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What's in a name?

There’s something very satisfying about having decided on a title for your book, especially if it’s one with which you are really pleased, but if you can’t think of anything which satisfies you, don’t worry. Give it a working title and get on with writing the book first. The title will be there, somewhere in the text, you just have to recognise it.

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Whenever I visit schools to talk about writing we discuss titles at length. After all, unless you are a well known writer, it is the title which will make the child reach for your book and pull it off the shelf. Without an interesting and intriguing title – or recommendation from someone else – the book will probably remain there unread.

What makes a good title for a children’s book? To a large extent it depends on the age group the book is targeted at. Books for very young children should show, in a straightforward and simple way, what the story is about. For older children, more enigmatic or abstract titles are acceptable but don’t make them too clever.

It’s a good idea to run your proposed title through Google and Amazon and make sure no-one else has just published a book of the same name. Quite a few years ago, before the internet, a title for a story sprung into my mind. Footprints in the Butter. I then wrote a story around that title but just before publication my editor informed me that someone else had just published a book with the same title. Unbelievable! Needless to say, I had to come up with another title, The Incredible Shrinking Hippo.

Here are some tips on how to choose a good title for your book.What is the theme of your story? What is it about? Using a few keywords brainstorm them. Construct a spider chart with a key word in the centre and write down any associated words which come into your mind.

While revising your text, be on the lookout for a phrase which would make a good title.

Although some long titles have been successful, shorter ones are preferable, even single words. Your book title should be catchy and grab the attention of the potential reader. It should compel them to pick up the book and find out more about it. It should arouse interest and curiosity. Remember it’s going to be on the shelf with hundreds of other books. Go into any bookshop and scan the titles of children’s books. Which titles tempt you to pull them down and which don’t?

Titles can originate from:

  • A key word from the story
  • Place name or setting – city, river, building, street,
  • Character name
  • Mood or situation
  • Story message
  • Quote from the dialogue
  • The Bible or similar
  • A poem
  • A proverb
  • A well-known saying

Things you may like to use when constructing your title

  • Mystery
  • Appeal to the senses
  • Rhythm or rhyme
  • Alliteration

Look at these original titles alongside the final ones. Adult books, yes, but you’ll get the picture.

  • The Red Badge of Courage was originally Private Fleming, His Various Battles
  • The Blackboard Jungle was To Climb A Wall
  • The Great Gatsby was Hurrah for the Red, White and Blue
  • Alice in Wonderland was Alice’s Adventures Underground
  • War and Peace was All’s Well that Ends Well

Some useful websites:

About the author

Stephanie Baudet
Children's Writer and writing tutor

With over 34 children’s books published, Stephanie has a wealth of knowledge on how to improve writing skills. She tutors for Writers' News Home Study and The Writers Bureau.

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