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How to Choose a Title for A Memoir

Sometimes people ask me to come help them choose a title for a memoir. Here are some guidelines I use to generate a memoir title.

Choose a title for a memoir: it’s about the reader not about the writer.

When a title is good, it refers to something the reader will resonate with without any knowledge of the writer or even of the memoir. A good title brings the reader to the book; it “snookers” her/him to pick the book up and possibly buy it.

A title consists of both the main title and the subtitle. The subtitle eliminates any ambiguity the title may have.

  • What is your ideal reader struggling with? Where is his pain? Place a word or two that describes that pain into the title—or more probably into the subtitle. “A Story of Loosing a Spouse”
  • What outcome will the reader achieve when she reads this book? “How I dealt with a Crippling Disease and How You Can, too.”
  • How can you involve the reader’s curiosity? “Some of the Worse Thing You Can Do For Your Health”

A reference to a poem the reader is unaware of does not generally entice a reader, unless the wording itself is commanding.

A marketing opportunity

When you choose a title for a memoir, you are engaging in a marketing opportunity. Certainly for the reader, it is often her initial contact with you. Without maximizing on marketing opportunities of which the title is often the first, an author remains without readers. Most of us do not want this.

Since all memoirs are about “me,” if you choose a title for a memoir like “Memories of Me,” what does that add to the reader’s sense of what s/he might expect? Many things are competing for the reader’s attention, a title needs to be a player in the competition. “Memories of a Slave Girl” is certainly more captivating.

Can you see why the author of Felice’s Worlds changed his title to Art of a Jewish Woman: The True Story of How a Penniless Holocaust Escapee Became an Influential Modern Art Connoisseur?

A writer must choose a title for a memoir strategically. Do you have favorite titles? Please share them below.

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