Book title ideas that make your novel stand out

I recently polled some of my writer friends and almost everyone agreed that coming up with a title for your story is hard. Finding the right title is important because a bad or boring title might turn readers away, and having a title that is too generic will harm your searchability. If you’re also struggling with this part of the writing process, read on to learn where to get book title ideas that make your book unforgettable.


Title ideas that make your novel stand out

Don’t be too generic with your story title ideas

If your working title is something like “The Journey” or “New Life”, that’s totally fine. Working titles can be whatever and they don’t need to stick around or be any good. But occasionally I see titles that are so generic that I can’t help but wonder if the author just picked the first word that came to their mind and decided to run with it. My latest finished novel started as “The Rabbit” and ended up being called What Birds Are Made Of. I’d say that’s a gigantic improvement.

True, your book title shouldn’t be too gimmicky or difficult to remember. Yet it shouldn’t be so generic that it could describe a million other books. I mean, how many stories are about a journey or a new life? Doesn’t that describe at least 80% of them?

You also might want to steer away from anything too cliche. You can disagree if you want, but I don’t think we need any more books called The Evil Queen or The Love Triangle. (I don’t actually know if those are actual existing titles and I’m not going to look them up – I want to give you inspiration and not rag on anyone else’s books.)

How to fix a generic ideas for a book title

So let’s say you’ve been thinking about calling your book The Journey and you just can’t come up with anything more unique. How about you add more words to it? Where does the journey lead? Generally, you shouldn’t be using names in made-up languages in your titles because no one would know how to pronounce them, so don’t name your book “The Journey to Gnafrzak”, but something like “The Journey to the Dragon Island” might work. (Yes, I’m aware Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban is a book that exists. I also remember not remembering how to spell it when we were trying to pre-order it to the library.)

You could also jazz up the title by adding a person to it, making it more interesting but also instantly more relatable. Wouldn’t you say Cilka’s Journey is a much better title? Heather Morris can rest easy knowing that there’s not going to be another novel with the same name, either.

If you have a generic title, you need to consider if it really addresses what your book is about. Is it really about a journey or is that just one small part of the story? If it really is important, try to think why, and see if there’s something equally important that you could put down in other words. Maybe the title could be about what they’re escaping or where they’re heading?

Choose a book title that hasn’t been used before

It could be near impossible to make sure your title has never been used before since there are so many books in the world in so many languages and you can’t guarantee that you can find them all online. Can you write a book with the same title as another? Sure, it’s allowed, but you probably shouldn’t, unless the name describes your book perfectly and the other book isn’t that popular.

Still, when you’ve got a book title that might not be super unique, do check if it has been used before. Goodreads is probably the easiest place to do this and you can find book titles in different languages there as well in case you won’t be writing in English. Many people aren’t very good at looking for information, so if they need to be able to remember your name or what the book cover looks like, they might struggle with finding the right book based on a generic title.

If you want to find good book titles that haven’t been used, what you really need to do is look at your own story. There’s bound to be something unique there that you can extract into a title using the tips in this post.

Be intriguing

If you want your future readers to be interested in your book at first glance, you need to have them think “hmm, I wonder what this book is about”. You don’t get that with “The Journey”. This probably doesn’t help you come up with more book title ideas, but it should help you choose the right one when you’ve got multiple options to choose from.

I just pulled a list of popular books on Goodreads and here are some of the most intriguing titles (in my opinion): Clap When You Land, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, You Had Me At Hola, My Sister’s Grave, The Once and Future Witches, and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. (No lie, the last one is my very favourite.) These titles are very different from each other but they all still make you wonder what the story is about.

It can be difficult to come up with an intriguing title, but if you look through lists of popular books and choose titles that really interest you, you can find ideas for naming your own novel too.

Look at the naming trends in your genre

Should you consider your genre when naming your novel?

Although you don’t want to be just like every other author out there and you want your book title to be unique, looking at the trends in your genre can be helpful.

Your title sets expectations for your readers, so calling your book Meet Me at the Cupcake Café most likely doesn’t have people expecting they’re going to read a murder mystery. Welcome to Rosie Hopkins’ Sweet Shop of Dreams also sets certain expectations for what you might find in the book. (Both of these books are by Jenny Colgan and they’re exactly as delightful as they sound, and I don’t even read romance novels that often. Try them out of you’d like to read something fun.)

Many fantasy novels seem to follow the “something of something” pattern while crime novelist seem to prefer naming their books The Something. What is a prominent place, person or object in your story? You might want to use that in your title.

You can also go the opposite way and decide to buck the conventions, but remember that if you want to get traditionally published, your publisher might have different ideas for your title. You also don’t want to be leading anyone astray, even if the combination of a title and cover usually helps readers figure out what a book might be about.

Be careful with naming your book after a character or a place

Using names and places in your book title can seem like a good idea, but the problem is that people lack any connection to those names if they haven’t read the book yet. Jane Eyre is a classic novel so it would have been judged by very different standards than our modern books, and you probably don’t want to be calling your book “Stacy Lipton” or “John Atwood” even if they were extremely interesting characters. (I just made these names up, so if they’re existing characters, that’s a total coincidence.)

If you want to use a location in the title, you need to know what kind of associations people would have with that name, if any. If Delia Owens had decided to call her book “North Carolina Marsh” it might not have been quite as popular as Where The Crawdads Sing even if they’re technically referring to the same place. “The Orient Express” probably wouldn’t have been a very good choice from Agatha Christie either, unlike Murder on the Orient Express.

Yes, there are great book titles with characters’ names on them, but they do have something else, too. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is definitely an intriguing title, as is The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. That said, you might not want to name your book with the “The (Adjective) (Noun) of (Character Name)” format since it has been used so much, but you can make that choice for yourself.

Make a reference to the theme or use a metaphor

When you’re choosing a title for your novel, you might choose not to refer to a concrete thing in the title (like a setting or a character) but instead, you could make a reference to the theme. Pride and Prejudice might be a classic novel and therefore not entirely relevant to a discussion about naming modern novels, but it’s still a good example.

If, for example, the characters in your story need to make difficult decisions, you could use that to name your book. Or maybe if they’re struggling with their social class, you could use that as an inspiration for the title. It doesn’t have to be instantly obvious to your readers what the title means, but it could be something that has more meaning once you’ve finished reading the book. It could even mean two different things: something concrete and something metaphorical.

Consider these titles: Mexican Gothic, Uprooted, The Secret History, A Little Life and Everything, Everything.

Choose words from the novel

Try using a quote to name your novel

You know when you’re watching a movie and a character says the movie’s name? It’s such a cool moment, and you can do that with novels, too. There are so many great book title ideas in your own manuscript.

You can pull an exact quote from your manuscript or you can change it up a little. My novel What Birds Are Made Of (which BTW has not been published in English yet in case you’ve been trying to google the title) got named after an indirect quote from dialogue. One of my characters, a biologist who helps wounded animals heal and get back in the wild, is drugged after a bad accident and she tells the protagonist to remember that birds are made of love.

If you use the words I, we or us in the title, it can immediately create intimacy between your reader and the story. When you make that choice, make sure to also deliver on your promises.

Describe the main character or antagonist

Describe your protagonist or antagonist in your novel title

We already talked about naming your book after one of the characters, but you can also do that without using their names.

The Miniaturist, The Cruel Prince and The Kite Runner are all book titles that refer to a character without using their names. If you have a character in your story who does something interesting or they’re called something distinctive, you could consider using that in your book title.

It doesn’t have to necessarily be the protagonist or the antagonist who you use in the title. The Miniaturist was hardly about the miniaturist at all, though make sure not to be misleading unless it’s on purpose and you know what you’re doing.

Keep a list of cool book title ideas

I know this won’t help you name your novel right now, but the Future You will thank you.

Whenever you see a book title you find especially interesting or you come up with something that could be a cool title one day, write it down. You should keep lists of cool ideas in Evernote or Notion anyway, and make notes of any interesting character names, occupations or story ideas that come to you. It can really help you in the future.

Brainstorm several book title ideas and ask for feedback

When you’re coming up with the title for your book, don’t just settle for the first one that comes to you. Make a list of many different titles, keeping in mind your genre and what you want potential readers to think.

After you’ve come up with your list, ask a friend for help. (You could even join our Facebook group and ask for feedback!) Don’t just ask them what’s their favourite one, but what kind of assumptions they have about each one and would they grab that book if they heard the title somewhere or just saw it on the shelf in a bookstore.

A great title is just one part of the novel-writing process

When you’ve come up with a fetching title for your story, you want to make sure your book is worth reading. If you’re only just writing your first novel and you’re not entirely sure what you’re doing and you keep staring at those empty Word documents, I’ve created something that’s going to solve those problems for you. Writing Your First Novel 2.0 is an updated and laser-focused path that turns your story idea into a novel you can confidently pursue publishing with.

Sure, you can DIY the whole writing process and keep reading these useful blog posts, but wouldn’t you rather save so much time and effort by having someone show you exactly what to do and what not to do? We both know writing a great book doesn’t happen fast, and I want to help you save time by giving you the exact techniques I use when writing my own novels and that I teach in my creative writing workshops.

The best time to start writing a novel was two years ago but the second best time is today. Stop postponing your dreams any longer.

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