book had not been hyped by others, I would not pick it up.

Overly Specific

Some authors swing the other way and use overly specific names (jargon or invented words not advised). The Silmarillion—I don’t know what that is, and it’s just not as evocative as There and Back Again or The Fellowship of the Ring. Tek Wars felt like a rip off of Star Wars and Star Trek simultaneously, but it doesn’t have the intrigue of Star Wars: Episode IV, A New Hope.

If your title doesn’t create an image in a reader’s mind, then how do they know the rest of the story will? The title is the first promise an author makes to the reader. 

Your title is one of the first impressions a reader will have. If they’re looking online, the cover may be a barely legible thumbnail, but the title text will be full-size.

I want to make the point that bestselling authors are established enough that their name is incentive for a reader, so the title of the book’s importance is diminished for them. You see evidence of this when professionally published books display the author’s name in a larger font than the title.


What are some titles that you personally admire? (It can be just the title and not the entire book).

2 Comments Add yours

  1. ichimond says:

    I had the same thought on Tek Wars being a rip off. 😂

    One style I really like is from Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. https://www.goodreads.com/series/45545-codex-alera.
    But I must say, I liked the style after I’d read maybe the 2nd or 3rd book? Because that’s when I understood what the titles mean for the main character.

    Like

  2. Those titles sound intriguing, in my opinion. I love Jim Butcher. 😁

    I’m glad you felt the same way about Tek Wars. 😂

    Liked by 1 person

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