If you search Google for “book title ideas” you’ll find that most results point to book-title generators. The problem with these tools is that although they can do a decent job coming up with titles for novels, they do a poor job for nonfiction books.
The reason is that nonfiction books aren’t meant to entertain but to problem-solve, and as such they must have titles that are specifically created to address the needs of the book’s target audience.
Book title generators don’t know who your target audience is and they certainly don’t know what their needs are – only you do. Therefore, you’ll be much better off if you use your own creativity aided by a set of best practices for coming up with your ideal book title.
What Best Practices Should I Follow to Title my Book?
What makes a great nonfiction title is its ability to attract our attention, intrigue us, elicit our interest, persuade us to browse the book and compel us to open our wallets.
When naming a book, be careful not to create a title that makes sense only to you but not your readers. For instance, if you settle on a clever play on words that readers can’t relate to, your book title will likely fall on deaf ears.
Readers are constantly tuned into WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?), so you have to make sure that your title is always written with them in mind. Your title can be playful, intriguing and even controversial, but it always needs to be clearly understood.
Having said that, you don’t want to use a plain vanilla-title that has a clear message and does the job but that’s also boring and uninspiring.
For example, if the perennial bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People had instead been titled Things People do to be Highly Effective, the results would have been quite different, right?
Word choice matters a lot, and while the choice is nearly unlimited there are some best practices for nonfiction books that work time and again.
Below, I’ve compiled five book title ideas that you can use for inspiration, plus some examples of popular nonfiction books that have taken advantage of them to great effect.
Idea 1: Consider Using Numbers in Your Title
It’s been known for a long time in marketing circles that the human psyche finds lists of items alluring. This is the reason why so many articles have headlines like “The 7…”, “The Top 5…”, “The 3 Best…” and so on.
Nonfiction books are no different. For instance, here’s a list of popular titles that just use the number 7:
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
- The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success
- Seven Simple Steps to Personal Freedom
- The Seven Mysteries of Life
- Seven Steps to Oneness
Idea 2: Make Your Title Intriguing or Controversial (And Then Explain it)
This idea is the classic 1-2 punch: show the reader something intriguing or controversial to get their attention (your title) and then explain what you mean in the subtitle.
Here are some popular nonfiction titles that make use of this technique:
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counter intuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
- The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
- Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal
- The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
Idea 3: Make Your Title Counter-intuitive (And Then Explain it)
This is an extension of Idea #2. Use a counter intuitive message in your title and then explain what you mean in the subtitle. Here are some examples:
- The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-to-5, live anywhere and join the New Rich
- The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
- Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!
- Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America
- The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win
Idea 4: Consider Making Up A New Expression
Some authors have found success making up new words by mashing up two words that align with their book’s subject. In some cases, the made-up word has even become part of our modern lexicon. Here are some popular examples:
- Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explains the Hidden side of Everything
- Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture
- Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley
- Buyology: Truths and Lies About Why We Buy
Idea 5: Use a Single-Word Title And Then Explain it in the Subtitle
This is another very effective technique for coming up with nonfiction titles. Choose a single word that summarizes your book’s thesis, and then proceed to explain in detail in the subtitle.
Ideally, you want to use imagery on your cover that aligns with the basic meaning of this word. Here are some popular examples:
- Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking
- Outliers: The Story of Success
Here’s an example of a nonfiction title that makes use of ideas 1 and 5:
- Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive
Creating a title that inspires you is the first step. Next, you need to come up with two or three other alternatives that you can test with a select group of members from your target audience to find the one that resonates the most with them.
For example, Tim Ferriss, the author of The 4-Hour Workweek, tested a number of titles using Google ads before he published his book. He wanted to find out which of his title choices would get the most clicks.
Whether you do this testing with Google or through people you already know, make sure that you pick the title they gravitate the most to (incidentally, The 4-Hour Workweek wasn’t Tim Ferriss’ preferred choice).
In short, be creative but let your test data drive your final decision-making.
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to just to generate additional leads for their businesses.
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Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of 6 books published through Harper Collins (NY) and Titan Publishing Group (UK). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press and the founder/CEO of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, printing, distribution and marketing.