Book Title Formulas

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jan 31 2012

i read the section on “titles” and you mentioned there is a “formula” for suspense, thrillers and the like. what is the formula?

I don’t think there’s a formula like in algebra, plug in this and you’ll get this, but if you look at a shelf full of thrillers or suspense titles, I think you’ll soon begin to see a pattern of titles like: Bad Blood, The Cold Room, Still Missing, Edge, Skin, Torn Apart….

In other words, simple, chilling, and kind of scary. There’s nothing too descriptive in a thriller or suspense title (typically).

When you choose a title, choose one that represents the tone or voice of your book. In other words, does your title itself convey a mood, or tell a bit of a story to the reader?


8 responses to “Book Title Formulas”

  1. Avatar Sara says:

    How much will agents (though I know you can only speak for you) help the author on a title? Say the author comes up with something, but it isn't that good. Will the agent help brainstorm a better one?

  2. Avatar Julie Daines says:

    Titles can be tricky, especially since the author usually has little say in the final choice. At the same time, a good title can catch the eye of an agent or editor. And for a self-published book, the title is very important.

    Not to toot my own horn, but I did put together some good advice about how to choose a title on my blog a while back. Here's the url, if anyone is interested.

  3. Titles can also be numbers like Janet Evanovich or letters like Sue Grafton.

  4. Avatar j.a. kazimer says:

    I've recently run into an issue with my novel's title. It's titled CURSES! A F***ed Up Fairy Tale, which I love, but I've recently had an interview with a newspaper cancelled because of the 'inappropriateness' of the title. So my question is, am I harming the series by it's being branded as A F***ed Up Fairy Tale? Any ideas of ways to circumvent this issue in the future?

  5. @j.a. kazimer: I think this is the perfect example of finding a title that conveys the right tone to your reader. From your title, I'm assuming your fairy tale is a bit quirky, tries to subvert some tropes, and probably has a bit of humor and language, definitely aimed for adults. If so, then that title sounds perfect–but, given it, may cause more mainstream outlets to be a bit hesitant about it unless it picks up a lot of good word-of-mouth and sales. My guess is you might do better if you could get some publicity through less mainstream avenues and things with a quirky bent. I can't see it being a total failure of a title, though; the same formula helped GO THE F*** TO SLEEP last year. But it did cause controversy, and that helped sales because people were curious.

  6. Avatar Helena says:

    Aack! The title of my thriller is The Compass Master, with no words like blood or missing or secret codes in sight. Most of the time I think my title is cool and relevant to the story, but in moments of insecurity I fret that it sounds more like a video game. Or a fantasy miniseries like Game of Thrones.

  7. @Kristin Laughtin

    That's a great idea. I will look to less mainstream media.

  8. I usually name each chapter in a book so that by the time I am done with forty chapters, I have forty titles from which to choose. I find it a lot easier picking a title this way than sitting down and pondering (which in my case leads to daydreaming),