Each month, the Nonfiction Authors Association asks a burning publishing question of the industry’s best, brightest, and most innovative experts. Here’s what they have to say!
NFAA: What is the best piece of advice you’d offer to an author about developing a marketable book title?
There’s no denying it: the title you choose for your nonfiction book can make, if not break, your book. Editors and agents won’t usually reject a book because of a dull title, but an engaging title can compel the publishing pro to read your book ahead of the scores of others on her desk. My best advice: don’t sacrifice meaning in search of cleverness. Go for a title that demonstrates a deep understanding of the audience for your book. A cute hook is less important than a title that suggests confidence and strength. Get there by studying the titles of books that sold well to your audience. The best titles are like poetry, encapsulating the content and attitude of the book in just a few words. Classic examples: Lean In; Smart Women, Foolish Choices; Eat, Pray, Love; He’s Just Not That Into You; The One-Minute Manager. Keep in mind: the goal of your title is to obtain the interest of the publisher; the final title will, in all likelihood, be changed before publication.
Jody Rein, Agent, Coach, and Co-Author of How to Write a Book Proposal, Fifth Edition, Writers Digest Publishers. www.authorplanet.org
In terms of developing a marketable book title, I care most about novels, since that I write and help authors with. I also write non-fiction books and have helped authors with theirs in the past. For fiction, you want to see what’s trending in your genre or sub-genre and find a title that will telegraph to the reader what kind of story they’ll experience. Test your titles with your target audience to make sure they convey the promise of that experience.
In nonfiction, finding a marketable title starts with knowing the biggest problem your book solves. Then, use the two important search engines to see how people are searching for and discussing that problem: Amazon and Google. Make a list of up of the terms you find—the more the better—and then see what’s popular and what may already be taken. You can check what keywords for your possible titles are popular by using Google’s Keyword Planner (link). You can also see what book titles have already been taken by searching Amazon.
Creativity coach, novelist, and teacher Beth Barany works with aspiring and dedicated genre novelists who desire to share their stories with the world and create sustainable careers via her online school, Barany School of Fiction. http://bethbarany.com/
(NOTE: My experience is in nonfiction, specifically “nonfiction how-to,” so these tips reflect that background.)
1) Make It a Promise – Writing a nonfiction “how-to”? Make your title a promise. Tell the readers why they should buy the book – what they’ll get out of reading it. Examples? The One-Minute Manager, Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Well-Fed Writer. Any doubt about how the reader will benefit from reading those books? Put another way…
2) Make It About THEM – Many titles make the mistake of being all about the book. But readers don’t care about you and your book. Being normal human beings, they care about one thing: themselves. I didn’t call my first book, A Guide to Freelance Writing (i.e., exquisitely dull AND all about the book), but rather, The Well-Fed Writer—all about my target readers and what they wanted : to make a good living as a writer. Put yourself in the position of the buyer, not the seller.
Peter Bowerman, “The Title Tailor,” is a veteran commercial freelancer, speaker, business coach, and successful self-published author of the award-winning Well-Fed Writer and Well-Fed Self-Publisher series. Check out the other 8 Title Tips online here. http://www.titletailor.com.
ROGER C. PARKER
Pay attention to your book’s title! It plays a critical role in your book’s success. The title plays several important roles. Nonfiction titles must immediately target your “ideal readers” and promise a benefit by helping them solve a problem or achieve a goal. What to Expect When You’re Expecting, a perennial best-seller since 1994, is an excellent example. Nonfiction titles must also position your book, reinforcing its appeal to the market segment you want to reach. The Non-Designer’s Design Book and the hundreds of titles in the …for Dummies series immediately communicate they were written for newcomers. Whenever possible, limit the title to a few short words, but provide supporting details in the subtitle that follows.
Always test your titles! Don’t leave success to chance. Don’t seek subjective validation from family, friends, or coworkers. Start by knowing your readers; their characteristics, the problems they want to solve, the goals they want to achieve, and how your book will differ from existing books. Test-market your titles and subtitles before making a final choice. Free online survey programs, like SurveyMonkey, are indispensable tools for testing titles and subtitles. You can also A-B test titles by offering a free downloadable PDF incentive, like a tip sheet or checklist. Create two landing pages, identical except for the title of the book. Go with the title with the most downloads.
Published and Profitable’s Roger C. Parker helps business authors plan their way to success. He’s written 40 books sold around the world. Download his free 99 Questions to Ask Before You Start to Write and Self-Publish a Brand-Building Book to make sure your writing and marketing plan covers all the bases.
Step away—meaning that your book is for your reader…not for you. Some titles are so solid, the author knows from the get-go what it is. Other times, it’s a working title, not to be finalized until the book is completed. Along with your cover, your title is the opening shot for book marketing.
- For nonfiction, what is your readers’ pain? What do they want? Does your title have an emotional pull to it? What about an essential keyword or words? Don’t get caught up with cutesy phrases or a title that does not clearly include a common or key search word that your readers are using within a Google search for help or info. Use a tool like KeywordSpy.com to verify how many searches are done monthly, or for words that you are considering using. Another tool to check out the emotional, spiritual, and intellectual pull a title has can be found on AMInstitute.com Headline Analyzer.
- For fiction, your genre is important. Short titles are a better hook. Don’t use words that would drive a buyer to a dictionary to determine what they are. Don’t give the plot away in your title…it’s a tease. Your title may be hidden in the dialogue of one of your characters.
- For both, use active words and precise nouns. Google the title to see what else is out there with the same words. Titles aren’t copyrightable, but the more original you are, the better. If you are reaching out to fans, ask for their input. If you ask for input via friends and family, use caution. Unless they are true readers of your genre and/or potential buyers, they are most likely the wrong fit to try and help you with your title.
Judith Briles, The Book Shepherd®. With 35 published titles and assisting more than 500 authors in creating and publishing their books, Judith provides practical author and book publishing guidance to authors globally. Get her free Publishing Essentials via www.TheBookShepherd.com. She can also be reached at 303-885-2207 or email: Judith@Briles.com.