They’re important, of course, for attracting reader attention, at least until you become a well-known best-selling author, at which point your name can take up the top third of so of the book cover, with the title relegated to a secondary size and position on the lower part, because it will be your name that sells the book, and not so much the title.
So, meanwhile, how do you come up with a commanding title? Think about some of the titles that have struck you over your reading years. Many good ones ask a question. A recent one by Gregg Hurwitz that caught my eye was Trust No One. It poses several questions. Presumably the title is aimed at a protagonist. Who and what could he or she be? Why should the protagonist not trust anybody? It immediately casts an intriguing shadow. Fifty Shades of Gray also poses several intriguing questions about character and plot. Go to any bookstore and browse the shelves. Look only at the titles. Which ones catch your eye? Try to figure out why.
Analyze some of the famous titles that still endure long after the books were written. To Kill a Mockingbird, Ship of Fools, East of Eden, Valley of the Dolls, Gone with the Wind, The Old Man and the Sea, The Grapes of Wrath, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. Each of these creates its own interesting aura as soon as you see it, and most pose hidden questions.
I favor strong one-word titles for several reasons. I think they’re more memorable. They can be large on the cover to show up well, making the books stand out from their neighbors on bookshelves, and they’re even readable in the smallest online thumbnails. For a series of novels they create a theme of sorts simply because they are each only one word. And I like that they also create a clean, strong image that can be enhanced by bold, simple graphics with lots of contrast (I hate it when some cover artist, for example, uses black lettering for a blurb on a dark red background the low contrast rendering it difficult to read; it’s done more often than you’d think, even for name authors). I think bold one-word titles also look good on advertising and signing table displays.
I try to make the titles even stronger by using all caps. The four novels in my series are: GUNS, DIAMONDBACK, KLLRS, and DEATHSMAN. All stimulate background questions, as well.
Of course, Stieg Larsson’s novels or the J.K. Rowling stories have been wildly successful with whole-phrase titles like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
So titling is at once a highly personal choice and an absolutely critical marketing choice. The trick is to find one that will stop the typical browsing reader, and that’s worth whatever time it takes to find the perfect one.