John Briggs Books

And yours, too!

Creating Your Book’s Title

Have you ever read The Last Man in Europe? How about Fiesta or Trimalchio? Or First Impressions? How about Something That Happened?

I bet you have. Those are the original titles of some masterpieces. Read on to find out why they were changed.

My book, Pete Seeger, The People’s Singer, was originally titled Pete Seeger: Protest Singer. In many ways, that was an apt title, so why the subtle change?

Simple. It came from a sudden realization: one man’s protest is another man’s advocacy. Calling Pete Seeger a protest singer didn’t do him justice. He didn’t just protest things, he advocated for things: equality, peace, a clean environment. With that in mind, I went to my publisher and suggested the change. To my delight, they readily accepted.

So what should you consider when creating your title?

5 Reasons to Change Your Book Title

1. It doesn’t represent your vision. Sometimes a title sounds good, but it doesn’t reflect what you think the book is about. Write a one-line elevator pitch that sums up your book. Try to capture its essence. Does your title reflect that?

2. It’s not easy to market. If you can, work a keyword into the title, or a title that reflects the genre. Your cover image isn’t the only thing that should say Romance! Thriller! Historical Fiction! Your title can, too.

3. It’s not easy to remember or pronounce. You can name your book after that strange land or character you’ve created, or some word in a language your characters speak, but if people can’t pronounce it, they can’t recommend it. Your book might take place in some exotic locale, but does it have to be in your title? Let your cover art reflect that. Make your title accessible.

4. It lends itself to bad reviews. Written a book about a down-on-his-luck gambler called The Loser? Remember, it’s easy to write an Amazon review that says “The book The Loser is just that – a loser.” You can’t stop trolls, and even books with great titles get bad reviews, but does your title lend itself to such a quick summation? If so, change it. Headlines like that will stick with people more than a two-paragraph, 5-star write-up.

5. It’s boring. Sure, it worked for A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, but most books with such titles will never get attention. They’ll get lost in the sea of forgettable titles that tell us nothing about what’s inside. Avoid titles that include phrases like Something Happened, The Life of, yada, yada, it’s been done. A Day in the Life of a Teenager? Yawn. One Summer Day? I’ll pass. If it tells us nothing, change it.

You can’t judge a book by its title, but you can hurt sales with a bad one. Make sure your title represents the story inside. Is it enticing? Does it grab you, your friends, and your fellow authors?

You might love your original title, but don’t be afraid to change it before you go to press if you’re sure you have something better.

As for those original titles?

The Last Man in Europe became Nineteen Eighty-Four. That first title had limited marketing. How many copies would have sold outside Europe? But Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in 1948, promises a look at the future (at least for thirty-five years).

Fiesta became The Sun Also Rises. Fiesta sounds fun, like a party. It tells us nothing of the story inside. It doesn’t do the work justice.

Trimalchio became The Great Gatsby. Talk about unpronounceable! Try telling your friends about that book you just read: “Tivoli? Pinocchio? Trimester? It was something like that. You’ll love it.”

First Impressions became Pride and Prejudice. First impressions of what? Talk about lending yourself to a quick bad review. “My first impression? It’s awful!” “First Impressions left a bad impression!” Pride and Prejudice teases us with deadly sin and judgement. Talk about a title.

Something That Happened became Of Mice and Men. Could the original title have been more boring? “Yeah, yeah, something happened – I decided not to pick up your book.” But telling me the best laid plans of mice and men have gone horribly awry? I’m in.

So make sure your title does your story justice. Potential readers will appreciate it!


Pete Seeger, The People’s Singer is the first children’s book about the legendary folk singer and activist, and is a great way to introduce young readers to the man of the people and his many accomplishments.


One comment on “Creating Your Book’s Title

  1. mrswatzername
    August 23, 2015

    Thank you for sharing 🙂

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