What Makes for a Memorable Book Title?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

Today’s feature story looks at the discomfiting trend of publishers relying on puns or clichés in book titles. But, as Drew Nellins points out, they do serve a purpose: they provide a verbal hook for a reader to latch on and remember. Using a book title in this way essentially reduces the title to an advertising jingle. Nellins also notes that the reliance on subtitles also serves to undermine the authenticity and authority of the title itself. So, what does make for a memorable book title? I would argue that it’s something that combines the familiar and the unfamiliar in a way that is both visceral and verbally stimulating.

Take, for example, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — a great title, as it combines these various elements flawlessly. It offers a striking image and has great rhythm. Consider the alternate, original title: Men Who Hate Women. Not so great. Now consider the rest of the Larsson oeuvre. The Girl Who Played With Fire is visual, but a cliché — and its ultimately forgivable, as it was following the pattern established by the first. But the last book in the series — The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest — is just awful. It is both cliché and awkward, as does one really “kick” a nest one tends to think of as something in eaves or trees?

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.