I’ve recently been helping a client with her book due to be published with a major publisher next year and one of the things we’ve been working on is the title.
Getting the right book title is SO important if you want to have a really successful book. (And here I’m talking about business, psychology, self-improvement or other non fiction book. Fiction is different and not my area of expertise)
So I thought it would be useful to try to get some of my most important advice for book titles written out…
Here are my 11 secrets to a bestselling book title:
(And by the way many of these apply for titling other things like an online course or coaching programme.)
- Titles should make sense before someone reads the book
This is such an important one to understand.
Think about the international bestseller The 4 hour workweek. It’s really about lifestyle design but the title doesn’t talk about lifestyle design because when the book came out, no one knew what that meant or why they would want it until they read the book. But they doknow they want to work less (particularly at what they’re currently doing) so that is what goes on the cover.
- Titles should be aspirational
Another really important one. Aspirational means the title speaks to something the reader really wants so it makes an attractive promise:
The 4-Hour Workweek, World Famous: how to create a kick-ass brand, Indistractable, The subtle art of not giving a f*ck, Self Made: The definitive guide to business startup success, The courage to be disliked, Crush It, Profit first, Outliers
These titles are things that a reader craves – to be an outlier, to be indistractable, to crush it, to make profit in your business, to not give a f*ck etc
- Titles should speak to the current pain or the desired future of the reader
Either speak to the pain the reader is currently experiencing or speak to where they dream of being if they could only solve the problem they have or find the missing solution
How To Stop Worrying And Start Living, Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time.
F**k Work Let’s Play both speaks to the current pain (F**k work) and the desired future (let’s play)
- Sometimes a ‘Does what it says on the tin’ title can work
This is a title that is descriptive, matter of fact and easy to understand:
Feeling good, How to win friends and influence people, Stop talking start doing, How Innovation Works
- Emphasise a point of differentiation if you’re in a crowded market
The kindness method: Changing Habits for Good shows how to change habits but emphasises doing it with self compassion, The $100 startup emphasises starting a business on a near-zero budget, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talkingdifferentiates itself from all the business/success books that are aimed at extroverts
- Short & snappy is usually best:
The $100 startup, Make your bed, Profit first, Start with why
- Alliteration can help make the title memorable:
Tools of titans, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Men are from mars, women are from Venus
- Titles that are a play on words, have a double meaning, or play off/subvert a well known phrase or existing book title are memorable:
The little book of thinking big, Atomic Habits (double meaning suggests tiny habits but powerful effect like an atomic bomb), She means business (double meaning), The war of art (cf The art of war), The life changing magic of not giving a f*ck (The first of Sarah Knight’s series that sold 750,000 copies that is a play on Mari Kondo’s book title)
- Extreme promises can work if the book can arguably deliver on a big promise:
The 4 Hour Workweek, The one-minute manager, The 1-page marketing plan
- If title is obscure, the subtitle must be explanatory
Who Moved My Cheese: An Amazing Way to Deal With Change in Your Work and in Your Life
No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram
Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable
- If your book delivers on 2 or 3 significant promises, you can capture them in a trio subtitle:
The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich – this is a fantastic trio subtitle that hits 3 big desires: escape your job, travel, and get rich
You can even do this in a title by creating a duo title – eg How to win friends & influence people BUT these are difficult to keep snappy and while 3 is OK for a subtitle it is almost certainly too much to cram into a title
If you’re thinking some of these rules contradict the others or that there is a hugely successful book that breaks these rules then I would say, yeah of course. Finding a great title is as much an art as it is science. But you’ll notice that many of the most successful books (multi-million bestsellers) actually use several of these secrets.
Finding a great title also takes time so don’t expect to nail the ultimate title right at the start and get it wrapped up before you even start writing.
Pick a working title for the time being and start planning your book. You can always come back to the title later.