With so many books available, the deft titling of a book is more necessary than ever to help a book get possible consideration for buying—and reading. We let authors take the lead on the titling of their books, so perhaps it’s worthwhile to offer a few thoughts on effective titling.
Though evocative titles are nice and in many ways appealing, it’s more important to be straightforwardly descriptive of your book’s subject. Even clever evocative titles don’t say a lot, at least immediately, about what a book covers. And in the day of declining brick-and-mortar bookstores, readers do a lot of their bookfinding by performing online (and especially Amazon) searches. So having key words in a title (especially) and a subtitle (secondarily) is important. When trying to arrive at a title, think about a one-sentence summary of your book and its content. Then work back from there to devise a shorter, smoother title. If you can be evocative and descriptive, great. But remember that the descriptive element is essential. For example, John Bright’s classic The Kingdom of God is a straightforward, purely descriptive title. And anyone wanting to read on research on the kingdom of God will easily find the book in an Amazon search. For a title that’s both evocative or clever and descriptive, I’ve long been impressed with Gordon Fee’s and Douglas Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. It’s clear in what the book’s about, but also has the nice play on the layers of “worth.”
A second consideration is keeping a title short. I’d say no more than five or six words maximum, and only one to three words is always nice. A wordy title is offputting. It subtly (or not so subtly) communicates to the potential reader that the author has trouble with concise expression. Design wise, it clutters the cover. And a long title is rarely memorable. When working on a title, keep paring it down until you get it to as few words as possible.
One more thought: there’s a difference between a good working title and a good final title. It’s a good idea to have a working title that aids you in writing your book, a kind of touchstone you can go back to as you’re making decisions while you’re composing. In this sense, a solid working title may be clunky and may be long, but is something that can remind you of your central focus and what you’re trying to do with the book. A good final title, on the other hand, should not be long and should indicate the subject of your book, but not fill it out as much as a working title may. So don’t get stuck on a working title. Have it serve its purpose, then let it go. The final, published title needs to be short, preferably punchy, and appealing—as well as, first and foremost, descriptive of your book.
And put that way, it’s not wonder titling is such hard work, trying to do so much with a few words.