You can’t find the perfect title for a mystery project

Every so often I see a post: “Can you guys help me choose the best blog name/post title/domain name/book title/book cover?”

People at computerBecause I’m a helpful sort of person, and my skills often enable me to unlock this sort of thing, I sometimes try to engage with these.

And often I end up frustrated because the person prevents me from giving the help they’re asking for.

For instance, they give a list of four titles and ask people to pick the one they like best. But the titles sound like they’re referring to four different pieces of work. So I ask, can you tell us a bit about what your project is so we know what we’re aiming for?

Most often, that doesn’t get answered.  

Is it because they don’t know, or because they don’t want to tell, or they just don’t interpret that as a meaningful or important question?

Maybe they’ve put so much into writing their work that they’ve made the step into seeing it as universally important, so everyone must know what it is. It seems odd to write a summary of something that fills their mind. Maybe they’re worried people will steal their ideas (almost always a pointless worry). Maybe they’re so focused on answering the specific question that they can’t pay attention to what they see as a different one.

Let’s establish a distinction here. There are two questions you might be asking.

  • Which of these do you like best? That is, which appeals most to your individual tastes and preferences?
  • Which of these will do the best job? That is, based on your skills and perspective, which transmits the essence of what I’m doing and will draw in the audience I want?

Sometimes the first one is useful, as a poll of raw gut reactions. But it doesn’t really tell you a lot, apart from some people are attracted to pink covers and some are attracted to blue covers.

The way you name and package your project is not about random aesthetics. It’s the opening statement in the message your piece of work conveys. That statement comes in the form of word choice, sentence structure, associations of colours, impressions from layout.

And all that starts from knowing who your audience are (even in broad mindset terms), what you want to happen as a result, and how you want it to feel.

Start, by all means, with a long and messy description of the thing. Get the important points in. You can make it short and snappy later. That’s the process. This is a stepping stone on the way to there. On the way to getting something from inside you to inside other people.

Have a behind-the-scenes note so that when you ask people to help you can say, ‘This is what I’m trying to achieve; this is my aspiration; this is the ballpark I’m playing in.’

And they can get it and relax and give you a nudge that gets you further along the way, and feel warm that a good thing in the world has a tiny piece of them in it, next to the big piece of you.


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