The Secret to Compelling Titles


Lately it seems I’ve been presented with title after title that stirs within me a resounding—wait for it—yawn.

That’s right. Most book titles are boring.

Don’t get me wrong, in most cases there’s a powerful, compelling, helpful message inside the pages. Unfortunately, most readers won’t ever get that far.

What’s the secret to crafting a compelling title? In short, stop boring your audience.

What I’m about to tell you applies to book titles, product titles, magazine headlines, and blog headlines.

  1. Be intriguing. Some headlines or titles tell me all I need to know about what’s inside. They may be factual but they lack originality. Communicate something that will make me stop and say, “Huh?” or “Hmmm.” Stop Complaining and Start Living. In traditional marketing thinking, there’s nothing wrong with this title. It’s clear. It promises a distinct benefit. It has a nice rhythm to it. But what’s missing is the intrigue. I don’t feel I need to read this book because I already know what it’s about. If the title was How Complaining is Killing You or The Unexpected Secret to Living Well, now you’ve got me curious enough to at least pick up the book, flip it over to the back cover, and read more.
  1. Be contrarian. Don’t always say the expected. Often, taking an opposing or off-beat approach to a topic is a key to getting noticed, getting media attention, and standing out. If everyone says short headlines sell, a title that reads: The Surprising Truth About Long Headlines and How You Can Use Them to Build Your Business, can set you apart from your peers and help you get noticed and build your audience. Of course you don’t want to be so out there you look like an idiot. Yet, often powerful nuggets of truth are in the minority opinions and less common wisdom. Take a fresh look at your subject or industry and make note of all the traditional wisdom. Now look for key aspects of that wisdom and find subtle distinctions or anomalies that can be expanded upon.
  1. Be unique. It’s not what you say, but how you say it that makes a difference. Consider the book Freakonomics. That’s a one-word book title that’s not even a word. But I was in an airport and the title (coupled with a day-glow orange cover) caught my attention and made me stop and pick up the book, which I eventually read. Look for unique ways to describe a situation, product, service, problem, or opportunity.

Chicken Soup for the Soul is a franchise book line, not because of the powerful prose, but the cleverness of the title. Of course the contents had to live up to reader’s expectations or no word-of-mouth “contagious branding” would have occurred. But the unique title got things started.

Contact us today for help crafting winning titles, compelling copy, and more.

Photo credit: Street Smitty via Visual Hunt / CC BY

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