Thursday, June 6, 2013

Creating Catchy Titles by Karen Witemeyer

Karen Witemeyer

With jazzy titles like Stealing the Preacher and Short Straw Bride, how could I not ask Author Karen Witemeyer for her tips to share with you? Be prepared to take notes! Enjoy, and I'll see you on the other side!!  ~Dora

Whether you are hoping to catch an editor's eye with an unpublished manuscript or a reader's eye as she browses for a new book, the first impression you make is with your title. 

The split-second it takes a potential reader to scan your title can be the determining factor in their decision to pick up your book and examine it more closely or to move on to something else. A strong, catchy title can make the difference between a sale and a pass.

A successful title reflects a manuscript's genre, tone, and possibly a key story element. For example: romance titles often include words like bride, love, and heart; suspense titles, on the other hand, favor words like dark, danger, and death. These words create an expectation in the reader. They create a mood.

Don't follow the formula too closely, though. Your title still needs a unique twist to set it apart from all the others. Since I write light-hearted historical romance, I try to create titles that reflect that humorous/romantic feel. With my debut novel, I came up with a title that played on words. In Tailor-Made Bride, my heroine is a seamstress or tailor yet despite the hero's resistance, he eventually realizes she is tailor-made for him.

Titles should intrigue the reader and make them want to find out more about your story. My most recent two titles play on this idea. Short-Straw Bride and Stealing the Preacher leave questions in the reader's mind. What is a short-straw bride? Did men really draw straws to see who would marry her? Why would someone steal a preacher? How does that even happen? Both titles also hint at possible humorous scenarios or shenanigans going on and when paired with the right cover, create a vivid impression on readers.

My other two titles did not originate with me. My editors actually came up with the ideas. The title for my second book, Head in the Clouds, plays on a key story element as well as highlighting my heroine's dreamer personality. She always had her nose in a book and her head in the clouds. But what made this title so perfect was that throughout the story, clouds were used to symbolize ambiguity as well as God's leadership of his people, like the cloud by day he used to lead the Israelites through the wilderness.

My final title, To Win Her Heart, is probably the most generic of the five, but it fit my genre as well as my story and was well-received by readers.

Keep your titles short, usually not more than 3-4 words. Remember, it needs to look good on a cover and not take up too much real estate. Give it punch so it lingers in a reader's mind. And after you pour your heart and soul into crafting the perfect title, don't marry yourself to it. Editors are notorious for changing titles. After all, a title's job is not just to represent your story but to sell your story to readers. It's all about marketing.

Question from Karen: What are some of your favorite book titles?
And from Dora: How do you come up with your titles?

Stealing the Preacher
Purchase Link
On his way to interview for a position at a church in the Piney Woods of Texas, Crockett Archer can't believe it when he’s forced off the train by an outlaw and presented to the man’s daughter as the preacher she requested for her birthday. He's determined to escape—which would be much easier if he could stop thinking about Joanna Robbins and her unexpected request. 

For months, Joanna had prayed for a minister. A man to breathe life back into the abandoned church at the heart of her community. A man to assist her in fulfilling a promise to her dying mother. But just when it seems her prayers have been answered, it turns out the parson is there against his will and has dreams of his own calling him elsewhere. Is there any way she can convince Crockett he ended up right where he was supposed to be?

About Karen Witemeyer:
Two-time RITA® Finalist and winner of the coveted HOLT Medallion and ACFW Carol Award, CBA bestselling author, Karen Witemeyer, writes historical romance fiction for Bethany House, believing that the world needs more happily-ever-afters. She is an avid cross-stitcher, shower singer, and bakes a mean apple cobbler. Karen makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at:    


  1. Great tips, Karen.

    Titles tend to be a tough one for me. I usually change them several times before settling on one. I try to think about something I can use from within the story itself, a little like Karen's Stealing the Preacher. Those words (or some form of them) were used several times. For me, the shorter the title the better.

    1. Agonizing, isn't it?

      Short titles (and series titles) are a must for me now. Definitely appreciated when it's time to promote the book. :-)

    2. I always try to make some kind of reference to the title in the course of the book. Sometimes it happens during rewrites where I can slip an allusion to the new title into the narrative. Some are much more obvious than others, though.

  2. I am currently reading Stealing the Preacher, and although this comment is a tad off topic, I still want to say what a great read this book has been. The title IS perfect and the book will give you a good reason to sit back a spell and enjoy a fun read.

    As for titles, I get bogged down writing my story until I can at least have a place holder title. It usually ends up being something . . . pretty stupid. And that's okay. During the course of the book I form a deep relationship with the characters and their issues. It is then that the ah hah perfect title comes to me.

    1. I LOVED Stealing the Preacher! The title just begs a question and reaches out and grabs your attention, doesn't it? It's such an integral piece of the story.

      I'm with you, Mary. If I don't have a title to begin the story, I flounder until I slap something on there. Just long enough to get to know the characters a little better and the story line. Thanks for sharing, Mary. :-)

    2. Thanks, Mary. So glad you are enjoying Crockett's story.

      I, too, need a working title to get me going. However, that's all it is - a WORKING title. Short-Straw Bride is the only working title that actually became the title of the book. A Tailor-Made Bride started out as Jericho's Fall (Jericho was the hero's name), Head in the Clouds started as Cloud by Day, To Win Her Heart was Eden's Garden (Eden being the heroine), and Stealing the Preacher was actually Stealing the Parson. Not much of a change there, but still a change.

  3. Hi Karen,

    Great article. Choosing titles is so hard. I usually start with the heroine's name and make it "Chloe's story" until something better occurs to me!

    Love all your titles and can't wait to read "Stealing the Preacher". Really love the cover too!


    1. Thanks, Susan. It's funny - I usually force a title at the beginning but when I refer to the story to my editors or crit partners, I usually reference it as "Crockett and Joanna's story." Maybe I should just adopt your habit and save myself the title grief early on. :-)

    2. I like that idea, Susan. I'll have to do that, because I have a project right now that has no title. The one I was going to use was too close to Dora's When Truth Whispers and I didn't want her to think I was copying her. LOL!

    3. Ahhaha, Sandy, I wouldn't think that. It's always neat to grab a title that's never been taken, though. Especially when Google alerts start to come in. lol

  4. LOVE these tips, Karen! Thank you so much for sharing. I can't wait to see the titles for your next few books!

    I loved Short Straw Bride and Stealing the Preacher so much, you're now at the top of my "must read" list. :-)

    1. Thanks, Dora! I've had a great time here today. I just got word that my current work in process has had its title approved. It involves steamboat engines and a scientist with exploding boilers as well as an independent, headstrong heroine. The committee agreed to accept my title suggestion of - Full Steam Ahead. It's a little different for a romance book, but I hope readers will be intrigued and find it fresh and fun.

    2. Sweeeeet! I love it! Congrats, Karen. Sounds like another winner!!

    3. Can't wait, Karen. I love the part about the scientist with exploding boilers. :-)

      We are going to get Neill's story next, though, right? Any title you can share for that one?


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