How Good is Your Story’s Title?

A film titling kit

Choosing Titles

In today’s competitive market a writer, especially an indie writer, needs to keep her eye on at least two balls – writing skills and marketing.

It isn’t enough that you’ve written a great first novel or screenplay. You need to generate interest in it.

The belief that a good writer will be recognised in time may be overly optimistic. For every writer that succeeds many others don’t. The truth is that wide-spread recognition, if it comes at all, has to be actively pursued, coaxed, massaged, grown.

Entering competitions, doing readings of your work, building a large online presence, giving guest lectures at book clubs and colleges, can help. But what you really need to do to get your new novel or screenplay noticed is grab the reader’s attention with a great title followed by a captivating logline or blurb.

I have discussed loglines and blurbs elsewhere on my blog. Today I want to look at the importance of a story’s title. Not only is the title a hint of what your story is about, it is an indispensable marketing tool, too.

I asked a friend of mine, an avid reviewer of kindle books, how she picks which story to read first amongst the many others she receives each day. She told me she lets the title and book cover do that for her.

When I worked for Elmo de Witt Films, one of my tasks was to look out for promising screenplays. There were always dozens of them in a pile on my desk waiting to be read. The ones that caught my eye first were always screenplays with great titles.

A great title ticks one or more of the following boxes:

It points to a genre.
It hints at the story behind it.
It has emotional content.
It is not the name of a character.
It sets up a question, hints at a puzzle, intrigues one in some way.

Titles such as, Rich and Famous, Gladiator, The Madness of King George, and Alien leave us in no doubt as to what the story is about. Others, such as Blade Runner, sound so cool and compelling they make us want to know more.

But titles such as K-Pax, The Island, August Rush?

Not so good.

Emma may have worked for Jane Austen way back then, but names of (unknown) people don’t generally make for good titles.

I typically come up with twenty or more titles for a new book or screenplay and ask family, friends, and students to pick their favourite from the list, before making my final choice. I consider it time well spent.


Choosing a compelling, eyes-catching title for your story is the first small step in getting your novel or screenplay noticed.


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image: Davidd

4 thoughts on “How Good is Your Story’s Title?

  1. Juan Martin

    Summary for me .. He who reads a lot and walk a lot, see a lot and knows a lot. “Cervantes” and as you say a title that impresses not have to be a good novel or screenplay. Fabulous reflection. A greeting. Happy Holidays. John.

    1. Stavros Halvatzis Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Juan. Well, it still has to be a good story, but the title will attract attention first off.

  2. Rachelle Ayala

    Thanks for posting. Everything matters in this game, and a short, catchy title no doubt helps. I disagree about not having a name in the title. Maybe the name alone will not help, but something suggesting an action will definitely intrigue the reader to know more. For example, Taming Romeo, and Claiming Carlos suggest edgy romances with an ethnic tint. However, obviously, mileage will vary, and it depends on the target audience.

    1. Stavros Halvatzis Post author

      Thanks Rachelle. Yes, I do mean titles comprising of a name only. Those tend not to be spectacularly eye-catching. This does not apply to plays and novels of yesteryear, however. Those were less demanding times with far less competition.


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