Sometimes writers ask me to help them choose a title for a memoir. Because I have worked with them, usually as their coach or editor and know their story, I am in a position to brainstorm with them to come up with a decent —and sometimes even great—title for a book.
There are many possibilities available to a writer, but one thing is certain: a writer must choose a title for a memoir strategically. It is a marketing opportunity. The name of your book can promote sales.
Write Your First Memoir Draft Program
The Write Your First Memoir Draft Program is a self-paced, long-distance program designed to support your writing and maximize your production.
- print and audio presentations,
- a monthly live mastermind group,
- book and MP3 downloads,
- loads of surprise bonuses.
“Our last Mastermind call really helped to focus me. I needed that.”
Invest in your writing; invest in yourself. Register today.
Here are some guidelines I use to generate a memoir title—for my own titles or for a client. I hope they prove helpful to you, too.
When you 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.
Think of your title as a billboard that will bring your book to the attention of a reader. There are two parts to most titles: a main title and a subtitle. The main title can be a touch fanciful but the subtitle must present the book contents.
A good title makes use of both the main title and the subtitle.
Where to look to choose a title for a memoir—or a subtitle
- A saying or proverb that encapsulated the book’s theme: All the King’s Men
- A repeated thought from the book. We Were Not Spoiled stems from my mother saying many times, “I can tell you we were not spoiled!”
- Business Boy to Business Man is the story of a man who always wanted to be a businessman—ever since he was a boy.
- A reference to a poem or song the reader is likely to be aware of—either in the positive or in the negative: No Sounds of Silence in The Family works because there are few people who do not know the reference to the Simon and Garfunkle song. A reference to something esoteric does not generally entice a reader, unless the wording itself is commanding separate from the reference.
The main title
The main title of a memoir can be more poetic, more vague. It will draw a reader in by its intrigue, but I do not believe it is enough to sell a book. For that, you need the subtitle.
What is the book about? Here are some titles from our own clients at The Memoir Network.
- Business Boy to Business Man. We did not feel that this title needed a subtitle.
- In Their Own Words is a collection of stories and it did need a subtitle [Memoirs of the Members of St George Greek Orthodox Church/ Keene, New Hampshire] as the title did not “give away” what the book was about.
- Coal Fields to Oil Fields and Beyond was made clear by the subtitle: A Life in Pursuit of All I could Be
- We Were Not Spoiled shows four children on the cover, but what is it about? The subtle draws its intended audience in: A Franco Memoir
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 Losing a Spouse. Widows and widowers will be immediately attracted.
- What outcome will the reader achieve when she reads this book? How I dealt with a Crippling Disease and How You Can, Too. Anyone with a crippling disease who is endeavoring to live with it will be drawn to this subtitle.
- How can you involve the reader’s curiosity? Some of the Worst Things You Can Do For Your Health. Most people are interested in improving their health.
- What affiliation can you solicit from the reader? For my mother’s memoir We Were Not Spoiled, I chose the subtitle: A Franco Memoir Any person in our ethnic group would intuit immediately that the memoir was possibly of interest.
As you choose a title for a memoir, think: 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.
Whatever you do today, write a bit on your memoir.