How to Create the Perfect Fiction Title


By DiAnn Mills


It’s been said, “A book’s title is its most important marketing strategy.” We shouldn’t be surprised when we consider how long it takes to create the best title for our books.

Most publishing houses have a team who look at the story content, genre, plot, and psychological impact to ensure the reader is enthusiastic and involved emotionally with the book project. If the publishing house changes a title, it’s in the writer’s best interest.

For example, these famous novels didn’t start with an enticing title:

First Impressions → Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)

Something That Happened → Of Mice and Men—John Steinbeck

Atticus → To Kill a Mockingbird—Harper Lee

Tomorrow is Another Day → Gone with the Wind—Margaret Mitchell

Stranger From Within → Lord of the Flies—William Golding

All’s Well that Ends Well → War and Peace—Leo Tolstoy

They Don’t Build Statues to Businessmen → Valley of the Dolls—Jacqueline Susann

The Mute → The Heart is a Lonely Hunter—Carson McCullers

How does a writer create a title?

1.  Use strong nouns and active verbs.

              To Kill a Mockingbird—Harper Lee

              The Eagle has Landed—Jack Higgins

              Watership Down—Richard Adams

2.  Look to figurative language: metaphors and similes.       

3.  Examine your story’s theme.

4.  Brainstorm.

Consult friends for help. Host a brainstorming party, either live or online.

Don’t discard any random titles because one day you might need them.

Create a new word—especially if the novel is fantasy or sci-fi. 

5.  Read poetry.

Figurative language offers insight into the genre, emotions, and quality of book titles. Note: reading poetry before writing opens the writer’s mind.

The Lovely Bones—Alice Sebold came from “I Knew a Woman" by Theodore Roethke             

Of Mice and Men—John Steinbeck came from “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough” by Robert Burns

Tender is the Night—F. Scott Fitzgerald came from “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats

For Whom the Bell Tolls—Ernest Hemingway came from “Meditation XVII” by John Donne

6.  Read a songbook or hymnal.

Composers labor over their song titles and the lyrics. Like poetry, the language is beautiful.

Don’t Stop Belivin’—Olivia Newton-John came from a Journey song by the same name.

We are Family—Patricia Hegarty came from a 1970’s song Sister Sledge

I found this online: John Steinbeck's wife Carol Steinbeck provided the title to John's 1939 novel and masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath.

The book title is a direct reference to lyrics in the second line from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", by Julia Ward Howe. Also, specific lyrics from this song provide the title of John Updike's novel, In the Beauty of the Lilies. Plus, two more titles: Terrible Swift Sword and Never Call Retreat come from this song. They are volumes in Bruce Catton's Centennial History of the Civil War.

7.  Alliteration.

This is the obvious repetitive use of a letter for each word of the title.

Horton Hears a Who—Dr. Seuss

Many Marvelous Monsters—Ed Heck

Black Beauty—Anna Sewell

8.  Answers a question that must be answered.

              Are You Afraid of the Dark? —Sidney Sheldon

              Can Love Happen Twice?—Ravinder Singh

              Madam, Will You Talk?—Mary Stewart

9.  One-word titles or choose a name.

              Frankenstein—Mary Shelley

              Rebecca—Daphne Du Mauer

              Twilight—Stephenie Meyer

              Harry Potter—J. K. Rowling 

10.  Cliches.

If a cliché is your choice, make sure it corresponds to the book’s genre and content.

Or switch up a popular cliché or phrase

Don’t Look Down—Hilary Davidson

Love is Blind—Linsay Sands

The Grass is Always Greener—Michele Jakubowski 

11.  Promise the reader specific content.

              And Then There were None—Agatha Christie

              The Hunger Games—Suzanne Collins

              The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—C. S. Lewis

12.  Research and setting.

              Where the Crawdads Sing—Delia Owens

              The Bridges of Madison County—Robert James Waller

              The Bridge on the River Kwai—Pierre Boulle

13.  Subtitles are more for nonfiction books.

14. Online Title Generators such as


Writers have 5 goals in choosing a book title:

1. Unique

A unique title means the writer has searched on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Christian Books to make sure the title isn’t currently being used.

              If the title appears on another novel, what is the publishing date?

              After weighing those criteria, do you feel safe in titling your book?

2. Matches genre

Titling a book is not the time to be cute or confusing. The reader should immediately know the genre.

3.  Memorable

Does the title reflect the storyline in such a way the reader will not soon forget?

Short and catchy. 

4.  Emotion-grabbing

Does the title tug on the heartstrings?

5.  Keyword searchable

              Type your title into a search engine to see what comes up.


Are you ready to create the perfect title for your story?

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

Photo by Matthew Sleeper on Unsplash


DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She is a storyteller and creates action-packed, suspense-filled novels to thrill readers. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests.


DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Mystery Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers. She continues her passion for helping other writers be successful. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. Connect with DiAnn on her various social media platforms here:




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