The right title is the hardest part

blogging-bonanza-bugI’m celebrating the countdown to launch on March 28 of Truth, Dare, Double Dare, Promise or Repeat: On Finding the Meaning of “Like” in 1982 with a month-long blogging bonanza, which means I’ll be blogging here every day this month about my book, about memoirs in general and about the launch.

On Fridays during this crazy blogging bonanza month, I’ll be writing about different aspects of self-publishing. Let’s call this Indie Tips Friday. Having self-published two previous books and helped several other authors publish their own works, I have a little experience to share with other aspiring publishers. Today I’m tackling the title of your masterpiece.

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Choosing a title is important business since it becomes the brand of your work. I also find this part to be the most difficult. For other nonfiction works (think business tomes and cookbooks), you’ll read a lot about sticking to your knitting by describing your subject directly and choosing terms that search engines love. This is part of how The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing and The Great Big Pressure Cooker Book: 500 Easy Recipes for Every Machine, Both Stovetop and Electric are among top-sellers today. If you want to get organized or cook a pot roast, you’ll find these books  with highly descriptive and search-worthy words like “tidying up,” “decluttering,” “organizing,” “easy” and “stovetop and electric.” The title tells you exactly what they’re about, though you can’t get too general or your book will get lost in a sea of mediocrity.

Memoir is trickier. Including the word “memoir” in your subtitle helps fans of memoir find you, but your main title needs to reflect your tone and the theme of your book. One of the working titles for my first book was I Married a Sex Offender, but that was a little too in-your-face and flippant for the tone I eventually adopted. In the end, The Percussionist’s Wife lent itself to the Siamese twin construction of the book; my story was entwined with the percussionist’s and I couldn’t tell a story of sex, crime and betrayal without including him. Plus, it had the lyricism of The Time Traveler’s Wife, a novel I adored. My subtitle, A Memoir of Sex, Crime & Betrayal, added all the description and drama I wanted.

With my second book, a fitness memoir, I went the all-out nonfiction route trying to land on the best combination of description and search-worthy: How to Look Hot & Feel Amazing in your 40s: The 21-Day Age-Defying Diet, Exercise & Everything Makeover Plan. The title reflects the content, but I may have failed in doing it concisely.

My latest work has also churned through a few working titles before landing on the winner. When I described the book in its infant stages as the awkward story of the year I turned 15 and learned to French kiss, a friend suggested this title: Do You Like Me? Check Yes or No. Anyone else remember passing notes like this back in junior high? I could even imagine a clever cover with the title handwritten on notebook paper. The “like” part of this idea made it into my subtitle: On Finding the Meaning of “Like” in 1982. Facebook has evolved the meaning of that word “like” so much, I wanted to spotlight this by highlighting it and drawing attention to the era of my book.

(As you can tell, I’m a fan of subtitles. The marketer in me feels like the more you can describe your book or lure readers in the first 30 seconds, the better.)

I also considered for a title a line I uttered at one point in the book: What She Doesn’t Know Can’t Hurt Her. I like this title because I was saying it about someone else, but ironically, it was true for me, too. I didn’t know so much when I was 15, and unfortunately, when I was older, too.


Oh, the drama of a first kiss.

In the end, I went with Truth, Dare, Double Dare, Promise or Repeat. This is how I played this landmine-loaded game in 1982 in Wadena, Minnesota. At least 10 books on Amazon carry the commonly known version of the game (Truth or Dare), but if you google the whole phrase, an obscene rap by Insane Clown Posse is one of the top results. Ugh. (I plan to have my book surpass the popularity of this song, sort of like how Google now means to search for information on the internet but back when I was learning how to kiss, googol meant a number with 1 and a hundred zeros). I like how the entire phrase is a metaphor for how relationships and mutual desire (at any age, but especially when you’re a teenager) are like a game that’s hard to win. Plus, I went through a lot of facing truths, daring, promising and repeating (of mistakes and skills) to survive the period.

Once you settle on your title, then you can start thinking about the keywords you’ll use to seed those important search engines. Next week on Indie Tips Friday, we’ll tackle that subject.


One thought on “The right title is the hardest part

  1. Pingback: Author Interview – Reily Garrett – The Carnal Series, Unholy Alliance, Tiago, Tender Echoes, Journey to Dawn: Step One, Breathe & Digital Velocity | toofulltowrite (I've started so I'll finish)

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