Hi, there. What’s your name???
It’s the first question we ask most people, and when we’re looking for a book, we ask it (in our minds), before we even crack open the cover.
But what if you can’t think of a good name?
What is a good name, anyway?
A lot of writers worry that they might choose the WRONG name and that it’s going to hold their book back. So before we get started, I have some great news for you:
Your book’s title doesn't have to be awesome… or even poetic.
Browsing through Amazon’s list of “100 children’s books to read in a lifetime,” there are a lot of what I’d consider bad, boring, or at least, surprisingly basic, titles on the list. What are some examples? Well, there are…
- Titles named after characters, like Amelia Bedelia, Owen and Olivia.
- Titles that tell you a character is having a “story”, like The Story of Ferdinand and The Story of Babar
- Titles that tell you what the books are about, like Goodnight Moon and The Snowy Day.
Of course, there are some good, and even brilliant, titles on the list as well! I’m talking about titles that will never leave your head like,
- Titles that ask a question, like Are You My Mother? and Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret
- Titles that introduce a rhyme, like Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, and Llama Llama Red Pajama.
- Titles that intrigue, like Maniac Magee and The Giver.
- Titles that set up the story, like Cricket in Times Square and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.
Think of two awkward titles for picture books that have done incredibly well: Where the Wild Things Are and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. And what about Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day? These are all bad titles that have turned into good titles in our minds because the books themselves were so wonderful.
So that’s the good news, and it’s actually kind of great news: you almost can’t mess up a title if your book is good enough. It just has to be inviting enough that the reader picks up the book to look inside, or clicks through to find out more.
When considering a title, ask yourself these three questions…
- Does the title tell me what’s in the book?
- Is the title short and inviting?
- Will I remember the title?
And here’s a bonus FOURTH question:
- Does the title make you smile???
1. DOES THE TITLE TELL ME WHAT’S IN THE BOOK?
If the book’s about a car race, but there happens to be a tulip somewhere in it, don’t call the book Tulip Adventures. The title must be about the main thing. Otherwise, it comes across like you’re trying to trick people into buying and opening the book. That won’t work.
2. IS THE TITLE SHORT AND INVITING?
Despite the proliferation on Amazon of books with “titles” like
“Books for Kids: "CHARMING GRANDPA":Kids ebook:Beginner readers early learning(Children's Book, Bedtime Stories, Picture Book, Preschool kids ages 4-8)Grandfather ... book, Values, Funny(Fantasy)Early reader”
We all know this isn’t really a title. Right? This is keyword spamming, and you don’t see Maurice Sendak or any of today’s real authors doing it.
Canadian storyteller Robert Munsch condensed the first line of a song he made up inside the book for the title of his book Love You Forever. Three words, and they’re perfect.
Looking through top sellers in the kids’ books category, most of the good titles are 2-3 words long: Giraffes Can’t Dance, Dear Zoo, The Giving Tree, Toot. Sure, there are lots of exceptions, but it’s tough to go wrong with the right 2-3 words.
3. WILL I REMEMBER THE TITLE?
Look at those last four titles again. Each of them sticks in your mind in a weird and fun way…
- Giraffes Can’t Dance – now there’s an image I can’t get out of my head.
- Dear Zoo – huh? who writes a letter to a zoo?
- The Giving Tree – another huh? a tree… that gives? I’ve heard of “living trees” but not “giving trees”…
- Toot – this is a board book by Leslie Patricelli, master (mistress?) of the short title. Who doesn’t know what this is about at a single glance?
And yeah, there’s also that last question… DOES THE TITLE MAKE YOU SMILE???
You, the book’s writer. Did YOU smile when you hit on the title, confident that it says all that needs to be said about your book? If not… keep looking.
A good title is a work of art, a slick little ribbon that ties up the package of your kid’s book and hands it to the reader confident that everybody knows what they’re getting and why they want to read it. So don’t be afraid to run your titles past friends or anyone who will listen. You’ll know when you’re onto something, because people will smile, nod, and maybe ask you more about what the book’s about.
Just like your readers will when they’re clicking through to buy it.
I’d love to hear about title inspirations you came up with – let me know in the Comments!