Monday, June 4, 2012

The Secret to Naming your Book

Guest Blog by Karen Lenfestey,
Author of A Sister’s Promise and
What Happiness Looks Like.

“What’s the title of your novel?” the writing instructor asked. Proud of mine, I volunteered, “Small Town Colors.” I thought it was brilliant because my story included diverse cultures in a small, Midwestern town. On the cover I pictured trees in the midst of their autumnal color change. So clever, I thought. The instructor emitted some sort of disapproving, unimpressed grunt. Then called on her next victim. 

I went home and asked myself, “What is my book really about?” I made a list of words that described my novel: marriage, sisters, motherhood, childlessness, guilt, jealousy, promises, lupus, and secrets. As it turned out, diverse cultures had little to do with the story I’d actually written.

Who is my audience? Women who read for fun, women who are considering motherhood or are mothers, women who want to read about relationships and marriage.

What words speak to that audience? Along with the artwork on the cover, titles signal to the reader if a book is in their preferred genre. The word “sister” immediately designates my book as geared toward women. So many of us either have sisters or wish we had sisters. Ultimately, my story is about a sister’s promise and a wife’s promise. My protagonist, Kate, must break one. I decided on the title A Sister’s Promise.

I have to admit, people have mixed reactions to the title of my second novel, What Happiness Looks Like. It’s about how our lives don’t always turn out the way we envisioned. I heard a woman in a movie accused of being miserable say, “This is what happiness looks like.” I immediately thought it sounded like the title of a novel.

How many other books have that same title? Often when I think I’ve created the ultimate book title, I discover it’s not so original after all. For example, I thought “Forgotten Dreams” would be a great title. Well, so did a lot of other writers. Go to and do a search for your book title. If several books already have that title, I suggest you alter it. You want your title to come up first when someone searches for it.

Is my title too long and complicated? When I tell friends and fans about my book, I don’t want them to say “Spell that for me” like they do when I tell them my last name is Lenfestey. I want my title to be memorable but simple. I pulled up the titles of the New York Times bestselling hard covers for one week in February 2012. Most of them are fairly short and sweet. Maybe we can learn something from them:  Home Front, Private #1 Suspect, Taken, Defending Jacob, and Death comes to Pemberly. Now look at the books on your shelf or on your e-reader. Study the titles and think about which ones you picked up on your own without a recommendation. Ask yourself what word(s) in the title intrigued you.

What if I can’t decide? Come up with a few possible titles and poll people through FaceBook, Twitter or your website. Ask those in your critique group or anyone familiar with your work. Everyone has an opinion and we love to be asked!

Basically, if your title works, readers will pick up your book rather than emitting some sort of disapproving, unimpressed grunt like my writing instructor did. (Although her lack of enthusiasm is what pushed me to work harder, so I’m thankful for that). Now that you’ve had my crash course in titles, see if you can match the book title from some of my favorite authors to its genre below:

Name that Book Quiz:

The Detroit Electric Scheme--by D.E. Johnson                      non-fiction
Pink Champagne--by Nicole Green                                        urban fantasy
Declutter Your Diet--by Tanya Isch Caylor                            thriller
Prophecy Denied--by ML Rigdon                                          historical fiction
Wolf’s Bane--by Judy Post                                                      romance
The Perfect Crime--by Les Edgerton                                      fantasy
A Fatal Waltz--by Tasha Alexander                                        mystery

Visit to check your answers or to read excerpts of A Sister’s Promise or What Happiness Looks Like. Karen Lenfestey, a Midwest Writer’s Fellowship winner, writes women’s fiction with characters you care about. Her books are available as e-books and in paperback at


1 comment:

Sharon Bayliss said...

Thanks for the post! I see a lot of WIPs with blah titles and I never know if I should say anything, but I usually do. :)


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