The Tone of Your Title Matters

We do judge a book by its cover. We also judge a book by its title. Which is why it’s critical that when choosing a title you find one that’s suited to your book in tone and style.

I remember long ago receiving a submission that was something along the lines of The Little Green Frog Does Fine. Which could be an adorable picture book. Except it was adult fiction. Maybe even a romance. All it takes is a quick glance at the romance bookshelf to know that’s probably not a title that will capture readers.

I see a lot of similar mistakes in nonfiction. There’s a trend now toward the sweary titles–books like How to be a Badass or The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F***k. Naturally, I see (and would like to see) more books with this tone. The straight-forward, no-nonsense talk you have with your friends. And I’m getting them. Great titles with lots of swear words. The problem? None of them are actually sweary books.

The author grabs a title that they feel is trendy and attention-grabbing but fails to do the work to make sure the book matches. You can’t give a book a romance title if it’s actually science fiction. You can’t give a book an acerbic title if it’s actually very sweet.

The title is the reader’s (and agent’s and editor’s) first impression of your book. It is the title (and cover) that gives us the first sneak peek as to what’s inside the book. It’s important that every bit of what you do with your book matches what you want the book to be, and that includes the title.

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4 comments

  1. I admit, I will pick up a book if it’s title engages me. I’ve assumed it’s why publishers (and their marketing departments) will change the title of a book.

    Although I still find it puzzling with the current online market, that book titles are changed between countries. I have had the misfortune of buying what I thought was a new release by an author only to find it was same book, different title to a book I already owned.

    I remember a friend of mine who worked at a library who ordered a large number of books of a title only to discover when it arrived they already had a lot of copies on the shelf under it’s UK/Aussie title. The “new” book was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

  2. Hmmm. My title is Fate, Love, and Hand Grenades. It’s adult contemporary fantasy, and each part of the title is in the book, though it could sound like just a catchy title if they didn’t read the whole book…

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