How to Pick a Bestselling Title by Guest @BarbaraDelinsky

Your novel is done and you’re ready to start hyping characters and plot on social media, which is the current marketing tool of choice, right?

Only in part. Social media is important. Same with building hype with blog endorsements. Before you get to those, though, you need a good title. Studies suggest that the average reader makes a book-buying decision in less than three minutes based largely title and cover. Okay, the recommendation of a friend (or Reese Witherspoon) helps, or, if you’ve published before and have a devoted following, they may snap up your book on the weight of your name alone. A gripping plot description on the book jacket helps, but only if the shopper actually opts to read this summary.

How to make that happen?  How to get the reader to actually pick up your book and take a closer look?

The Title Is Crucial

It and the cover art are usually the first things the buyer sees. For this blog, I’ll focus on title.

But which is the right one? IMHO, the best ones are catchy. They flow. They’re not hard to pronounce. They’re easy to remember. Most important, they say something about the book and should speak to your target audience. Do you know who that target audience is? Of course, you do. Do you know other books this audience has loved? Of course, you do. These things should play a role in determining your title.  But there are other things as well.

How to Pick a Bestselling Title by guest @BarbaraDelinsky via @BadRedheadMedia and @NaNoProMo #title #BookTitle

Consider Comps

– e.g.., titles used by bestselling authors whose books are exactly like yours. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, said Oscar Wilde. This isn’t to say you take a bestselling title and change a single word, such as ‘a’ to ‘the’. But you can decide why that bestselling title works for you and try to emulate it.

Once you’ve chosen a title, do an Amazon search to make sure that the exact one wasn’t used last year, or, for that matter, on a book coming next fall. You can search Amazon for future books in a particular genre. This isn’t a bad idea to do.

Style Of Title Is Another Consideration

What’s hot? What’s not? It used to be that long titles were rarely used. I titled one of my books When Being Everything Wasn’t Enough, which I believe to this day is the very best title for this book. The plot is about a woman whose marriage is falling apart because her husband’s weak ego can’t accept that her business is a success while this fails, so he sues her for custody of the kids and big alimony. Well, my publisher believed that this title was too long. In the years since, long titles have arrived and are now commonly used, but back in 1997? Nope. The book was published as A Woman’s Place. I could live with this one, at least.

Not so Blood of the Rich. This title won’t ring a bell to any of you out there, because it never saw the light of day. But it was a no-brainer title for me. Not only did it fit the story, which included a murder mystery, hidden parentage, and a family saga, but at a time when I was struggling to be taken seriously by booksellers as a mainstream writer, it carried weight, I thought. My publisher thought differently. They retitled the book, Twilight Whispers. It sold well, but I’ve always felt that the title suggested a softer, sweeter book than the multi-themed book it is. If that was true, I did lose some sales.

Unfortunately, when it comes to title, the publisher does have the final say. As I said at the start, a title is a major marketing tool.  I write; my publisher markets. And so the book I called The House My Mother Built became Blueprints. The book I called The Makeup Artist became Before And Again. Do I think these titles are better than mine? No. Do I think the books would have sold better with my titles? Yes. Do I wish I’d made a stronger argument for the better title? Yes!

I know my audience better than anyone else. I also know my book. That means, IMHO, that I should have more sway in choosing title and cover.

A Word About IMHO

I’ve used it twice here and may yet use it again, because the inclusion of ‘humble’ is important.  A successful writer must be humble in dealing with those who sell her book. Insist on a title that the sales force hates and they will not aggressively sell your book.

A perfect example is my next book, the one I’ve just now finished writing. My audience is female and wants an intelligent escape from their own lives – a “beach book with substance,” as People Magazine once said of my books. My title has to appeal to that. My audience is also heavily commercial, meaning that while I see my books selling in Indies to the sophisticated reader, my publisher sells huge numbers of my books at places like Costco, Target, and Walmart, whose shoppers run the gamut from sophistication to not. Since publishing is about sales, I have to listen to my publisher.

To that end, I originally titled my current book Life With Memory, because this book is about memory – about how it may deteriorate or be repressed or never saved in the first place – about how different people may have different memories of the same event. But Life With Memory takes some pondering while the reader is considering a purchase, and that deters the impulse-buy factor.

My second choice is What I Remember. Readers like this one, they told me in a poll I ran on social media. BTW, if you want to use social media, running a poll with possible titles involves the reader in the book’s publication, which bodes well for sales. I wasn’t as wild about What I Remember as I am about A Week at the Shore, which is perfect for a vacation read coming out in June (2020) and lends itself to gorgeous cover art.

In the end, the publisher will choose. Stay tuned for that.

A Final Note Here

I’ve always worked with traditional publishers, but even if you’re working with a non-traditional one or self-publishing, the general premise of this blog is the same.  Know your audience.  Know your book.  Know what the market wants most right now.  Then go for it!

Barbara Delinsky Before and Again TPB

Before and Again by Barbara Delinsky

From a multimillion-selling master of women’s fiction, Before and Again is a story of the relationships we find ourselves in—mothers and daughters, spouses and siblings, true companions and fair-weather friends—and what kind of sacrifices we are or aren’t willing to make to sustain them through good times and bad.

Barbara’s latest, Before and Again, released in 2018.

The paperback version will be available this June.

Pre-Order the paperback HERE



Rachel Thompson is giving away one free consulting session (author branding or social media – writer’s choice) Value: $175.

How to Pick a Bestselling Title by guest @BarbaraDelinsky via @BadRedheadMedia and @NaNoProMo #title #BookTitle


Want to win this giveaway? Simply leave a comment WHY below!

All comments must be left prior to midnight on Friday, May 31st, 2019 in order to be eligible to win. Winners for the week announced on Saturday, June 1st.

Good luck!

Barbara Delinsky


Personal bios are really hard to write for those of us who make a living dramatizing bios for pretend people. Anything I write about me feels totally boring.

Bestselling author of BEFORE AND AGAIN. Brakes for squirrels, loves to read.


For a more detailed plan on developing your book marketing, purchase Rachel’s new book,
The BadRedhead Media 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge
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Get On That, Would Ya?


  1. McKenna on May 27, 2019 at 5:11 am

    What an interesting post! I knew that publishers often changed titles for different markets (the way Rowling’s The Philosopher’s Stone became The Sorcerer’s Stone in the US) but I never realized the degree to which working titles might be changed as a rule. One might say that publishers are in a better position to know what sells, but I find your chosen titles more evocative and interesting, compared to the ones the publisher selected!

  2. Raiscara Avalon on May 27, 2019 at 5:17 am

    I tend to think up the title first, though I do change it if necessary. But generally, the title is the easy part!

  3. Lexi on May 27, 2019 at 5:20 am

    Titles are literally the hardest part. I really really struggle.

  4. Brian Greiner on May 27, 2019 at 12:16 pm

    Interesting post. For myself, I have to have a proper title in mind before I start writing. Having decided the title ahead of time forces me to think about the WIP in more concrete terms. An aid in outlining, perhaps.

  5. Jennifer Gilmour on May 27, 2019 at 12:36 pm

    I think both of my current title’s are gripping and people have said so but I am wondering how to continue the create path. x

  6. Alexandria on May 27, 2019 at 1:03 pm

    Unfortunately, so many authors do not understand that the title of a book is part of marketing and that traditional publishers have control over anything to do with marketing, including the title. Many traditionally published authors who have their titles changed report that they still always think of the book under the working title from when they were writing it. It’s only in the past decade, with the advent of reliable e-readers, that authors have even had the power to really choose their own titles and to sell books as self-published authors, mainly thanks to e-books and online stores. Thanks for the great post, Barbara.

  7. Amy on May 27, 2019 at 2:11 pm

    I love the idea of using a poll to help choose a title! Great post—thank you!

  8. Jennifer Bernard on May 27, 2019 at 3:15 pm

    I NEED this prize! I feel that my social media game is not where it should be. I know how important branding is but have trouble sticking to it. A consultation with the brilliant Bad Redhead would go a long way! Also, I too am a redhead. (By choice, but that counts, right?) I loved this post and my experience in the industry certainly backs it up.

  9. Dana Lemaster on May 27, 2019 at 6:47 pm

    Ordinarily, the title of a project comes to me along with the idea. Having the title helps me shape the story. The challenge is that I know all the details of the story, but a person who’s deciding whether to publish my book won’t. I’m beginning to think that titles have to be like any other darlings in writing-we have to be ready to kill them when necessary. This isn’t something I say lightly, because starting from scratch on a title is one of the hardest parts of this process for me.

    Thanks for your article. I was interested to see the title changes for your books. For what it’s worth, I much prefer The House My Mother Built.

    Dana Lemaster

  10. Isabella Muir on May 27, 2019 at 11:43 pm

    As an indie author I have a constant struggle when I try to divide my time between ‘running the business’ side of things and writing the next book. I have written four novels and two novellas to date and received great reviews, but translating those into sales is a whole other thing! Any advice you can provide about widening my exposure will really make a huge difference! This is a great post, full of excellent advice – I had fun with my titles, but agree that finding something original is like looking for a needle in the proverbial haystack! Thanks for the chance to enter the competition and good luck to all!

    • Rachel Thompson on May 31, 2019 at 6:53 pm

      Thank you for commenting, Isabella. It is a lot to manage, definitely. If you read through all of these blog posts, you’ll find a ton of great advice and insider tips. Good luck with everything!

  11. Kelly on May 28, 2019 at 5:56 am

    I’m fascinated with titles. I’ve seen a few changed by the publisher that I felt were poor choices (not my books, so I can’t share) and when I asked the authors if they ‘fought for their title’, not one of those I’m thinking of did. I realize it isn’t our choice, ultimately, when you are working with a publisher, but I feel as authors we should not hesitate to voice our concerns. Titles are too important… Good post. Thanks!

  12. Heather LeRoss on May 28, 2019 at 6:33 am

    I could NOT agree more with this post! My first book originally had a very funny but odd title. One that made people laugh but also squirm. I realized it was making them uncomfortable and that didn’t sit well, obviously. I agonized over a new title. I was having lunch one day with an old friend who told me she knew I had my title inside me and was just scared. I paused, told the truth and when I told her my title, she got tears and said, “There it is.” I’ve had more people say they love my title. Follow your gut, just like Barbara says. Your gut knows. I’d be honored for a chance at a social media consult. I’m working hard to figure all of this out so that my new book has a solid foundation under it.

  13. Anne Goodwin on May 29, 2019 at 9:02 am

    I loved his warm-hearted post from the top of the writerly food chain. Thanks, Barbara and Rachel. My next novel is currently on its fourth title – one of those long ones which, if it endures to publication, will be in stark contrast to the one-word title of my previous novel. Both feel right to me, but I’m no expert.
    Barbara makes a good point that browsers might not get as far as the blurb but, given that some do, I’ve agreed with my publisher to rewrite, and simplify, the blurb. As Barbara suggests for titles, I’ve put a few options for opening lines to readers via a poll, which was fun and easy to do. But while there’s a clear winner, I’ve also learnt that not everyone likes the same thing!

    • Rachel Thompson on May 31, 2019 at 6:51 pm

      Hi Anne, and thanks for commenting. Here’s a good article about title length: Book title: What’s a good length? – article – you can also look up book title generators on Google if you haven’t already. It’s a fun exercise at the very least. Typically, shorter titles sell better, yet you need to trust your gut ultimately.

      My BadRedhead Media 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge is a mouthful, yet is my bestseller (of my 6 books), so who am I to talk!

  14. Royme Drake on May 29, 2019 at 10:20 am

    Titles come to me pretty early. The perfect one can take time. You have to be especially careful when self-publishing. Having a trad pub team behind you is a gift. Thanks for stopping by, Barbara. It’s great you brake for squirrels.

  15. Denise Derrico on May 30, 2019 at 11:32 pm

    Omg this blogpost makes me want to get caught up on Ms. D’s latest works! All the plots described here are interesting to me. Moreover, the style and tone of this piece is so friendly and inviting, I am even more encouraged. It’s so interesting to note that styles of titles might be in vogue or not. Of course, cover art styles change, so why not titles? I hadn’t considered this before. Blood of the Rich sounds more compelling to me than Twilight Whispers, I appreciate the original title.

    • Rachel Thompson on May 31, 2019 at 4:36 pm

      Isn’t she fabulous? I adore working with her and getting to know her. She’s a wonderful writer AND person.

  16. V. R. Craft on May 31, 2019 at 7:59 pm

    I struggle with this a lot.

  17. Ainsley Wynter on May 31, 2019 at 9:32 pm

    I would love to win this giveaway because I’d love feedback on my branding and/or social media. I feel like I’m authentic, but I’m not sure potential readers get a sense of what my writing would be like, aside from the sense that I’m passionate about reading and writing romance.

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