7 Tips to Choose a Winning Title and Subtitle for a Nonfiction Book

You’ve got about 3 seconds to land a positive impression with a potential reader as they browse online, at a bookstore, or at your book table. Your title and subtitle (along with cover design) are what will heavily influence that first impression.

I love what Dan Poynter says about book titles:

A great title will not sell a bad book, but a poor title will hide a good book from potential customers.

With millions of titles on the market, it can be tough to find a unique title that describes your book well yet is distinct, creative, and has a hook (it’s catchy).

I’ve spent countless hours trying to find the right title and subtitle for an amazing book. Nat Bodian, book marketing expert and author of How to Choose a Winning Title, says, “Choose a title for your book at least as carefully as you would select a given name for your firstborn child.” It’s worth taking time to name your book.

Seven Tips to Choose a Winning Title and Subtitle

Remember that the title is the hook (it gets the readers’ attention) and the subtitle sells the book—clearly and creatively telling a potential reader what they’re going to get out of the book. My ten tips for choosing a good title and subtitle are as follows:

  1. View your title and subtitle from your audience’s point of view. Your title can be meaningful to you, but if others don’t love it, you’re the only one who will enjoy your book. This is why it’s so important to know who your audience is or who specifically you want your audience to be.
  2. Consider your book title to be a “hook” that gets a potential reader’s attention, similar to what a catchy lyric and tune is to the chorus of a song. Ask yourself, What is the main concept or message (the one word or short catch phrase) that I want going through people’s heads after they read my book? Or What is the felt need my book will address and how can I express that to pique my audience’s interest?
  3. If you’re writing on a well-known topic, choose a title that articulates your fresh or revelatory spin on the topic.
  4. As a general rule, keep the title short. You don’t need to tell the whole story. You just need to create curiosity and some sort of understanding so readers know what they’re getting.
  5. Stay positive and paint a picture of the end result. In general, people are looking for a solution to a problem, not a prolonged discussion about the problem itself. If you or your child has nightmares, which book are you more likely to pick up—Terrors of the Night or Sweet Dreams Every Night? There’s nothing wrong with stating the problem; just don’t leave people there. Two former colleagues at Best Buy called their book Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It. That title acknowledges the frustration that many in the workplace have, but also lets readers know the book provides a solution to the problem.
  6. Use a subtitle to complement or describe your title, especially if your title does not tell the reader exactly what the book is about. Create a picture for potential readers to know what to expect or what benefits they will receive by reading your book. Show readers where they will end up if they read your book and do what it says.
  7. Remember it’s a working title, not necessarily your final one. It’s okay to have more than one working title. Be sure to print it out and put it up where you can see it often and ponder what the best title and subtitle for your book will be.

Every bit of time you spend thinking about your title and subtitle will pay off. Take some time this week to…

  • Go to Amazon.com and search the topic you want to write about. See what books are already out there and doing well. Read the book descriptions and recommendations. Learn what’s working and apply these insights to naming and describing your own book.
  • Take a look at the New York Times best seller list (choose the category that fits your book). Be a student of how these books were titled and are being marketed (by multimillion dollar companies with huge marketing budgets). You don’t have to copy what they did, but at least glean valuable insights that apply to you and your book so it can be the best it can be.
  • If you want to read more about creating a good title for your book, I recommend an article called “How to Name Your Nonfiction Book” by Dan Poynter.
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