Some of our clients come to us with a title already picked out, before they've even begun to write. Others wait for the title to be revealed to them in the writing. Which way is better? It depends.
We get asked this question a lot: how do I choose a title for my book?
Should I start with a title?
Choosing a title for your memoir, especially a thematic title, before you start your project can be a great guiding force, helping you narrow the focus of your book as you write. For instance, Arthur and Lila Mae Debenham had chosen a title for their book years before they even started the process: Tender Mercies. They knew they wanted their book to reflect the "tender mercies" that God had bestowed upon them in their course through life, and this theme guided our efforts in the writing process, helping us decide what events to include and what to leave out.
But if you don't have a title already picked out, don't panic. It's much more common for writers to choose a title after they've begun or even finished writing. Often, the writing process itself will reveal a theme, phrase, or tone that suggests a title.
Start by considering what themes run through your narrative. What are the most important ideas in your book? Love, faith, survival? Look for a title that reflects the message you want to convey. Here are some examples of thematic titles from some of our clients:
Look Beyond the Weeds by Beverley Sorenson Taylor reflects her undying optimism and positive outlook expressed in her book, despite some difficult circumstances.
Unfaltering Faith by Hank Hoole details the author's religious conversion and how his faith has shaped his life. Riches of His Grace by Fay Miles and the above-mentioned Tender Mercies also reflect this theme.
Life is What You Make It by Nif Hicken. This title was a direct quote from Dr. Hicken that summed up his philosophy. "Life is what you make it. It's up to you to make it good and happy."
Dancing My Way Through Sanpete by Lois Johnson and I Could Have Danced All Night by Barbara Christensen each incorporated their authors' love of dance.
Puns, double meanings, word play, and humorous titles
Some day I will write a memoir entitled The Road Unraveled (a play on M. Scott Peck's book titled The Road Less Traveled, which was in turn taken from a line from a Robert Frost poem.) I wrote a little book about my childhood called Alison Wonderland, which is what my grade school nemesis used to call me.
Are We There Yet? Fifty Years and Counting by George and Shareen Keller is a fitting title for this hilarious book that chronicles a large family's travels--on the road and through life.
Grandpa McNaughtan Had a Farm chronicles the history of a family farm, obviously referencing the nursery song "Old MacDonald."
Although the following examples are not from our clients, these titles manage to be both clever and descriptive:
Ska'd for Life: A Personal Journey with the Specials is the autobiography of Horace Panter, bass player for the ska band The Specials.
Lit: A Memoir by Mary Karr references both her career as a writer and her struggles with alcohol.
Tall, Dark and Gruesome by--who else?--scary-flick star Christopher Lee.
Black Heels to Tractor Wheels by Ree Drummond (aka the Pioneer Woman blogger)
Watch your tone
Lest you get carried away with puns, make sure that the tone of the title matches the tone of your book. If your autobiography is lighthearted, then a humorous title will help prepare the reader for what to expect. If your narrative is of a more serious nature, then make sure your title reflects it.
Can I just use my name?
There's nothing wrong with calling your book "John Smith: a Personal History" (if that is indeed your name). You can combine your name in a subtitle with a more thematic title, like Papa Genius: the Extraordinary Life of Marvin Johnson or Merline Leaming: a Modern Classic. Just keep in mind that the title of your book (along with the cover) is your first introduction to the reader. If you have a compelling title and cover, your book is more likely to be read and enjoyed.