We’ve all heard the metaphor “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Ironically, this metaphor doesn’t apply to books themselves!
Books are judged by their covers, and within the cover, it’s the title that’ll be mostly responsible for their market appeal.
Good book titles can mean the difference between limelight and obscurity; poor book titles can reflect negatively even on the best-written books.
When you’re writing your book, it’s better to use a working title for inspiration leaving the creation of the final title for the very end of your book project.
The selection of the 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…
Choosing perfect book titles is part art and part science. We’re talking, more specifically, about the art and science of persuasion.
Your title must persuade your target audience to, not only pick up your book, but compel them to read it. Ideally, your book title will speak directly to their sub-conscious, without being filtered through their critical thinking mind.
In this post, we’ll have a look behind the curtains of human persuasion and we’ll use marketing and advertising research to arm you with the tools that you’ll need to create a killer title for your nonfiction book.
How to Create a Good Title
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)?
- A good book title is centered on your audience / a bad title is centered on you and your product or service
- A good book title is short, strong and to the point / a bad title is meandering, weak and confusing
- A good book title solves a problem / a bad title sells a solution
- A good book title connects with emotions / a bad title targets the intellect
- A good book title is memorable / a bad title is 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: their title can be engineered to target the emotional core of their audiences.
How Do I Choose A Title For My Book?
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 people 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:
Your book title must always be addressed to an audience of one. You never want to write a book for a group of people, you always want to write it for the single reader who is holding the book in their hands. For books to persuade someone into action they have to be that personal and, by extension, your book title has to follow the same rule.
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).
The job of your book title is then to show your audience with a couple of very short phrases (the title and the sub-title) how your book will help them achieve their desired result while avoiding their biggest challenge or fear.
How Do I Make My Book Title Interesting?
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 Book Title Ideas:
Using Numbers to Add Specificity to the Desired Result
- 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 the sub-title expands on them)
- 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 the sub-title explains it)
- 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 your title short and punchy and your sub-title long and explanatory.
Usually the title will be designed by your cover designer to stand out from the crowd in a physical bookstore or within a group of thumbnails in an online bookstore, so they’ll typically choose a fairly large font-size.
The sub-title, on the other hand, needs to be longer to expand on the meaning that the short title is missing due to its real estate limitations. No one expects to be able to read the sub-title from a distance. The goal is for the title to spark enough interest to make readers curious about reading the sub-title in order to learn more.
Should I Use a Book Title Generator?
Personally, I’m of the opinion that book title generators are counterproductive. The title of a book is something that requires a lot of thought and analysis, and this is something that shouldn’t be left to automation.
Instead of using a book title generator, study the title of nonfiction bestsellers in your field to learn how they managed to apply the above copywriting rules and techniques to find success.
How Do I Find Out If a Title Is 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 (e.g. 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 to use it. 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
Don’t just focus on a single 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 title options 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 people your book has been written for, and they’ll provide your most valuable feedback.
Best of luck with your title!
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 generate additional leads for their businesses.
Here are some related posts I highly recommend:
Bennett R. Coles is the 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.