Life in Missoula, Montana.
Okay you've written your novel, short story, or poetry collection. You've poured your heart into it, proofed it, edited it, had other people look it over. You tears and sweat are in it. it's all finished except for a title. Now you're stumped. How can you distill all that thought, all that work into a few words?
Coming up with a title can be one of the hardest things. First, it may be hard to distill all your work into one concise (short) statement. Second, maybe you have more than one theme going on. Which one makes the best title? Last of all, how do you select specific words that will convey what you're trying to say and still spark the interest of a potential reader?
Does your book have an overriding theme? Let's say you've done a lot of soul searching and you decided, "my book is really about the resilience of the human spirit". That's a good starting point. Sit down and just write down every word or phrase that comes to mind when you think about that. It doesn't matter if the words or phrases refer specifically to your work or not, write them all down. Right now we're just trying to get everything out on the table. Each word and phrase will likely make you think of others. The more words you get out, the more you will spawn. There's a good chance at this point that you will think of one or two titles that you like. Write it down on a separate list and set it aside. Examples: War and Peace. Death and The Good Life.
Maybe the main theme isn't yielding what you want. What is unique or unusual about your main character? What words would you use to describe them? What words would you use to describe what they go through in the story? If you've written a novel, many are about some sort of change that the main character goes through. What is this change and what words or phrases come to mind to describe it? We're brainstorrming again, listing everything that comes to mind even if it doesn't totally fit. Again, maybe you'll have a title or two in mind. Add it to your list. Example: The Hobbit. The Warded Man. The Discoverers.
Is there something about the setting of your work that is essential to the story? Something about it that is unique and important? Maybe your setting has a larger meaning or is symbolic of something. Brainstorm with words and descriptions related to the setting. The Bridges of Madison County is a title that comes to mind. By using this title, the author has let it be known that the setting is important, that the bridges have a greater meaning. Other examples: The Battle for Butte. Beyond the One Hundredth Meridian.
Every main character goes through some sort of conflict. Without that, you have no story. Brainstorm with descriptions of the conflict describe it in practical terms, then in general terms. A Wolverine is Eating My Leg. A Tough Trip Through Paradise.
Maybe you have a protagonist that deserves to be in the title. That protagonist doesn't have to be a single person or creature. It can be a group, a drug, or nature itself. Chasing The Dragon. Pretty Boy Floyd. The Perfect Storm.
Now you've brainstormed about the overriding theme, the main character, the setting, the conflict, and the protagonist. You have all sorts of words and phrases listed and a few of the best ideas have been transferred to a separate list. This separate list now has the ideas, words, and phrases that strike a chord in your brain or your heart. Work with these to make a few titles. If you're not quite sure the best way to translate something into a title, try several different ways. Again, we're brainstorming so nothing you do is wrong. The more ways you try things, the better. Once you're done, look back over the list. Find different ways to express the titles you've arrived at. You might come up with The Swordsman and the Dwarf. Maybe try adding Sword and Hammer. Things like that.
Once you have your list of titles, go over them with your editor, your proofreader, your friends, your writing group, or your beta readers. See what draws people's attention and interest, and what makes sense to others. Some people will suggest other titles based on their impression of what you've shared. Don't be threatened. Consider adding their suggestion to the list. You'll find that some titles you thought were great are confusing or off-putting to people. If a title is really unpopular to others you should probably cross it off. Don't hang on to a loser just because you got attached to it.
Based on your own opinions, and the feedback you've received, you should be able to pare your list down to five or six titles. From here, go to Google.com and use the keyword tool. Enter the words of your proposed titles and see how popular different words are in online searches. You might find, for example, that "Sword" and "Hammer" are searched a combined 200,000 times and "Swordsman" and "Dwarf" get 14,000 combined searches. It's just a way of finding out how other people think of (or don't think of) certain words. Also, of course, you can see how your proposed titles might or might not pop up in popular searches. Don't let the keyword tool be the final judge of your title , though. If you have a title that intrigues people in your focus groups and sums up your work in a way you like, don't throw it out based on searches.
Now we come to the hard part: choosing one. There's ultimately no way to do it except to make a decision based on the info. you have, on the feeling in your gut and on the feeling in your heart. Chances are that anything still on your short list would work well, but it's your work, choose the one that you like and you're comfortable with.