What Turns Me On and Off Your Book, Part 1: The Title

In looking around for a new book to sink my teeth into (in a manner of speaking), I started to ponder the many free new novels on Amazon and what made me choose one and reject the next. So I thought I’d write up a few blog posts explaining (for myself as much as anyone else) my thought processes when I’m trawling Amazon. This is the first of what will probably be four or five blog posts over the next two weeks.

There are three things about a book’s title that will give me serious reservations as to whether I even begin to read it:

    1. Generic, means-nothing titles that are usually clichés, like (and I’m just making these up now): “Blind Justice”, “Presumed Guilty” or “First Love” (the last is a book by Turgenev. He did it over a hundred years ago, and in his native Russian, so he got away with it.) Famous writers do sometimes phone-in titles – John Grisham, I’m thinking of you, mate. In general, I will overlook a pretty vague-and-ordinary title from a writer I trust, but won’t from a writer I have never heard of.
    3. Titles that include a postscript explaining how great the book apparently is. I see this quite often and really, it comes across as “telling, not showing” at best, and authorial arrogance at worst.

In short, I will probably not want to pick up your book if the title looks like this: “THE WRONG KIND OF GUY – a sexy and intriguing new novel by Naomi Barton.”

I love naming my own works, but it’s a niche talent and I know it’s a major pain for a lot of writers. If you’re one of those people who don’t spend hours making up names for things you haven’t even written yet, it’s perfectly OK to ask around for inspiration. Ask your editor or beta. Ask Twitter. Ask a random person at the bus stop. Ask your mother. (No, really. You don’t necessarily need to be a writer to have a gift for coming up a compelling title.)

Two of the best books I’ve read this year have unusual titles. The first won a Pulitzer: Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. The other is underrated and little known: Colin Mulhern’s The Boy Who Buried Dead Things. That last one is one I picked up almost entirely because of the title. I’m so glad I did.

Am I way off here? Too harsh and picky? Let me know what you think. I won’t bite 🙂


11 thoughts on “What Turns Me On and Off Your Book, Part 1: The Title

  1. I know “All the Light…” is wildly popular and a Pulitzer winner, but it wasn’t one of my favorites. The unrelentingly wholesome and innocent protagonists battling the evil Nazis reminded me of the old Perils of Pauline movies. All that was missing was the twirling mustache. I don’t mind a retelling of innocence trying to survive in an evil world, but I needed something fresh. And by that I mean something grown up and fresh. The book was really a young adult novel and I don’t think it was marketed as such. So I felt a little cheated. I loved Harry Potter, but I knew what I was getting going in.

    Having said all that, the book was beautifully written, wonderfully researched and executed. The characters were well-drawn and I even thought the ending was satisfying. To get back to your point, I thought the title was YA-cute and too on the nose.
    I guess I was hoping for more grit in the telling, but I didn’t find it.

    Readers of this book are very protective so I know this won’t make me popular. Pile on, folks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The biggest draw-card to ATLWCS is the beauty of Doerr’s prose – I was blown away by how vividly it was written. I wouldn’t say Werner was particularly wholesome or innocent, since he turned a blind eye to what was going on and joined Hitler Youth so he could play with radios a bit more, but I agree he wasn’t scene-chewingly evil, for a Nazi!

      No piling-on here. I appreciate a good debate, well-expressed. It’s “This book just sucked because it did” that gets my hackles up 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • Don’t think it hasn’t been an idle daydream for the last few months – write the most lazily-written, non-edited rubbishy smut I’m capable of and see if it sells 😉


    Well, I don’t 100% agree with that. A book title is an intrinsic part of the book cover and sometimes it has to be loud to fit in, and it’s not always the author’s decision. I think the old cliché about judging books from covers is one to bear in mind.


    • I’m unlikely to notice all-caps on the front of a paper-and-glue book, especially with font variations. On Amazon, etc, it becomes more obtrusive (I know Scrapdragon’s title was in all-caps, but that in itself won’t prevent me reading a book, just put me off slightly and wonder if the rest of the book is in shouty-mode, too ;))


  3. I def agree with you! Beautiful titles usually get me to buy books like Jen Smith she has one of the best titles— This is What Happy Looks Like, the Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, the Geography of You and Me and Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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