What’s in a Name? 8 Helpful Tips for Finding the Best Title for Your Memoir

21 Sep 2021

WHAT’S IN A NAME? 8 HELPFUL TIPS FOR FINDING THE BEST TITLE FOR YOUR MEMOIR

“A good title is the title of a successful book.” — Raymond Chandler

As the renowned American minister Frank Crane once said, “Next, in importance to books are their titles.”

Indeed, while a book’s content is its most significant attribute, a bad title can do a book a huge disservice. After all, readers judge books by both cover and title.

If an author wants their memoir to have a chance, they must first give it a good title.

But what makes a title “good”?

In this article, we will explore eight helpful tips for finding the best title for your memoir.

8 Helpful Tips for Finding the Best Title for Your Memoir

Tip #1: Keep it Simple

Frequently, authors feel tempted to incorporate outlandish titles for their books. The aim is to shock and awe would-be readers.

The rationale is to pique readers’ curiosity just enough to give their books a chance. However, this strategy can backfire quite easily.

Firstly, an extravagant title, especially for a memoir, may not convey the subject’s personality appropriately. Consequently, it may build an inaccurate image.

Secondly, over-the-top titles may not necessarily reflect the book’s content. Therefore, readers might misunderstand the memoir’s general message. As a result, readers may choose to pass on it.

Consider this example:

The Wild and Unforgettable Life of the One and Only John Doe.

The title above is certainly eye-catching. Nevertheless, it fails to express what the book represents. After all, would readers be truly interested in this character’s remarkable life?

As Leonardo DaVinci famously put it, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Opting for a title such as “An Extraordinary Life Journey by John Doe” better communicates an essential element: John Doe’s life was an extraordinary journey. As such, readers can expect to go on a journey as they read the book.

In the end, readers can expect to come away with a singular experience.

Tip #2: Focus on Tone

Often, titles miss the mark by not settling on the memoir’s tone. After all, memoirs can have a myriad of tones. Some are solemn; others are hopeful. Some memoirs are serious, while others are fun and playful. Therefore, the title must match the book’s tone.

Consider this example:

Emerging from the Shadows: A Journey from Obscurity to Prominence.

What tone does this title convey?

Initially, one might assume the title signals an inspirational story. Hence, readers would assume the memoir is filled with stories about overcoming struggles.

However, if readers find a collection of disjointed anecdotes masquerading as humor, they may find the book disappointing at best.

Ideally, a memoir’s title must give the reader a good sense of the book’s overall tone. In the example above, perhaps a less serious title would serve the book best.

Consider this possibility:

How I Made It: My Journey to the Top of the Mountain.

In this version, the reader can glean an inspirational story. However, the title is less solemn and more lighthearted. Thus, the memoir’s contents would better match its title.

The renowned Israeli writer Etgar Keret summarizes this by stating, “I think tone gives birth to the story.”

Undoubtedly, giving a title the wrong tone does a major disservice to the project’s entire purpose.

Tip #3: Choose A One- or Two-Part Title

Most book titles nowadays consist of two parts. This practice is highly common in the nonfiction domain. Many authors believe it is necessary since it enables them to narrow down on the book’s precise contents.

As for memoirs, they are seemingly in the middle of the fiction and nonfiction domains. On the one hand, memoirs are factual. On the other, they are artwork. As a result, authors must ask themselves, “Is my book more art or more fact?” The answer to this question would reveal the way to go.

Memoirs scripted as novels should consider a one-part title. For instance:

A Memorable Walk Through Life.

In this one-part title, the author looks to communicate an artistic rendition of the subject’s life. As such, readers can expect facts wrapped up in colorful prose.

Now, consider this alternative:

Great Business Leaders: The Life of Jane Doe.

This two-part title indicates that Jane Doe was a great business leader. Therefore, readers can expect a more journalistic, matter-of-fact approach with this memoir. Indeed, this title resonates much more like a nonfiction title than a novel.

Like tone, a one- or two-part title must accurately reflect the book’s purpose. Serious works benefit more from a two-part title, whereas creative narratives do well with a unique one-part title.

Tip #4: Tell the Truth

Telling the truth pertains to accurately representing the book’s core message.

Unfortunately, some authors believe that using misleading titles will translate into more sales. Their rationale focuses on enticing readers. Once readers pick up a copy, the sale goes through, and the money is in the bank.

However, word gets around quickly. Consequently, misleading titles will kill book sales in a heartbeat.

Some authors also use salacious titles to drive public interest. The expectation that builds on such titles may initially drive sales. However, the book had better deliver on its title. Otherwise, the disappointment could leave the book dead in the water.

Consider this title:

The Secret Life of King John Doe: The Untold Tales.

A title this scandalous suggests a collection of titillating stories never heard before. As such, the book needs to deliver. Anything short of outrageous stories will miss the mark.

Additionally, a shortage of “untold” stories would certainly kill the book’s momentum.

Motivational speaker and bestselling author Larry Winget offers this insight:

“I write titles that are confrontational. I write titles that make people want to pick up a book and find out more about it. I write good books; I write great titles though.”

A “great” title on a “good” book may come up short. Ideally, authors should strive for a great title on a great book. That aim is possible when the title accurately represents the book’s contents.

Tip #5: Get to the Point

There is nothing more counterproductive than an ambiguous title.

An ambiguous title defeats a memoir’s purpose by confusing the reader. After all, an unclear title makes it hard for the reader to ascertain the book’s contents.

Consider this title:

An Amazing Life Story.

The title above, while certainly poetic, does not tell the reader what the story contains. Consequently, the reader may not feel compelled to pick up a copy of the book.

In contrast, a well-crafted title would make it much easier for the reader’s curiosity to kick in.

Book publishing consultant Nancy Peske offers this succinct tidbit: “Think about word combinations that capture the heart and soul of your story.”

Indeed, the aim is to capture the memoir’s heart and soul. For that to happen, however, the writer must be clear on what that heart and soul are.

Memoir writers must understand the message they want to transmit. Often, this message gets lost in a sea of anecdotes. Thus, the title can serve as a guiding beacon for the writing process.

With the above example, a two-part title can help drill the point home. Consider this alternative:

An Amazing Life Story: Success in the Face of Disability.

This alternate title indicates the memoir’s message. The reader can expect to find an inspirational story of someone who overcame their disabilities to find success in life.

Tip #6: Do the Research

Inspiration can hit at any time. And a great title can suddenly appear when least expected.

However, there is one catch: The amazing title you just came up with may already be taken by someone else.

Undoubtedly, coming up with a great title is the first step in any great book. Nevertheless, it is crucial to do a cursory online search to determine if the title already exists.

In the worst cases, the title is already in use, or another very similar form of it. Therefore, there is a need to change the title to avoid copyright issues.

On top of that, there is another more compelling reason to check out memoir titles. Book publishers tend to frown upon book titles that are too similar to that of another already published book.  

When this happens, publishers are often quick to change the book’s title, especially if they like the content. This situation could lead to unwanted conflict between author and publisher.

Thus, it is best to do away with all the drama. Once again, Nancy Peske offers this insightful piece of advice: “Let’s say a quick Internet search reveals that no one has used your memoir title except perhaps for one article and certainly not for a book. That’s a good sign that you have or are close to having a terrific title for your memoir!”  

An original book title is crucial to a great memoir’s success.

Tip #7: Don’t Forget About Marketing

At its core, a title is a book’s first line of marketing. Naturally, a great title will drive sales. In contrast, a bad title may hold sales back. When sales are a primary objective, a great title is an essential tool.

Seasoned memoir veteran Jerry Wexler provides this highly useful reflection: “If a book’s title tickles my interest, I move to the next step. I look at the blub or description and read reviews online. If still curious, I look up the author’s home page, blogs, and social media. However, I continue to rely on the title as the centerpiece for all this interest.”

This reflection pinpoints the importance of a book’s title. Readers do not focus on reviews, comments, or even visit an author’s website unless the book title somehow appeals to them.

It should not come as a surprise to see interest dwindle due to a bad title. Of course, great reviews may rekindle interest. However, good comments may not be enough to overcome a bad title.

Great titles usually have a catchy component to them. That component often comes from somewhere in the book.

When authors struggle to come up with a title, they can resort to the text itself. It is quite common to find some phrase or line that encompasses the memoir’s spirit. As such, authors should not be afraid to borrow from their own ideas.

Tip #8: Create a Personal Connection

Undoubtedly, generic book titles will derail any momentum a book can generate.

A title such as The Life Story of Jane Doe is as bland as it gets.

Needless to say, titles such as these do little to forge a personal connection with the reader.

A personal connection should also emerge with the author.

After all, this is the author telling their story through their voice.

As a result, the title must materialize from within the author.

Jerry Wexler has this to say about the personal connection a memoir can create in the reader:

“After we close the book for the last time, we continue to associate the story with its title. So, when you look for the best possible title, consider the image it will leave. The title should haunt readers, please them, and continue to evoke images. Ideally, the title should roll off the reader’s tongue when friends ask for a recommendation.”

This savvy piece of advice encapsulates the purpose of a superb title. When a title creates a personal connection, it will “haunt” readers well after they have finished the book. In some cases, their connection may last a lifetime.

Something deeply personal such as Uphill Battle: How I Beat the Most Challenging Enemy of my Life has the potential to strike an extremely personal chord with readers. The outcome may well be a profound link between reader and author.

Conclusion

International bestselling author J.K. Rowling once said, “I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book.”

Of course, this quote goes beyond the obvious connection with the magical theme of her books. This quote underscores how significant a book can become in a person’s life.

All of that begins with a great title. A great title should not just be a piece of great marketing copy. It should also be a personal message the author wants to communicate to their readers.

A creative narrative should explore a unique one-part title. This title should encompass the very essence of the book’s message. By the same token, a more solemn memoir should consider a two-part title. The title would then provide enough material to entice the reader’s curiosity.

Ultimately, great titles boil down to sharing the author’s internal passion. With such efforts, the title can haunt the reader well after flipping through to the last page.

Author
Zach Richter 

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