Coming up with tempting titles for your nonfiction, self-published book

Posted By on April 23, 2013

You’ve got a fabulous book, but you’re stuck on the title. How do you motivate people to sip the sparkling prose of your pages? It’s a dilemma to be sure.

It usually works best to have a clear title over a catchy one. And ideally it should start with the two or three most relevant words, so when booksellers look it up on a database, they can immediately catch your drift. This will also help your book turn up more frequently in computer keyword searches.

When playing with titling, look at the power of numbers: 5 Ways to …, 7 Weeks to …, 21 Secrets for …, 101 Easy …, 307 Moneymaking Tips. It can go on and on. Studies show uneven numbers work best, by the way.

Another useful approach is to identify the three biggest problems your book solves. Become the reader and ask yourself, “What’s in it for me?” or, “Why should I care?” Then cast these solutions in punchy, benefit terminology. Promise how you will change the reader’s life.

You can also stimulate title ideas by checking magazine article titles to see what thought ticklers they provide. Also peruse the teaser phrases on magazine covers. Sometimes by substituting just a word, you have a grabber title. Look within your book itself for catchy phrases that might make a captivating title. Listen to songs and read poems to find a phrase you might turn. Toss around clichés and common sayings to see if a slight change of wording would yield an appealing title.

Start writing down ideas—every idea that comes to mind. Let your mind wander with all possibilities. Use a thesaurus to find synonyms for likely candidates. Check any fuzzy definitions. Cast out those with no possible application. String the remainder together in various combinations. You may end up with ten or twenty possibilities. All the better. (Note: Save all of them; they can probably be used for chapter headings or subheads.)

Next, do some preliminary market research. Big corporations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to test people’s reactions. You can sample public opinion for free. Carry your list of suggested titles everywhere you go. Ask coworkers, relatives, neighbors, friends—even strangers—which they like best, and least, and why. Solicit the opinion of Facebook friends. Note their comments and suggestions.

As favored titles begin to emerge, play with them. See if by tossing two together you might mix in an appropriate subtitle.

And don’t forget the subtitle. There are two very good reasons. Books In Print and other important listing sources enter both the title and the subtitle, so you get more mileage out of your listing. It’s like getting a brief sales message free. It also gives you more opportunity to describe the book.

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