Some great titles just
happen, but most are painstakingly developed. For his first book, <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Swim with the Sharks
Without Being Eaten Alive, Harvey Mackay hired a creative team to
hold focus groups to generate titles. Its final ballot, which included <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Swim with the Sharks,
listed 800 possibilities.
As with most things, having a
process or formula is a huge help in developing a title and subtitle with
substance and flair. Begin by following five pieces of advice:
· First decide what the title has to
say, and only then think about how to say it.
· Use short words. Your title should
be easy to say, hear, and remember. You’re going to talk about the book <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>a lot. Choose
a title that you can live with for a long time and that other people will want
to talk about, too.
· Don’t expect the title to do it
all. It should hit readers on some gut, intuitive, or emotional level and
magnetically draw them in to take a closer look, online or in a bookstore. The
subtitle should then clearly define the benefits of the book for its target
audience. You have the back cover for killer headlines and all the juicy
details that will get people to buy.
· If a book will inaugurate a
series, build flexibility into its title so that subsequent titles can easily
fit into the series format. Think <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Chicken Soup for the Soul for . . .
· Check your best titles on Amazon
and Google to see whether other books are using them. Titles cannot be
copyrighted, but you don’t want your book to be confused with anyone else’s,
and you do want to reserve the title as the URL for the book’s Web site.
Consistency helps build your brand. This is another reason for a short, punchy
title—it lends itself to a simple, easy-to-remember domain name.
Seven Starter Strategies
Here are just seven of the many
strategies you can use to develop your next book title. Usually a great title
results from combining several strategies.
Use a twist on a familiar phrase.
This is one of the easiest ways to make a powerful connection with your
audience. Build a bridge from what they already know . . . to you. Giving an
already familiar phrase new life is often a matter of changing just one word. <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Take This Job and Love It
is a great example; so is Hit the Ground Crawling: The Essential Guide for New Dads
by Greg Bishop. Again, be sure to check on both Amazon and Google.
Unfortunately, because book titles cannot be copyrighted, a <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Take This Job
title appears on several different books.
Use a vivid image to grab people on some gut level.<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> But make sure your subtitle instantly clarifies what
your book is about and what it does for the reader. The subtitle of <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Swim with the Sharks
Outmanage, Outmotivate, and Outnegotiate Your Competition—four
premium benefits for the business market. <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Kitchen Table Wisdom, by Rachel Naomi,
has the subtitle Stories
Use four-letter words (OK, even five).New York
Times bestsellers <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Take Back Your Life and <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Stand Up for Your Life
by Cheryl Richardson show how simple, everyday words can be turned into
powerful titles. Other examples are Jim Collins’s <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Built to Last and <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Good to Great.
Then there’s Malcolm Gladwell’s <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>The Tipping Point and <span
works. We’ve all seen or heard some long titles with strings of four-syllable
words that were meant to sound impressive, but come off sounding like empty
jargon. Be real. Book titles are a one-on-one conversation with your reader,
and you also want to make an impact on reviewers, distributors, bookstores, and
your industry peers.
Look to the book itself. This is
one of the most overlooked sources of great titles. Reread the manuscript with
fresh eyes, watching out for specific words or expressions that go right to the
heart of the book’s message or appear again and again. You may even find unique
turns of phrase. Often a great chapter title quickly translates into a powerful
book title. Even if these choices do not sum up the entire book, they can
create an inviting doorway to what you offer. Again, use your subtitle to
Choose clarity over cleverness. If
in doubt, simply say exactly what the book is. Dan Poynter’s <span
does just that. Keep in mind that a nonfiction book will ideally become a great
lead generator for the author, the author’s services, and any related products.
Make sure the title reflects the author’s credibility.
Use search engines. To find strong
key words for a title, test possibilities at <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>www.overture.com under “Visit the
Resource Center” and then “Key Word Selector Tool.” The goal here is to tie into
what people are searching for online.
Use a number to attract attention.
Look what The Seven
Habits of Highly Effective People has done for Stephen Covey.
Maybe your book promises results in 20 days or 24 hours. Maybe you provide
8½ secrets. Is the book made up of easy steps, true stories, hot tips,
proven strategies? A number provides a great way to give readers a tangible
sense of the benefits they will receive and the ease with which they can use
your book to get results.
Susan Kendrick and Graham
Van Dixhorn are partners at Write To Your Market, Inc. This article is
excerpted in part from their double CD program<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> Cover That Book: Insider Secrets for Writing and
Designing a Bestselling Book Cover (see <a
href=”http://www.coverthatbook.com/”>www.CoverThatBook.com). For information
about book-title critiques and consultations, email info@WriteToYourMarket.com
or call 715/634-4120.