How To Write Book Titles The Proper Way: A Complete Guide For Writers

Book titles within essays or papers can be tricky. There are specific rules that are given for how to include a book title in a way that sets it apart from the content of your writing given by the Modern Language Association. However, as with many other things in life, there are exceptions to the rules. This article will guide you through the rules of the writing style guides so that you can include a book’s title in your paper or essay correctly.

How to write book titles:

Style Guides and Book Titles

When it comes to book titles within text, there are a few different style guides that have rules you can follow, depending on your writing type. The three types that you will encounter most often are; MLA style, Chicago manual of style, and APA. A writing instructor will usually tell you what style guide you are expected to use for a particular essay or paper.

MLA Style Guide

The MLA handbook states that you should always italicize book titles when styling book titles within your text. The exception to this rule are religious texts. You would not italicize the Holy Bible or the sacred books or titles of other religions. Note the following example.

Example:

Pam had stayed most of the summer indoors, re-reading her favorite book series. She was already up to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and she didn’t regret not being more active or going outside.

In the above example, the book title is italicized. Fiction titles and nonfiction titles alike must be in italics when within the text.

Series Titles in MLA

In the above example, a book from a series was used. But what if the text had not specified which book from the series Pam was reading? Would it still need to be in italics? The answer is: in this case, yes. In other cases, sometimes.

It’s really not as confusing as it seems. When you are talking about a book series but don’t want or need to include the complete series titles for the purposes of your work, you only have to put words in italics that also appear in the book titles. So, because Harry Potter is part of the title of all of the books in the series, you would italicize his name every time you mention the book.

However, if you were talking about Katniss Everdeen, you would not have to do this, as the book series she is featured in doesn’t use her name in the titles of The Hunger Games series. The same would be true of books like the Nancy Drew books.

Quotation Marks

There are instances in which titles should be placed inside of quotation marks within a paper or essay. This is done when you cite the titles of poems, a chapter title, short stories, articles, or blogs.

How To Write Book Titles

Poems

So, for example, if you were to write a paper that featured a poem from a book, you would put the book title in italics and the poems cited in quotation marks.

Example:

An example of an enduring love poem is “Annabel Lee” from The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. 

Chapter Title

Another time that quotation marks should be used is when using the title of a chapter. If you are citing a specific chapter of a book, you would enclose the title of the chapter in quotation marks, and the title of the book should be in italics.

Example:

The desperation and sadness of a man on death row can be seen in the “Wild Wind Blowing” chapter of Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song. 

Short Stories

Short stories are another case. Much like the title of a chapter or poem, in which the title is placed in quotation marks, while the title of the book or collection it is found in is italics. The same can be said for sections, stories, or chapters cited within a literary journal.

Example:

Stepping away from his norm of horror and gore, Stephen King writes of trust, love, and regret in his story “The Last Rung on the Ladder,” which can be found in his short story collection Night Shift. 

Punctuation Marks

If you are citing a story or title that includes question marks, you need to make sure to italicize the question mark when citing. Keep all punctuation, such as a question mark, comma, ellipses, colon, or exclamation mark, as it is in the original individual books.

Example:

If you want a funny and irreverent read, you’ve got to try Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea. Chelsea Handler has done a phenomenal job of being vulgar, relatable, and explaining life from her viewpoint in this hilarious and memorable book.

The Digital Age: Are Book Titles Underlined Anymore?

MLA style used to dictate that a book title should either be in italics or underlined. However, that is no longer the case. As computers started to take over as the major tool used in writing, it became unpopular to underline book titles. Therefore, this rule was dropped from the style guides.

However, it should be mentioned that when handwriting an essay or research paper, many instructors prefer that you underline book titles, as it’s relatively difficult to handwrite italics. If you are in a writing course or a class that is heavy on handwritten work, be sure to ask your instructor or teacher which method they prefer for citing a book title.

How To Write Book Titles

How to Come Up with Book Title Ideas

Now that quotation marks, italics, and style guides have been discussed, let’s move on to how you can come up with your own book title. If you’d like a title for your book that sounds interesting and will get a reader’s attention, you may find this article helpful.

Coming up with a good title for your book is a challenging yet essential marketing decision. The right title can make your target audience choose your new book off of the shelf instead of another writer’s work. Your book cover and your book title are quite possibly the most important marketing decisions you will make.

How to Choose a Good Book Title

Certain criteria should be met if you want to have a good book title, and there are specific steps involved in getting there. You may have assumed up until now that titles of books were just spur of the moment decisions made by authors or publishers, but a lot of work goes into writing good titles.

Grab the Reader’s Attention

As a general rule, you want your reader to remember your title and to sound interesting, even without the reader having seen the cover. There are several ways to do this. You can be a little dark with your title, be controversial, provoke the reader, or even be funny.

There are many examples of such works that use memorable and attention-seeking titles. The following are some different titles that are effective and would most likely provoke a reader to grab them from a shelf for closer inspection.

Examples:

  • Burn After Writing (Sharon Jones)
  • Love in the Time of Cholera (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
  • Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (Mindy Kaling)
  • Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea (Chelsea Handler)
  • The Devil Wears Prada (Lauren Weisberger)
  • Chicken Soup for the Soul (various authors)
  • God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian (Kurt Vonnegut)

Shorter Titles

If your full title for your book is long, you may end up boring a reader or creating a situation where a reader tries to remember the title of your book, but it’s too long and ends up getting it confused with another book. Although you should always do your best to make sure that there aren’t books by other authors that share a title or have a title similar to your book (more on that in a minute), you don’t want a person to get confused and get the wrong book instead.

Research Your Title Ideas

It’s a good idea to take the titles you have considered for your book and make a list. Then, do your homework. You can use tools like Google Adwords to test out your title to see if there are others like it, or you can simply use any search engine and plug your title ideas into the search bar and see what similar or exact titles of the same words pop up.

Readers are generally busy people. They don’t have the time or the energy to ensure that writers get a title right. They’ll look for the book they are interested in, and if it proves to be too difficult, or if there are other books written that have the same title, they’ll move on to something else.

A writer really has to make sure that they have a title that isn’t going to be ignored, is interesting, isn’t too long, and isn’t too similar to other works.

The same goes for titles of short works within a larger body of work. Short works, like poems or stories, need to have unique titles as well when included in a larger body of work, such as a collection. If stories are similar in nature, be sure to title them differently so that readers will be able to tell them apart, as well.

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