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What’s in a Name? 10+ Tried and True Formulas for Title Success

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One of the most important elements in a book’s success is a
well-chosen title. It will play the role of an ambassador, for many times
a title is the first aspect of the book that someone encounters. When
choosing a title, you need to pick a phrase that will represent the book
well as it moves into new territory. To support your creative process,
here are 10 title formulas (plus one bonus approach) that have contributed
to the success of nonfiction books time and time again.

<SPAN
style=”FONT-FAMILY: ‘New York’; FONT-SIZE: 12pt; mso-bidi-font-size: 10.0pt”><SPAN
style=”mso-tab-count: 1″>  1.<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  <B
style=”mso-bidi-font-weight: normal”>Promises, Promises:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  How will your book change the
reader’s life? For almost every subject, there is some promise that can be
determined. Titles that make a promise to the reader have included <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>Eat More, Weigh Less by Dean
Ornish (followed by Eat Great, Lose
Weight
by Suzanne Somers), The
Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook
by Joshua Piven and David
Borgenicht (a title that implies that, yes, you too will survive!), <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>How to Retire Rich: Time-Tested
Strategies to Beat the Market and Retire in Style by James
O’Shaughnessy, and Lose Those Last
10 Pounds
by Denise Austin.

<SPAN
style=”FONT-FAMILY: ‘New York’; FONT-SIZE: 12pt; mso-bidi-font-size: 10.0pt”><SPAN
style=”mso-tab-count: 1″>  2.<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  The Numbers Game:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”> 
Glancing over the shelves at
your local bookstore, you’ll see many titles that use the numbers formula.
(Yes, I even chose it as the framework for this very article!) Titles
playing the numbers game are 8
Weeks to Optimal Health
by Andrew Weil, <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>10 Things I Wish I’d Known:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  Before I Went Out into the Real
World by Maria Shriver, 100
Ways to Motivate Yourself
by Steve Chandler, <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>Eight Steps to Seven Figures:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  The Investment Strategies of
Everyday Millionaires… by Charles B. Carlson, and <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>24 Essential Lessons for Investment
Success by William J. O’Neil.

<SPAN
style=”FONT-FAMILY: ‘New York’; FONT-SIZE: 12pt; mso-bidi-font-size: 10.0pt”><SPAN
style=”mso-tab-count: 1″>  3.<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  Sex Sells:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”> 
Some titles<B
style=”mso-bidi-font-weight: normal”>grab a book purchaser’s
attention with a sexy appeal as in <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>The New Sensual Massage:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  Learn to Give Pleasure with Your
Hands by Gordon Inkeles, Jump
Up and Kiss Me:  Spicy
Vegetarian Cooking
by Jennifer Trainer Thompson,<I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”> Dining in the Raw by Rita Romano
(on natural cuisine), or Sex<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  and Rockets:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  The Occult World of Jack Parsons
by John Carter.

<SPAN
style=”FONT-FAMILY: ‘New York’; FONT-SIZE: 12pt; mso-bidi-font-size: 10.0pt”><SPAN
style=”mso-tab-count: 1″> 
<SPAN
style=”FONT-FAMILY: ‘New York’; FONT-SIZE: 12pt; mso-bidi-font-size: 10.0pt”>4.<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  The Best/The Greatest/The
Worst: 
<SPAN
style=”FONT-FAMILY: ‘New York’; FONT-SIZE: 12pt; mso-bidi-font-size: 10.0pt”>Try
using superlatives in your title, at either extreme. For the Best, there’s
The Best American Short Stories of
the Century
edited by John Updike and Katrina Kenison and <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>Getting the Best Out of Your
Juicer by William Lee. For the Greatest, <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>The Greatest Generation by Tom
Brokaw. And for the Worst, how about <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>Suck. Worst-Case Scenarios in Media,
Culture, Advertising, and the Internet.

<SPAN
style=”FONT-FAMILY: ‘New York’; FONT-SIZE: 12pt; mso-bidi-font-size: 10.0pt”><SPAN
style=”mso-tab-count: 1″>  5.<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  New! New! New!:
Some titles
announce a cutting-edge approach, such as <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>New Choices in Natural Healing for
Women edited by Bill Gottlieb and <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>New Rules for the New Economy by
Kevin Kelly.

<SPAN
style=”FONT-FAMILY: ‘New York’; FONT-SIZE: 12pt; mso-bidi-font-size: 10.0pt”><SPAN
style=”mso-tab-count: 1″>  6.<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  Contrary Point of View:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”> 
Here the title takes a point
of view that goes against conventional wisdom and/or experience. With his
title The Magic of Conflict,
author Thomas F. Crum urges readers to look at conflict in a different
way. The name Walking with
Dinosaurs
from Tim Haines gives us fuel for our imagination and leaves
readers wanting to take an extraordinary stroll. Calvin Ezrin’s title <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>Your Fat Can Make You Thin stops
us in our tracks and makes us wonder how this could be possible. Note that
sometimes a contrary P.O.V. is blended with a sense of humor as reflected
in There’s No Such Thing as Free
Speech and It’s a Good Thing Too
by Stanley Fish.

<SPAN
style=”FONT-FAMILY: ‘New York’; FONT-SIZE: 12pt; mso-bidi-font-size: 10.0pt”><SPAN
style=”mso-tab-count: 1″>  7.<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  The Power of Humor:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”> 
Roseanne Barr once pointed out
that humor is powerfully disarming. Some authors decide to disarm their
potential customers by making them laugh (or at least smile) in the
bookstore aisles. Funny titles include <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>Cooking with Two Fat Ladies by
Clarissa Wright and Jennifer Patterson, <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>Who Moved my Cheese? by Spencer
Johnson (on dealing with changes at work), <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>Feel this Book by Ben Stiller and
Janeane Garofalo (a spoof on self-help), and<I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”> Cliques, Phonies & Other
Baloney by Trevor Romain (for children on cliques and
stereotyping). 

<SPAN
style=”FONT-FAMILY: ‘New York’; FONT-SIZE: 12pt; mso-bidi-font-size: 10.0pt”><SPAN
style=”mso-tab-count: 1″>  8.<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  <B
style=”mso-bidi-font-weight: normal”>Regionalize & Spin-Off:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  With this formula, you reach
out to residents of a certain locale or cover a specific geographical area
for all readers. The initial book may then pave the way for spin-offs at
new locations. Examples are The
Wildflower Gardener’s Guide
(with versions set in various regions of
the US) and the cookbooks Café
Japan
and Café
Brazil.

<SPAN
style=”FONT-FAMILY: ‘New York’; FONT-SIZE: 12pt; mso-bidi-font-size: 10.0pt”><SPAN
style=”mso-tab-count: 1″>  9.<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  Money Hungry:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”> 
Enhancing the reader’s ability
to generate money is a popular appeal. Such titles have included <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>Make Money with Your PC by Lynn
Walford, Writing for Dollars:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  75 Selling Tips for the Freelance
Writer
by J. McCollister, and <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>Negotiating Your Salary:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  How to Make $1000 a Minute by
Jack Chapman. (How many of you want to read that last
one?)

<SPAN
style=”FONT-FAMILY: ‘New York’; FONT-SIZE: 12pt; mso-bidi-font-size: 10.0pt”><SPAN
style=”mso-tab-count: 1″>  10.<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  Secrets Revealed:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”> 
With all the secrets told over
the years, it’s surprising that there’s any left! But somehow these ideas
are found, and this formula continues to draw in book purchasers. Secrets
shared with readers have included <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>The Secret Language of
Relationships by Gary Goldschneider and J. Elders<I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>, Secrets of Natural Health by
Earl Mindell, What the IRS Doesn’t
Want You to Know
by Marvin Kaplan and Naomi Weiss, and<I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”> Amazing Medicines the Drug Companies
Don’t Want You to Discover.

<SPAN
style=”FONT-FAMILY: ‘New York’; FONT-SIZE: 12pt; mso-bidi-font-size: 10.0pt”><SPAN
style=”mso-tab-count: 1″>  Bonus Formula – Play on
Words:
 (This one is so
important, I had to include it! So here’s a bonus approach.) Phrases that
are already in the minds of readers can be a great jumping off point for a
title. Book names along this line are <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>Every Pitcher Tells a Story by
Seth Swirsky (about baseball’s greatest pitchers), <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>Look before You Love by Nancilee
Wydra (using Feng Shui techniques to evaluate a potential mate), and <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>Mirth of a Nation edited by
Michael J. Rosen (billed as a celebration of modern humor). Or you may
just use the same familiar wording in a new way, as in <I
style=”mso-bidi-font-style: normal”>Get Happy:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  The Life of Judy Garland by
Gerald Clarke.

<SPAN
style=”FONT-FAMILY: ‘New York’; FONT-SIZE: 12pt; mso-bidi-font-size: 10.0pt”> <SPAN
style=”FONT-FAMILY: ‘New York’; FONT-SIZE: 12pt; mso-bidi-font-size: 10.0pt”><SPAN
style=”mso-tab-count: 1″>  Some topics will naturally lend themselves more to one formula than
the others on this list. Other times, it can be fun to run a book idea
through most of the formulas to see what you can come up with. This
process may eventually lead you to create a winning name for your book
based on one of the formulas, or it can propel you in another direction
that works.

<SPAN
style=”FONT-FAMILY: ‘New York’; FONT-SIZE: 12pt; mso-bidi-font-size: 10.0pt”>Now
that you’ve read this article, you’re likely to notice some of the other
formulas for titles that are popular today. You’ll also see that there are
book names which are great simply because they’re smart,
attention-getting, and appropriate. Clever titles that break the mold have
included My Sister from the Black
Lagoon
by Laurie Ann Fox (about growing up with a mentally ill sister)
and Think:<SPAN
style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  A Compelling Introduction to
Philosophy
by Simon Blackburn.

<SPAN
style=”FONT-FAMILY: ‘New York’; FONT-SIZE: 12pt; mso-bidi-font-size: 10.0pt”><SPAN
style=”mso-tab-count: 1″>  When should you create your title? I recommend doing so early in
the game—at the planning stage when you’re laying out the chapters. That
way, the title will be deeply reflected throughout the entire book, adding
color and charm.

<SPAN
style=”FONT-FAMILY: ‘New York’; FONT-SIZE: 10pt; mso-fareast-font-family: ‘ New Roman’; mso-bidi-font-family: ‘ New Roman’; mso-ansi-language: EN-US; mso-fareast-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-language: AR-SA”><FONT
size=3>Robin Quinn is a writer and editor who lives in Los Angeles.
Through her editorial firm, Quinn’s Word for Word, she offers
developmental consulting, manuscript analysis, substantive editing,
copyediting, and copywriting services. Quinn’s Word for Word also provides
support for self-publishers through all phases of book production. For
more information, call 310/838-7098 or e-mail <A
href=”mailto:quinnrobin@aol.com”>quinnrobin@aol.com

This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor June, 2000, and is reprinted with permission of Publishers Marketing Association.

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