Title as Billboard

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: May 09 2007

Yesterday I pointed out that you shouldn’t get too stressed about your title. Ultimately, it’s the content that should speak for itself.

However, if you happen to be a PR-savvy kind of gal/guy, a great title can indeed help you sell a book—most notably in nonfiction. Let’s use the inevitable example: The Secret. Face it, if this book was titled The Power of Positive Thinking, it would not have generated the same kind of press. It took a few years to really catch fire, but once it did everybody was whispering, “Have you heard about The Secret?” That title—okay, and Oprah—was the best marketing tool an author could have.

Publishers Weekly recently ran a column by Robert Miller (president of Hyperion) called “Perfect Book Titles.” Some of his examples for the best of the best were Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, Women Who Love Too Much, 1000 Places to See Before You Die, and the grand prize went to When Bad Things Happen to Good People. They’re all catchy, easy to remember, and give you a sense of the book without spelling everything out for you.

The key to a great title is to think of it as an advertisement. It doesn’t have to tell me everything, it just has to catch my interest.

What are some of your all-time favorite book titles?


16 responses to “Title as Billboard”

  1. Avatar Joe Moore says:

    Even if I had never heard of Thomas Harris or already become a fan, I would have been drawn to the title THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. I’ve always considered it to be one of the most intriguing ever.


  2. Avatar Katie says:

    “Gone With the Wind” is evocative and powerful all at once.

    “Bird By Bird” is quite good.

    When I was younger, I hated “Ramona Quimby, Age 8”, because I thought that’s how old you had to be to read the book, and I felt discriminated against.

  3. Avatar Lara says:

    Great question! I love THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, too! I also love LITTLE WOMEN, WIFEY, ORDINARY PEOPLE, and EAST OF EDEN. They all bring peak the curiousity and do a great job of capturing the heart of the story.

  4. Hmmm..mine are all terribly melancholy.

    1. John Connolly’s Every Dead Thing (which I might not have picked if I hadn’t known its origin in John Donne’s poem “A Nocturnall upon St. Lucie’s Day”, but which, having read both, now seems to be the only possible title for the book)

    2. Again from Connolly, The Book of Lost Things.

    3. John D. MacDonald’s The Lonely Silver Rain

  5. Avatar Cory America says:

    THE HUMAN STAIN by Phillip Roth. I’m young and had never heard of him (I know, I know), but I thought that title was awesome.

    RUNNING WITH SCISSORS by Augusten Burroughs. The title and the book cover (boy with a box on his head) sold me on that.

    LEFT BEHIND. Hate the books, but perfect title.

  6. Avatar Wendy Warren says:

    I write series romance and am forever bemoaning my titles. (I can’t deny, though, that the editors/marketing PTB know what they’re talking about. “Baby” in a title still sells…go figure!)

    I think it’s a challenge to name a romance well. Glutted market=too many similar titles. But, I love my friend Stephanie Rowe’s paranormal titles: DATE ME, BABY, ONE MORE TIME; MUST LOVE DRAGONS; and, HE LOVES ME, HE LOVES ME HOT. Stephanie’s books are doing reeeeaaaallly well.

    I also agree about Harold Kushner’s WHY BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE and would add his WHEN ALL YOU’VE EVER WANTED ISN’T ENOUGH. (And what a terrific book that is!)

    Thanks for the interesting topic, Kim.

  7. Avatar Jennifer McK says:

    I loved “Bet Me” and “Tied Up In Tinsel” by Ngaio Marsh. “Have His Carcass” by Dorothy L. Sayers was also interesting and caught my attention.
    I love “Revenant” by Crystal Jordan. It’s unusual and evocative.

  8. Stephen Dobyns’ THE CHURCH OF DEAD GIRLS. The title and book always blow me away.

    I agree on GONE WITH THE WIND. I also am a Wouk fan and think THE WINDS OF WAR is a great title.

  9. My all-time favorite title is THE LUST LIZARD OF MELANCHOLY COVE. That was my introduction to Christopher Moore. Because how could you turn your back on that title?

  10. Avatar Tori Scott says:

    I love Stephanie Rowe’s titles (and her books!) too, Especially Must Love Dragons.

    I also like Allison Brennan’s titles: Fear No Evil, See No Evil, and Speak No Evil.

    I know better than to fall in love with my own (unpublished) titles, but I have one I really hope I get to keep because it encapsulates the whole story in two words.

  11. Avatar Ciar Cullen says:

    I adore all of Terry Pratchett’s titles. You have to know what you’re likely to encounter between the covers to appreciate them in advance, but once you do…

    Going Postal is the most recent.

    As for classics, I think I’d have to go with “Heart of Darkness”–the original dark title :o)

  12. Avatar jbstanley says:

    TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD – one of the best titles (and books AND movies ever)

  13. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I’m going with Atlas Shrugged. I don’t know if a title ever incorporated more of what the story is about then that one.


  14. Avatar Edie says:

    I’m surprised no one mentioned PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. One of the best titles ever.

  15. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I’ve always liked the little appreciated Cock and Country by Remy Sanchez.

  16. Avatar Michele Lee says:

    Ooo, December I just stuck that in my to read pile. now you have me excited.