How long should your book title be?
Book titles can be utterly confusing. How long should your title be? How short? Should you spell out exactly what your book is about or tease the reader?
So many authors choose titles that hurt book sales and get them beat out in the marketplace by writers who know better. Buckle up because we are about to talk about the nitty-gritty details of book title length.
Your book title length should be approximately 4 words to match best practices on the Amazon top 100 bestseller list. Fiction titles are often shorter than nonfiction titles. After 4-word titles, 6-word or 10-word titles were the most common in bestsellers for both fiction and nonfiction.
Now that you know the best practice parameters of title length, let’s look at the main factors that can affect the exact length of YOUR book title.
The specific length depends on whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, the level of competition in your topic or genre, and the number of words it takes to clearly describe your book.
How Long Should Your Book Title Be: Data From 100 Titles (CHART)
I know you are itching to see that delicious data, so check out the chart below with my results from analyzing 100 bestseller titles on Amazon. Why Amazon? Because they are one of the biggest and baddest booksellers on the planet.
Plus, they are online so I could do my research in my pajamas. 🙂
While I’m no research scientist, I do have a few publication credits in peer-reviewed journals that throw around fancy words like “linear regression” and “coefficient alpha”.
In other words, I know just enough about data to be dangerous.
Just to be sure I was thorough, I also hired a professional data analyst to methodically examine the information.
I don’t know about you, but I find this information fascinating. Let’s go over what it means and how to apply it to your specific book or novel. Here are some key takeaways from the data:
- The most popular book title length is 4-word titles (this is true of both fiction AND nonfiction.
- The second and third most popular title length is 6-word titles and 10-word titles, although 100% of the ten 10-word titles were nonfiction books.
- The fourth most popular title length in the data is the 3-word title.
- Fiction titles are almost always shorter than nonfiction titles. Mostly this is due to the subtitles (the long phrase or phrases after the main title of the book, usually separated by a colon as in my Query Letter Swipe File: Exact Words, Phrases, and Templates to Write a Query Letter, Get an Agent and Publish Books for Life.
- 59% of the titles in the study were 10 words or less
- 41% of the titles were 11 words or more
- Surprisingly (to me anyway), 10% of the book titles in the data were 18 words or longer!
- Unsurprisingly, only two books in the data were 1-word titles
- There were twice as many 17-word titles than 5-word titles!
Why Everything You Know About Titles Is Completely Wrong (Sorry)
While researching this topic for my own book and blog post titles (and again for this post), it came as no surprise that there is a lot of information out there about how to come up with good book titles (or ANY kind of title for that matter.
Unfortunately, based on my results (and other results from similar studies), most of it is dead wrong. What most people think matters with titles, according to data, just doesn’t really matter at all.
For example, most websites, YouTube videos, and online marketing gurus will tell you that good titles:
- Matter more than anything – more than you, your car, or your soul
- Stuffed with keywords – gotta make sure Google finds ya
- Must avoid “stop” words – common words search engines skip over anyway
- Must include Power Words – emotionally compelling words like anger, joy, disgust, etc.
Sure, there is some truth to the importance of titles and the benefit of vibrant language, but why do most of these ideas fall flat in the data? Because they miss the main point of titles.
They miss why titles matter…
Why Does Book Title Length Matter?
Titles convert casual readers into curious readers.
That’s their whole purpose. To stop eyeballs and focus attention for a few crucial seconds. After that, it’s your book content’s job to keep attention, build attention and convert attention into interest, interest into desire, and desire into action (no matter if that action is simply reading your whole book in a single sitting, signing up for a newsletter or ordering a product).
To grab and convert that attention, book titles need to do two things really really well…
2 Main Reasons Book Title Length Matters
- The title must be long enough to be clear
- The title must be short enough to grab and keep attention
That’s why long, meandering titles of 11 or more don’t usually work. Very few titles in bestsellers are over 10 words, and most of those are nonfiction. Nonfiction tends to be longer because of subtitles. But still, no longer than 10. Keep titles tightly packed and clear. The shorter (down to 4 words) seems to be the sweet spot.
It doesn’t matter if a title is too long or too short – both fail the test of clarity. Before a book title can get attention, it must first be understood.
The best titles dominate clarity by mastering three factors. So, let’s turn to those factors next.
How Do You Choose a Book Title Length? (Data-driven answers)
When you go to create a book title, size does matter, just not as much as you might expect. Based on the data, the most important things you want to consider when choosing your title length are:
Book titles that dominate genre, competition, and intent get attention, get read, and get purchased. Each of these factors affects title length, so let’s quickly look at each one.
How Does Genre Affect Your Book Title?
Your genre will, in some ways, determine the length of your book titles. Especially the bestsellers in your genre. Some genres commonly use certain title lengths – Too Tempting, Dark Stranger, Gentle Hands (can you guess the genre??) .
Yet, even genre gravitates toward the 4-word title: What’s Left Of Me, The Fire Chief’s Desire.
What about the genre of your book? Check out the top ten or 20 or 100 bestselling books in our chosen niche. Just scan the titles and see if most of them have longer or shorter titles.
Insight: Genre reveals that effective titles can range from 2-5 words.
How Does Your Competition Affect Your Book Title?
As a general rule of thumb, you always want to check your competition before you choose your title. You might find that your genre or topic is full of long, 8-word titles, so you stand out with a shorter 3-6 word title.
Or, on the flip-side, perhaps you find your biggest competitors in the same category as you all use shorter 1-4 word titles, so you go bigger and longer. The key is to fit in but also stand out. You want to be in the neighborhood like everyone else, but have the house everyone wants to go see.
Remember those top 10 books you checked out with genre in mind? Now, look at them from the standpoint of competition. Will you stand out by going short or by going long?
Insight: Do the opposite of what your competitors are doing, but not TOO opposite.
How Does Intent Affect Title Length?
When I say, “intent”, what I mean is “buyer” or reader intention”. That is, what very specific intention does the reader or buyer have when searching for a book like yours.
Perhaps it is to solve a problem (How to Fix Your Dog’s Behavior Fast) or answer a question (How DO you write a book outline?). It could also be narrowing the title down to the exact subgenre a reader wants.
There is fantasy, then there is dark fantasy or high fantasy, or urban fantasy. There are spy thrillers and serial killer thrillers. For nonfiction, there are weight loss books and then there are flat belly books and leg workout books, and weight loss for busy men over 40 books.
The keys to intent:
- Know your buyer or reader’s intent (You can’t match or answer their intent if you don’t understand it)
- craft a title long enough to match that intent (i.e. answers the question, solves the problem). Title length, then, is not only determined by genre, competition, and clarity (but also intent).
What About the Title Length of A Book Series?
A novel series title operates more like a nonfiction book than a typical fiction book. The title of a series typically includes three parts, separated by a colon: the title of the individual book, the book order, and the title of the series.
For example, here are the first two book titles of my Past Lives series:
- Past Lives: Book 1 in the Past Lives Series
- Present Killing: Book 2 in the Past Lives Series
See how that works? The individual book titles are still short (in this case, two-word titles). After the colon, the book order and series title brand the series with more words. So, even though series titles run longer than your average fiction standalone title, notice how even the total word count of my series titles remain under 10 words.
The Best Online Title Generators
When choosing your title, there are many variables to keep in mind. Here are the best free, online tools for generating the perfect title to your book or novel.
- Book Title Generator (Reedsy)
- Reedsy Fantasy Title Generator
- Writing Exercises Story Title Ideas
- Book Title Creator
- Random Sci-fi Title Generator
- Reedsy Romance Title Generator
- Reedsy Mystery Title GeneratorAmaze Story Titles
- Tara Sparling’s Crime Thriller Book Title Generator
- Portent’s Content Idea Generator
- Adazing’s Book Title Creator
- KindlePreneur Website (mega list of 45 title generators)
Use these title generators to get dozens of new ideas for your titles. Then filter them through genre, competition, and intention.
Finally, choose your favorite title and see how many words it has. Would adding or subtracting a word to make it a 4-word title improve it?
Conclusion: How Long Should Your Book Title Be?
Maybe you’ve read this far and you’re still wondering how long your book title should be. I completely understand. Even with the chart, 4-word title guidelines, and 40+ title generators, titles can still seem…murky.
Let me try to simplify it for you.
Your book title should be as long as necessary and as short as possible. Use as many words as you need to in your title for it to make sense to readers, and only cut it back if you can. (But DO try to cut it down to 10 words or less)
If you do that, I’m confident that your book title will be a smashing success, no matter the length.