Sometimes it’s easy to spot a self-published nonfiction book title. There’s just something…. um…. amateur about them. Traditional publishing houses often have entire teams who come up with just the right title to attract the right attention from the right people.
Coming up with a rockin’ good nonfiction book title is hard. Hard, and hard work. Your nonfiction book title will serve as its own marketing device, helping you sell. Or not. Which means choosing your title is a big deal. A very big deal indeed.
The Job of a Nonfiction Book Title
The three main jobs of your title are:
- to be effective as a marketing tool
- to appropriately reflect the content and the promise of your book, and
- to elicit an emotional response.
In some types of nonfiction, such as reference and self-help, the title must identify the content in the book. It should also answer the reader’s question: What’s in it for me? It must convince the reader that great value is contained within the pages. It must also promise to solve a problem, fulfill a desire, or serve another interest they currently have.
With memoir and creative nonfiction (as with fiction) you want a title that does at least one of these things: infuriates, shocks, intrigues, bewilders, or delights. It should definitely make your potential readers/buyers think they want to know more.
Characteristics of a Great Nonfiction Book Title
Nonfiction titles that help you sell a million copies (I believe in stretch goals!) also often share these characteristics.
Brief: Short and Sweet Titles
In general, short titles are more favourable and palatable to prospective buyers of your book than longer ones. They’re easier to fit into your book cover design. And they fit nicely within the constraints of various social platforms, for instance in a tweet or in a concise URL. They are easier to say, to read, and to type, especially using our thumbs on the touch screens of our smartphone. Mobile device screens can be small, and excessively lengthy titles may not even sit on the screen properly.
I’ve heard some people suggest avoiding one-word titles. I disagree. The right one-word title, for the right nonfiction book, can be incredibly effective. Like, Rework, Hooked, Contagious, or Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Seems to work, wouldn’t you say?
Recall: Easy to Remember
The easier it is to remember the title, the more likely a potential buyer of your book will look it up again in the future for a possible purchase. Memorable titles can be created through various means including alliteration, originality, and in general, words that grab the attention.
Speak: Easy to Say
How easy is it to pronouce? A title that is difficult to correctly enunciate can lead to potential problems. Like being misspelled. Which, in turn, might make it hard for people to search for and find the book. Make sure your title flows easily from your lips, and as a test, have family members or friends repeat it back to you as well.
Find: Using Keywords in Your Title or Subtitle
If possible, use your primary keyword in your book title or subtitle. This can enhance the searchability of your title online. People conducting searches for various topics may come across a site, whether it is Amazon or another outlet, where your book shows up. You may also add multiple keywords in a subtitle in order to increase the probability of your book being found for particular search terms.
Beware: Solution Rather Than Problem
It’s easy to get so caught up in solving the reader’s problem that you slip into coming up with a title that paints the picture of the problem – rather than the solution. We had one author come to us for developmental editing after he had already decided on his title and paid for his cover design. His title did one thing very well: it captured the problem his readers were having. Especially for business, reference, and self-help nonfiction, your title should depict a desirable end-state that the reader can hope to experience once he/she has read your book.
The 5 Steps to Creating Your Winning Book Title
Some authors may believe good book titles drop like instant inspiration from the universe. If this describes you, not to worry. By all means, use that insta-title as your working title. But hold back from getting the cover designed and your bookmarks and other giveaways printed or produced.
As with everything else related to a good, solid, and professional book, creating a winning nonfiction book title takes work. So, finish your manuscript first. And finish your marketing strategy, too. Your marketing strategy is going to reveal all kinds of good stuff about your readers, the environment, and your competition that can inform your title creations process. When you’re ready, follow these steps.
What are the ideas you want your title to get across? If you’re writing a business book whose promise to readers is that they’ll learn bookkeeping, your list of ideas might include: make the book attractive to those who dislike bookkeeping, bookkeeping is enjoyable, etcetera.
Your manuscript is a goldmine of potential titles. Go through it and look for sentence fragments, phrases, and words that might serve as a title. Write down anything and everything that comes to you. Don’t make judgements about what is good or not good at this point; simply let your creative title juices flow. You want as long a list as possible. If your book needs a subtitle (as most nonfiction books do), repeat the brainstorming exercise for that.
Review your brainstorm list and start whittling it down. You’ll immediately see that some ideas will work better than others. When working with a client to finalize a title, I often create a chart at this stage: possible titles on the left, possible subtitles on the right. Some titles and subtitles work better together than others and stacking them side by side helps me see that.
Once you get a top three or five titles/subtitles, hop on over to Amazon.com and put each combo into the search bar. If you find another book with the same or very similar title, you should probably strike it off your list. It isn’t technically against copyright to choose a title already taken by another book (you can’t copyright a title), it’s not going to help you and your book stand out.
Get feedback! Share your title ideas via social media. Send them to reader friends and family whose opinions you value. Find readers of other books in your genre and ask them. You can even try to get feedback from bookstores, libraries, or online author groups of which you’re a member. HINT: Don’t ask what they think, or whether they like the title. Do ask whether the title makes them want to know more.
And be open! Sometimes during the ‘ask’ phase, someone will come back at you with a title idea you hadn’t thought of… and it will be great!
Finally: Remember Your Reader
Perhaps the most important thing to remember when working to nail the best nonfiction book title possible is – your reader. Is your draft title going to be attractive to too narrow, or too wide, an audience? Will it resonate with your reader without offending? Does it tell them, or at least hint at, the promise of your book? If you can answer yes to these questions, and you believe you’ve incorporated the characteristics of a great nonfiction book title, you may just have a winner on your hands.