How to Create Book Titles that Sell

The first question in any book title is, what will it inspire the prospective reader to do? The obvious answer is BUY MY BOOK! OK, but what does your title and subtitle combination promise that will motivate someone to do that?

There are no clear formulas that guarantee success—which is why the vast majority of books that are published sell precious few copies. But here are some principles you can apply that will help increase your odds for book sales success.

  1. Make people curious – Think about book titles that whet your appetite and make you hungry to know more.
  • Freakonomics – don’t even know what that means but it grabs my attention
  • Things Your Doctor Doesn’t Tell You that can Save Your Life – I’m not even sick but I’m still curious.
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People – is intriguing because it makes you wonder what the seven habits are. Instinctively, you want to buy it because you need to know. If it just said how to have success I’m not sure it would have been as popular.
  1. Promise a benefit – Often it’s the subtitle that delivers the benefit more strongly than the title, but it’s absolutely essential that either in your title or subtitle tells the potential reader how your book will make life better.
  • Think and Grow Rich – Napoleon Hill appeals to our desire for financial success and security
  • How to Catch a Man – Admit it, if you’re on the market, this title will grab your attention.
  • Have New Kid By Friday – Most people want parenting help but don’t want to read a book about it…but Kevin Lehman nailed it with this title.
  1. Avoid Generality – I know Joel Osteen sold a ton of books with his title Your Best Life Now  Great benefit promise for sure. But it’s best to have a title that speaks to something specific. The more specific, the more believable.  
  • The Working Mom’s 30-minute Cookbook is better than Recipes for Busy People
  • Permission Marketing : Turning Strangers Into Friends And Friends Into Customers by Seth Godin –  You know exactly what the book is about and what it will do. You can’t get more specific than that.
  • If you have a one word or shorter title that’s compelling, make sure your subtitle offers the needed clarity and specificity to capture the attention of the reader.  
  • Being Happy – by itself this doesn’t work. But couple it with a subtitle that says How to change your Outlook in 15 seconds, and now you have a powerful title & subtitle combination.
  • Success – doesn’t seem concrete enough. It doesn’t stand out and seems fluffy.  Why or how is the book going to give me success?
  • A best-selling title will ignite the reader to buy with a call to action.
  1. Match your benefit with what your readers want.
  • Who is your average reader and what do they want? CEOs want results, for instance. That’s number one. They also want accountability. What they do not want is happiness. So they do not buy books on happiness for their employees.
  • If a parent was buying a book by an athlete, what would they be looking for? Probably specific traits like character and integrity and hard work. Discipline. Ideally, if we could use some of those in a subtitle it would really be a concrete explanation of what the book is about and why you should buy it. A subtitle should always say why you should buy the book.
  • A word about title and subtitle length: I say don’t worry about it. Yes, I like short titles. They allow the cover designer more freedom to craft a design where the title really jumps out at you.  They also allow more creative options for the supporting artwork and design. But there are some really great titles that are long. Consider:
  • The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family: A Leadership Fable About Restoring Sanity to the Most Important Organization in Your Life, by Patrick Lencioni
  • This bestseller is 22 words!  And finally, always remember that “YOU ARE NOT YOUR READER.  Don’t come up with titles that you love—come up with title and subtitle combinations that will ring the bell for the audience you want to reach.

If you need help with crafting a great book title or subtitle, call us. It’s one of our favorite things to do!

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