Thursday, September 3, 2015

Does your memoir have a title yet?

Have you chosen a title for your memoir? You can give it a working title even if you haven’t finished polishing your stories.

Most of us spend a long time pinning down exactly the right title so start now on yours, knowing you might change it later.

Some of you don’t plan to publish your memoirs for a broader audience—you’ll print a few copies for family members. In that case, choose a fun title that they’ll enjoy. You’ll find good tips below.

If you want to publish your memoir for a broader audience, ask yourself the following when searching for your title:

  • What is my memoir’s theme or recurring themes—my memoir’s message?
  • What is my story’s major turning point?
  • Can I link my title to a popular book title? (The last time I checked, book titles cannot be copyrighted but, nevertheless, craft your own similar title.)
  • Is there a famous quote or Bible verse that summarizes my memoir’s message?
  • Who is my audience (who is most likely to buy my book)? Use key words to catch potential readers’ attention. 

Kathy Pooler offers good advice in her blog post “Does Your Memoir Title Pack a Punch?” In it, she leads us through steps she took in crafting her memoir’s title.

In choosing it, she asked herself:

  • Is the title catchy?
  • Does the title strike at the heart of my story?
  • Does my title reveal my promise to the reader?
  • Does the title create interest for the reader?

Jerry Waxler, in his blog post, “How to Pick the Best Title for Your Memoir,” says we need to “consider all the work a title has to do. A great title helps potential readers buy the book, love it to the last page and then recommend it to friends.”

Jerry says, “the title is the first line of marketing.” A title can make or break a sale.

Think about how you decide which books to buy: The first thing you notice is the title, right?

If the title doesn’t appeal to you, you put the book back on the shelf. You want a book that makes you curious, attracts you, draws you in, and makes it impossible to put the book back on the shelf.

If the title does grab your attention, then, if you’re like me, you read the back cover for more info, and you open the book and read endorsements that might be at the beginning of the book. But remember, it was the title that inspired you to do so. That’s why your title is so important.

Above, Kathy asks, “Does my title reveal my promise to the reader?” and Jerry says it this way: “Reading a book is like entering a contract with the author, and the terms of that contract are summarized in the … title. Every time a reader sits down to read, the title goes through their mind, evoking an image that pulls them back into the story.”

My first memoir had several working titles. I played around with Confessions of a Baby Boomer: Letters from Africa because the organization I worked with in Africa was interested in using the book to recruit Baby Boomers, empty-nesters, and mid-lifers. The words Baby Boomer are key words that could catch the attention of our targeted audience.

But that title didn’t feel just right. Next I tried out Quaint I Ain’t: Grandma’s Letters from Africa, because, from the book’s preface: 

“I discovered I was not the traditional, 
quaint little grandmother 
I always envisioned. 
No, I had stumbled into adventures 
most grandmas couldn’t imagine—
a hippo charged me, 
a baboon pooped in my breakfast, 
a Maasai elder spit at me, 
and I drank tea from a pot cleaned with cow’s urine.” 

But that didn’t feel right, either—to me or to those who knew me. “Ain’t” is a word I’ve never used, and some acquaintances were shocked that I would use it.

In the end chose Grandma’s Letters from Africa for two reasons: (1) The memoir was a collection of letters I wrote to my granddaughter, and (2) I hoped potential readers would connect my title with Karen Blixen’s (Isak Dinesen's) Letters from Africa. My husband and I lived near Karen’s home and coffee farm, both of which were central in the famous movie, Out of Africa. (Sigh….)

Next week we’ll continue looking at memoir titles, but in the meantime, choose a working title, knowing you might change it later. Your working title will help you discover your final title.

If you already have a working title or published title, share it with us and tell us how you chose it. Leave your comments below or on Facebook.

Come back next Thursday for more about choosing your memoir’s title.


  1. Kathy Pooler’s memoir is entitled Ever Faithful to His Lead.

  2. Daisy Hickman’s memoir is entitled Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place. She’s in the process of writing Why Grief Matters.

  3. Michelle DeRusha’s memoir is Spiritual Misfit: A memoir of Uneasy Faith.