A client asked me on Friday, “What are the purposes behind choosing a book title that works – for all the right reasons?”
I told her, “Good question. There are 7 things we’re going for with our non-ficiton book title. A winning business or self-help book title and sub-title should:
1. Stop people in their tracks and grab their attention because it doesn’t blend in with all the other books on the shelves.
2. Address a problem you’re facing, a need you have, or a benefit you want.
3. Contain strategically selected key words that bring your title up high in online search so people “googling” that subject find your book annd website.
4. Promise real-world, actionable deliverables – what readers will stop, start or do differently as a result of reading your book.
This is why many sub-titles have metrics in them. When readers see 7 Steps, 12 Keys, 30 Days, 10 Ways; they conclude the book will give them replicable recommendations and tangible results.
5. Tease or engage readers with a NURD (new word), provocative concept or visual allusion that gets their eyebrows up and causes them to reach for the book as they think, “Hmmm, that’s interesting, I want to know more”
Think Freakonomics and Blue Ocean Strategy.
6. Feature alliteration or rhyme so the title rolls off the tongue and stays in the mind.
You can test the memorability of your title any time you want, for free. Just tell people your title and ask them to repeat it. If they can’t repeat it; they didn’t get it. And if they didn’t get it; you won’t get the sales, clients or media.
And yes, alliteration and rhyme can be annoying if overdone so run your title by your brain trust first to make sure it’s not cutesy or an over-the-top eye-roller.
7. Contain no superfluous words. As Strunk and White said, “Every word must tell.”
In fact, you may have noticed a trend in business books these days.
Many feature a one word verb.
Drive by Dan Pink
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
Switch by Chip and Dan Heath
Nudge – Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
Sway – Ori and Rom Brafman
Roar by Kevin Daum
POP! – Sam Horn (had to throw that in)
Linchpin – Seth Godin
When you do this right, like Seth Godin did with Tribes and Malcolm Gladwell did with The Tipping Point, you coin a NURD (New Word) or an iconic cultural phrase that everyone adopts when talking about that issue and it becomes part of our vernacular.
This makes your book an evergreen because people become your word-of-mouth advertisers and keep you and your topic topc-of-mind.
As someone who has helped thousands of people craft the right title for their book, I know there is an art and science to titles and sub-titles.
In my next blog, I’ll share 3 examples of brilliant non-fiction titles and sub-titles that are paying off, big-time, for their authors and publishers.
I welcome your recommendations and submissions. What’s your favorite non-fiction title and why?