PUBLISHED OCTOBER 2015
by Scott Lorenz, President, Westwind Communications
Using an idiom as a book title not only makes the book stand out more; it also makes the book easier to remember. We hear expressions with figurative meanings that differ from their literal meanings in everyday life—“Don’t cry over spilt milk,” for example, or “It takes two to tango”—because they convey meaning memorably in just a few words. The best book titles use as few words as possible. An idiom, with its prepackaged meaning, is perfect for naming a book.
Here are some examples of books with idioms in their titles:
Finders Keepers by Stephen King
Motor Mouth by Janet Evanovich
Cry Baby by Gillian Flynn
Mirror Image by Sandra Brown
Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie
Smoke Screen by Sandra Brown
Cut and Run by Abigail Roux
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
When Pigs Fly by Bob Sanchez
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Down the Rabbit Hole by Holly Madison
The power of familiarity helps explain why idioms are used so often. A familiar phrase provides a comfort zone, as it’s easily conveyed and understood by those who hear it. Because the phrase is familiar, people may believe they’ve “heard of” the book with it as a title. And if they think they’ve heard of the book, they will probably assume that it must be good (why else would people have been talking about it?).
How many times have you heard someone say, “Oh, I just heard about this new book” and then add that they can’t remember where they heard about it or who told them? We all know about the power of word of mouth, and a familiar, memorable title provides a great way to get that going and keep it building.
Even though idioms can be very effective as or in book titles, you need to follow some rules to make them work.
While you’re considering familiar sayings, beware of overused phrases. People are likely to ignore an idiom that has become a worn-out cliché.
Also, consider your audience. Some idioms may be offensive to some groups. And of course English-language idioms can be confusing for people who speak some other language, and vice versa. Consider, for example, the Irish idiom “It’s throwing cobblers’ knives.” In English, we would say, “It’s raining cats and dogs.”
Keep in mind, too, that idioms may work better as book titles for certain genres. Children’s-book authors are fond of using idioms in their titles partly because children tend to be attracted to titles that are simple and fun. For example, There’s a Frog in My Throat or It’s Raining Cats and Dogs. And authors of thrillers and mysteries often use them too. A book with the title Dead Tired not only grabs the attention of someone looking for a thriller or mystery; it signals that the book is fun.
One more thing. Remember this idiom: “You can’t judge a book by its cover”? Well, maybe you can.
The bottom line: Idioms are an attractive option for book titles because they are very easily remembered; they tend to roll off the tongue, making it easy to spread the word about a book; and they convey messages and images that draw readers in. If you choose an idiom for a title while keeping your target audience in mind, you will probably help your book sell.
Scott Lorenz is president of Westwind Communications, a public relations and marketing firm that works with bestselling authors and self-published authors, promoting all types of books. His clients have been featured on Good Morning America and other national TV programs and in the New York Times and other major newspapers. A version of this article appeared in the San Francisco Book Review. To learn more: Book-Marketing-Expert.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; 734/667-2090.