Whenever I teach a workshop, inevitably someone asks me about how to write titles for books. Everyone knows a good title sells books. It’s a hook. A grabber. It makes potential readers pick up the book and check it out further. If the title isn’t catchy, they might not read the subtitle, turn it over and read the back cover or open it up and see what’s written inside.
Honing your title to a fine point can also help you write your book. It helps you figure out what you are really, really writing about and what promise you are making to your readers. It solidifies the benefits you will provide within the pages of your book.
These days, there’s more to book titles. They are used as web addresses and need to be easily searchable on the Internet.
With all this in mind, I asked Roger C. Parker to write another expert guest blog post on this subject. Why? Because he wrote #Book Title Tweet: 140 Bite-Sized Ideas for Compelling Article, Book, and Event Titles, the first book written about choosing titles for nonfiction books. He compiled 10 tips from his newest book, which you can find below.
How to Choose the Right Title for Your Nonfiction Book
By Roger C. Parker
The title you choose for your nonfiction book plays a crucial role in its success! Choose the right title, and you’re well on your way to a successful book.
Choose the wrong title, however, and even the best-written book will likely to die in obscurity.
Here are 10 tips for choosing nonfiction book titles, based on the essential characteristics of successful book titles.
Top 10 Book Title Tips
Rather than brainstorming “creative” titles from scratch, concentrate on choosing titles that address the following topics:
- Promise a benefit. Choose a title that emphasizes the benefit readers will enjoy. Readers buy non-fiction books for a purpose, to solve a problem or achieve a goal. Focus on the problem your book will help readers solve or the goal your book will help them achieve. Avoid titles that identify a category but don’t offer an obvious benefit. For example, compare Graphic Design with Looking Good in Print, The former tells what the book is about. The latter emphasizes the benefit that readers will enjoy.
- Be concise. Conciseness leads to impact. Think of your book’s cover as a billboard located along a busy highway. The fewer the words, the larger the type! A book title with a few, short words set in a large type size can have far more impact a title with longer words. Try combining a short title with a longer subtitle that provides additional details, as Malcolm Gladwell did with The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.
- Target your specific readers. Identify your intended readers in your book’s title. Prospects will want to read your book because it sounds like it was “written for them.” Consider the subtitle of C. J. Hayden’s Get Clients Now: A 28-day Marketing Program for Professionals, Coaches, Consultants, and Self-Employed Professionals.
- Be specific. Use numbers to provide structure for your information, such as Steven Covey did in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective Individuals. Numbers can also be used to show how quickly readers can solve their problems, such as Jay Conrad Levinson and Al Lautenschlager’s Guerrilla Marketing in 30 Days.
- Position your book. Choose a book title that sets your book apart from its competition. You can position your book by describing the market you wrote it for, the symptoms it addresses, your qualifications for writing it, or the experience level of your intended readers. Robin Williams positioned her Non-Designers Design Book by emphasizing that it wasn’t for experienced designers.
- Use metaphors to make your title memorable. Metaphors make it easy for readers to “picture” what you’re talking about, attracting their attention and making titles easier to remember. Jay Conrad Levinson’s popular Guerrilla Marketing communicates its promise of describing unconventional ways to achieve success. Nonfiction’s two largest series are built around metaphors; the … for Dummies series and the Chicken Soup for the … series. Dummies titles succeed because everyone is a dummy in new and different fields. Likewise, Chicken Soup is a metaphor for relief from pain, something mothers traditional served family members feeling needing care and nutrition.
- Engage your reader’s interest. Curiosity, based on provocative or contradictory terms, can add engage the interest of prospective readers and set your title apart from “duller” treatments of the same topic. Timothy Ferris’s 4-Hour Workweek and David Chilton’s The Wealthy Barber both challenge readers to find out how and why. Ian Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone is an example of another curiosity-invoking What could he possibly mean? title.
- Use imperative or action verbs. Imperative titles begin with a silent “you” that communicate in an action-oriented, conversational way. Notice the implied command to take action in Get Clients Now and Book Yourself Solid. As an alternative, add “ing” verbs to your titles to communicate an on-going process, i.e., my early Looking Good in Print or Michael Stelzner’s Writing White Papers.
- Choose web-friendly titles. Your book title should contain the words and phrases that your intended readers use when searching on the web. The subtitle is a great place to add search engine keywords and phrases. Even if your book is intended for retail bookstore sales, you want your book to be easily found when searching online. Also, make sure that the website address for your book title is available for your blog or website. If it is, grab it as soon as possible. If it isn’t, create a URL by adding words like “book” or “online” to your book title.
- Test your titles. Regardless how much you, your family and friends, or your editor like your title, avoid committing to it until you’ve tested it with both the prospects and clients on your mailing list, as well as total strangers. Using any one of the popular survey creation resources on the web, like www.surveymonkey.com, provide a brief description of your book and ask respondents to select their favorite title from among three or four options. To attract strangers to your survey, use social media like Twitter, pay-per-click advertising, or sites like www.haro.com (Help A Reporter Out).
The stakes are high
It pays to pay attention to book titles—particularly, nonfiction books. The right title can pay an immediate dividend in terms of selling more books.
When choosing a title, look beyond your current book! Choose a book title that can become your personal brand, one that you can expand into a series of books, information products, coaching and consulting, and speaking opportunities.
Best wishes on choosing the right title for your book!
About the Author
Roger C. Parker is a book coach who shares what he learned writing 40 published nonfiction books sold around the world at Published & Profitable. His latest book is #Book Title Tweet: 140 Bite-Sized Ideas for Compelling Article, Book, and Event Titles.
You’re invited to download a proof of his next book, a “do-it-yourself” developmental editing workbook, 99 Questions to Ask Before You Write or Self-Publish a Brand-building Book.
Marie-Eve Boudreault says
Great post, food for thoughts… Thanks!
James Feldman says
Thank you for the insights. The tips come at a time when I am creating a new title. I appreciate the TIPS and hope to return the favor in the future. After all Shift Happens!
Nina Amir says
Thanks for your comment, James! Come back in November for 30 days of new posts.