How to Come Up With Killer Book Titles for Your Nonfiction Book

by Bennett R. Coles

Coming up with good book titles can mean the difference between limelight and obscurity. As an author, you know that books are judged by their covers, and within the cover, it is their titles that’ll be responsible for their market appeal.

When you’re writing your book, it’s better to first create working titles for inspiration leaving the development of the final version for the very end of your book project.

The selection of the book title you’ll go to print with is by far the most critical marketing decision you’ll make regarding your book and it requires a great deal of thought.

In Search for the Perfect Book Title…

Coming up with perfect titles is part art and part science. We’re talking, more specifically, about the art and science of persuasion.

The words in your title must persuade your audience to, not only pick up your book, but in some way compel them to read it. Ideally, titles must speak directly to their sub-conscious, without being filtered through their critical thinking.

In this article, we’ll have a look behind the curtains of human persuasion and we’ll use marketing and advertising research to arm you with the information that you’ll need as a nonfiction author to create a killer title for your book.

How to Come up with the Best Book Titles

Before you can persuade your audience, you have to know what it’s like to be in their shoes.

You’ll have to understand who they are – this applies whether you’re a professional targeting new clients or a business owner targeting decision makers in other businesses.

The more you know about the needs, desires, fears/challenges and goals of your target audience, the more you’ll be able to come up with a book title that speaks directly to them.

What Makes a Good Title?
(and for contrast, what makes a bad one)?
  • Good ones are centered on your audience / Bad ones are centered on you and your product or service
  • Good ones are short, strong and clear / Bad ones are meandering, weak and confusing
  • Good ones solve a problem / Bad ones sell a solution
  • Good ones connect with emotions / Bad ones target the intellect
  • Good ones are memorable / Bad ones are hard to remember

It’s well understood in sales and marketing circles that most purchasing decisions are at their core emotional decisions, and this is no different with books.

However, books have a built-in advantage over many products: book titles can be engineered to target the emotional core of an audience.

How Do I Come up with Titles For My Book?

Pocket paperbacks

To answer this question, we need to take a page from the world of sales and marketing and more specifically, we need to follow the lead from the masters of emotional persuasion: advertisers.

In order to persuade someone to purchase a product or service, advertisers make use of copywriting techniques. To choose a title for your book, we’re going to borrow from some of those techniques.

Here Are 3 Key Rules of Copywriting that Apply to Nonfiction Book Titles:

Rule One:

Book titles must always be addressed to an audience of one. You never want to write a book addressed to a group. As an author, you always want to write it for the single reader who is holding the book in their hands. For books to persuade a person into action they have to be that personal and, by extension, your book title has to follow the same rule.

Rule Two:

For your book (and title) to connect with your audience, you must have a thorough understanding of their desires as well as their biggest challenges. Human beings are internally wired to go towards pleasure (their desired result) and away from pain (their biggest challenge or fear).

Rule Three:

The job of your book title then is to show your audience with a couple of very short phrases (the title and the sub-title) the way that your book will help them achieve their desired result while avoiding their biggest challenge or fear.

How Do I Come up with an Interesting Title?

Your job now is to make sure that your book title sparks interest in your audience by following the above rules.

Here Are Some Techniques to Generate  a List of Book-Title Ideas:

Using Numbers to Add Specificity to the Desired Result

Resource Book Style

  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
  • The 4-Hour Workweek
  • The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing
  • The 90 Second Fitness Solution

Using a “Key” Word that Sounds Counter Intuitive

  • “Stumbling” on Happiness
  • The “Tipping” Point
  • “Learned” Optimism
  • The Motivation “Myth”
  • The “Gifts” of Imperfection

Single-Word Titles Can Be Effective (provided sub-titles expands on them)

digital download

  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking
  • Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
  • Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
  • Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive
  • Outliers: The Story of Success

Inventing a New Word or Expression (provided subtitles then explain it)

tips for finding and refining

  • Buyology: Truths and Lies About Why We Buy
  • Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explains the Hidden side of Everything
  • Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture
  • The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It
  • Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley

How Long Should Book Titles Be?

As a rule, you’ll want to make titles short and punchy and sub-titles long and explanatory.

Usually the book title will be designed by your cover designer to stand out from the crowd in a physical bookstore or within a list of thumbnail images in an online bookstore, so they’ll typically choose a fairly large font-size.

Sub-titles, on the other hand, need to be longer to expand on the meaning that short titles are missing due to its real estate limitations. No one expects to be able to read subtitles from a distance. The goal is for titles to spark enough attention to make readers curious about reading the sub-titles in order to learn more.

Should I Use Book Title Generators?

Personally, I’m of the opinion that generators set a bad example. Book titles require a lot of thought and analysis, and this is something that shouldn’t be left to automation.

Instead of using book title generators, study a list of titles of nonfiction bestsellers in your field to learn the way they managed to apply the above copywriting rules and techniques to find their niche.

How Do I Find Out If Titles are Trademarked?

A single book title cannot be trademarked. The only exception to this rule is when you are publishing a series of books that share the same brand (for example, The Chicken Soup for the Soul series or the Harry Potter series).

While on the subject of trademarks, make sure you don’t mention someone else’s trademark in your book title unless you are authorized. Most online bookstores including Amazon have strict guidelines against using unauthorized trademarks, which may result in your book being banned from the site.

Finally, Get Plenty of Feedback for Your Book Title

Don’t just focus on a single book title because it happens to sound great. Remember, it doesn’t matter what you think, all that matters is what your audience thinks.

A clever play on words that makes perfect sense to you may be lost on your audience. The best approach is to come up with 3-5 titles and test them out in the wild.

At first, you may ask business acquaintances, colleagues and clients for initial feedback. But eventually you’re going to have to find people that fit the description of your audience as closely as possible and get their first impressions.

These are the folks your book has been written for, and they’ll provide your most valuable feedback.

Best of luck choosing your book title!

If you enjoyed this article and are in the process of writing a non fiction book, be sure to check out my free nonfiction bestseller guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.


Leave me a comment below if you have any question or a specific thing 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 generate additional leads for their businesses.

Here are some related articles I highly recommend:

How to Come Up With Great Book Ideas For Entrepreneurs

How Long Does it Take to Write a Book to Help Grow Your Business?

Learn 10 Powerful Writing Habits to Fast Track Your Nonfiction Book

The Most Effective Writing Exercise for Busy Business People

Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder 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, marketing, printing and distribution.

  1. Avatar
    Julio Trejo Perez

    Hello, Ben, Thank you for providing tips and advice for non-fiction writers; most of the tips you included in your articles are very interesting and helpful. I would like to read more articles or recommendations that you have for authors of non-fiction. I am about to finish a non-fiction manuscript on a Catholic Deacon in the Diplomatic Corps–A Memoir. I am an ordained permanent deacon and a retired diplomat; I am also a retired educator in education. I served as a teacher and a principal before joining the US Foreign Service. As a Foreign Service Officer, I served in the Middle East, in Africa, in Costa Rica, in Guadalajara, Mexico and in Washington DC. I received diaconate faculties in Costa Rica, in Mexico, and assisted the Apostolic Nuncio in Luanda, Angola. The title of my memoir is The Cross and the Seal–a Deacon in the Diplomatic Corps.

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