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How Do I Come Up With a Title?

Nov 11, 2020


Rather than interviewing a guest or breaking down an expert author's way of launching a book, this week I'm answering the question: How and when do I come up with a title?

The biggest problem I see with authors and titles is that some become so committed to the one they came up with originally that they won't consider changing it to something that's going to resonate with readers more. I break that down and talk about how my titles have changed and which I think should have changed in this episode.

And if you want me to answer your writing question on this show, DM on Instagram at @annabdavid.


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Tim Ferriss Did Crazy Split Testing

Before Tim Ferriss launched The Four Hour Workweek, he had all these other titles, like Broadband and White Sand, Millionaire Chameleon and Drug Dealing for Fun and Profit. 

And he bought Google ads to see which of those titles perform better. He even did this crazy experiment where he had a fake cover mocked up and he put it in the Palo Alto Borders. And he went and hid to see which people responded to better.

James Altucher Is Another Split Tester

James Altucher, who is the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Choose Yourself, has written about how he had all these titles, like The Choose Yourself Era, Pick Yourself and he ran Facebook ads to each of them and Choose Yourself! Be Happy, Make Millions, Live the Dream got the most clicks by far.

Don’t Get Too Attached to Your Title

With my first book, Party Girl, I was very dedicated to that title. And when my agent was going out to submit it to publisher, she said, “Oh, this other book called Party Girl just came out so we have to change the title.” And so for the sale, we changed it to The After Party. And then that other Party Girl didn't sell well so we were able to change the title back to Party Girl for the release.

The end of the story is that the other Party Girl was written by Rachel Hollis so suffice it to say she's gotten over it.

And in retrospect, I don't really know why I fought for that title. I believe that if the book had been released as The After Party, it wouldn’t have been as dismissed as it was as “chick lit” (The New York Post actually said I invented a new sub-genre: Chick Lit with a Message).

Titles Change Along the Way

My fourth book, which is called Falling for Me, had the working title What I Say I Want and my fifth book had the working title of Seizing More and ended up being called By Some Miracle I Made it Out of There

A lot of our clients will come in with titles that we will revamp. Courtney Friel, who's a newscaster on KTLA, came to us and her book at that time was called Pretty Sobering News. And we changed it to Tonight at 10: Kicking Booze and Breaking News (she hosts the 10 pm news).

If You Have a Brand, Use That as Your Title 

We did a book for Alexis Haines who has a podcast called Recovering from Reality. So her memoir is called Recovering from Reality, which makes sense as she’s a reality star in recovery from addiction. For Emily Lynn Paulson, we called her book Highlight Real which made sense since she already had a very popular Instagram called Highlight Real Recovery.

Titles Should Draw People In

The title should draw attention and the subtitle breaks down what that title means. 

You don’t want a title where the reader will only understand it if they read the book. Think about how quickly we make decisions: people have to know what your book is about to be interested in it. 

Have a title that’s easy to say, easy to spell and pronounce and can’t be misunderstood. My second book was called Bought. Yes, that is easy to pronounce but whenever I said, “Oh, I have this book and it's called Bought,” people would think I meant B-O-T and not B-O-U-G-H-T. I didn't know that until it was out.

Your Title Should Make Readers Proud 

We read most books because they're recommended by people we trust. So you want a book that someone's going to say, “I just read this book, it's called, you know, Daring Greatly.”

Keywords Are Also Important

Amazon is the third-largest search engine in the world so many people go there and search for a topic, which means you want to have keywords that describe what your book what's in your book so that they will find it.

But don’t focus on keywords over coming up with the right title. It’s just something to consider. But most importantly, don't fall too in love with your title; try to be open to changing it.