The best book titles, in my view, are factual, and the bigger the implied content of the story, the better. In terms of marketability and the first introduction readers have to your story, the most important questions you can ask yourself are around how to come up with a good book title.
Many writers today focus on one or related genres, and so there are rules that apply for all different sorts of books. When looking over the bestselling titles in a genre, you get a feel for what kind of titles work best. What is true of all books, however, is that its essential heart or truth is best shared through its title.
Often, this means that simplicity is best, while a sense of natural grandeur will add to it. The grandest of all titles and perhaps the grandest of all novels, “War and Peace”, is a factually correct title in that the novel is large in scope and is essentially about war and peace.
This is true of other titularly named stories such as “The Brothers Karamazov”, “Old Goirot”, “Jean-Christophe”, “Beowulf”, “Middlemarch”, “Hamlet”, and “Julius Caesar”. Plays and novels are intended to sell books and tickets, and each of these titles fulfils that basic function while sharing the most important element or in many cases the most important person or people to the plot. A simpler, shorter story, like “Animal Farm”, will be better suited to this kind of strong but less grandiose title.
Authors need to be careful when coming up with more poetic titles for their novels. “One Hundred Years of Solitude” is a memorable title but it is also melodramatic; given the popularity of the novel and the fact that the title is commercial, in this case its poetic nature has proven a success. A borrowed or quoting title, such as “The Sound and the Fury” and “As I Lay Dying”, will also strive on the strength of its literary reference; it intrigues and stays with you whether or not you ever read the book.
The more adventurous the title, the more a matter of artistic taste it becomes. “A Clockwork Orange” has never made sense at first glance to anyone. “Bad Day at Black Rock” will strike some and intrigue others less; “Love in the Time of Cholera” likewise will draw some in and turn others away. Sometimes a title will appear brilliant to those who know the story of the book, such as “In Search of Lost Time” or “A Room of One’s Own”, and sadly not grip the attention of those who might most enjoy reading it.
When writing a novel, authors instinctively consider the themes and, of course, the characters. When each scene is reduced to its main points, there are key ideas and moments that emerge. This must be done with the whole novel, and, if this does not produce a titular or factually based title, perhaps it may help to look over old poems or quotations that relate to primary subjects to search for inspiration.
As anyone working in marketing will tell you, it is best going into your novel to know how it will be marketed in the end. This is the most trivial way of looking at a work of art yet, on the other hand, it is clear that “Romeo and Juliet” will be more saleable today than “Pericles” or “Titus Andronicus”. If you are an author struggling to have your works read, you are not doing yourself or the attention-saturated public’s attention any good by giving them “Pericles” when they want “Romeo and Juliet”.
The same principles of beauty and symmetry (or how we perceive these things in language and written subjects), veracity and intrigue, apply in a novel’s distilment in its title as in every other word in its pages. Therefore, your main characters (whether or not they come to label the novel) need strong names, and the themes that arise from their challenges also need to be strongly realised and captured to the extent that they do not leave any doubt.
You must imagine your book upon a shelf with countless others, and an author’s name unknown, with a title that is likely to draw yourself or others in on that basis alone. As much as we are told to “kill our darlings” in our writing, many titles will not fulfil this function and need to be killed also.
Nevertheless, every idea we have (unless you are anti-notekeeping) is worth recording, to keep a track of different ideas for titles and how they interrelate with each other, and, given an author is often said to write the same novel over and over in different forms, these ideas are likely to inform future writing or titles.
A kind of fearlessness is required in writing, and this needs to be combined with discretion, particularly in the titles of books, which are like a shop-crier standing vulnerably in the street and calling shoppers inside. Not all shoppers are looking for what you are selling, but if the title is specific enough and broad enough to attract savvy (if sometimes reluctant) buyers, then you are well on your way to selling your book’s content via a strong title in the best possible way.