Your book title can influence whether someone picks up a copy or ignores it. The title also serves as the foundation of your book’s content, so it’s important to get it right.
You should write the title of your book before you start writing the manuscript so that you know what to focus on. But, you can change or update your title after writing your book as well.
In four easy steps, here is a high-level framework for writing a book title for your nonfiction book.
Step 1: Write your book’s output statement
The output statement identifies the target audience of your book and the specific goals you want to achieve for your readers. It looks something like this:
“My book will help <target audience> <outcome>.”
Your target audience is the demographic interested in your book. For example, “Married women over 45 with two or more kids.” Your outcome is the benefit or goal that your book promises the reader. For example, “Learn how to cook vegan meals for under $10 a recipe.”
Step 2: Focus on both the title & subtitle
Although your book title and subtitle differ, they serve the same purpose.
Your title is how you reference your written work. It’s your one-second description that appears in the largest font size on your book cover. Generally, your title should be between one and five words in length. That’s because you want to make it pronounceable and memorable. You also want to make it simple for people to mention your book on social media and in interviews.
Your subtitle builds on and supports your title. The title is your one-second description. Your subtitle is your mini elevator pitch (four to 15 words). So, focus on both because they complement each other.
Step 3: Include the four elements of a good title
A great title and subtitle, using keywords, will target an audience, grab their attention, and promise a result.
You don’t have to cover all four elements in both the title and the subtitle. You can address some elements in the title and others in the subtitle.
The title can grab attention and contain keywords, while the subtitle describes the outcome and defines the audience. The idea is to try your best to include in your title all four of those elements covered between both.
1) Grab attention
The first thing a book title should do is grab the attention of your prospective reader. The goal is to make them stop what they’re doing and click on your book to learn more. Hundreds of other book titles can bombard your audience. Your book needs to stand out among the crowd.
You can do that by being relevant, controversial, sneaky, or funny. This calls for a bit of creativity, so there are no hard and fast rules.
Remember that your attention-grabbing element need not include the whole topic of your book. You can choose an angle that covers only a part of it.
For my book about email, the first title I wrote was: Email Communication for Teams. It described the focus of my book generally, but it wasn’t very attention-grabbing. I needed a more creative angle. So, I thought about the number one pet peeve of email in a corporate environment: the use of reply all. And after a few iterations, I came up with Don’t Reply All as the main title. It was a hit because everyone hates reply all and it made people smile.
There is a single chapter in my book that covers reply all, but I chose an attention-grabbing element and modern language over-detailed description.
Here are a few other examples of real book titles that effectively grab attention:
Another classic and catchy example is Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird.
2) Explain the outcome
Besides explaining the outcome, your title should tell the buyer exactly what they’ll get.
If you wrote a clear output statement in Step 1, then this part should be straightforward. You’ll be rephrasing the outcome so that it’s more title-friendly. The following phrases can help you do that:
- “How to <outcome>”
- “A step-by-step plan that <outcome>”
- “X tactics for <outcome>”
- “X steps to <outcome>”
- “Learn how to <outcome>”
- “X easy tips <outcome>”
For example, if your output statement from Step 1 was:
“My book will help <mothers who have very little time> <create vegetarian recipes for their kids>”
You could then rephrase to the following title options:
- Example 1: “How to Make Delicious Vegetarian Recipes for Picky Eaters”
- Example 2: “21 Easy Vegetarian Recipes for Finicky Kids”
Your goal is to explain the outcome so your readers know what they’re gaining after reading your book.
3) Define the audience
The third thing your title should do is define your audience. Who are your prospective customers? How will they know you wrote this book for them? If you did a good job with the output statement, then this part is also simple.
You don’t have to explicitly state the target audience. You can allude to it by referencing it in the title somewhere.
For example, here’s a title of a successful book by Marty Neumeier:
“ZAG: The #1 Strategy of High-Performance Brands”
The book targets marketers and business leaders whose goal is to build a powerful brand for their service or product. The title hints at developing a high-performing brand rather than actually stating it. And that’s totally fine.
If someone reads the title, they should be able to determine if the book applies to them.
4) Contain relevant keywords
Finally, your title should include some relevant keywords in it.
There are specific words or short phrases that people use to search Google or Amazon for your book’s topic. This method, called keyword research, and using relevant keywords in your title increases your visibility in organic searches. And that translates to more people seeing your book (i.e., more sales).
Keyword research is a topic that is worthy of several books and courses, so we can’t go into great detail here. Many tools and websites can help you do detailed research about your topic. Simply use quotation marks to Google “How to do keyword research” and you’ll get a ton of free resources to read. You can also use the free Keyword Planner tool (for Google search) or Publisher Rocket (for Amazon search).
With keyword research, you’ll use words familiar to a wider audience. So, keyword research helps with alternate word selection within a specific industry to find different types of titles. In my book Influencing Virtual Teams, I could have written “remote teams” or “telecommuting teams.” But “virtual teams” appeared more on Amazon and Google, so I stuck with that.
When you consider all four elements, you might end up with several title and subtitle combinations for your book.
Pick the top two or three combinations that:
- grab attention
- define the outcome
- explain the audience
- contain relevant keywords
Step 4: Test and iterate
As a final step, take the two or three title combinations and test them with prospective readers. From the feedback you get, you might refine your topic or audience or recalibrate your title.
The goal is to come up with the final title and subtitle that you’ll settle on for your book.
Here are a few ways to test your title options:
1) Ask your friends and colleagues
The simplest and fastest way to get feedback is from people you know. Ask friends, family members, and colleagues what they think about the titles. Give them the options and ask them to give you their honest opinion. Explain that you haven’t started writing the book but that you want to know if you’re on the right track. Facebook is a great medium for that. Here’s a sample status update you can post:
“Friends – I’m writing a book about <Topic> and would love your thoughts on which title works better.
If you also have any suggestions for improvement, please feel free to share!”
2) Ask a stranger
Another great idea is to ask a complete stranger what they think about your title options. Strangers will usually be very honest with their feedback, so it might feel uncomfortable, but the benefits are invaluable.
They won’t worry so much about hurting your feelings.
If you’re waiting in line at a coffee shop, introduce yourself by saying:
“Hi there – I’m a new author writing a book about <Topic> and I’m gathering some feedback about what random people think about it.
“I have two titles in mind. One is <Title A> and the other is <Title B>.
Which do you think is the one that would interest people more?”
In a casual conversation, ask them why one is better and whether you can improve on it.
3) Run a survey
Finally, you can also run a survey to get feedback on your title options. Use SurveyMonkey or Google Forms as free options to email people and ask for feedback.
Here’s a short video of me walking you through how to set one up using Google Forms.
From all the feedback results you get, start looking for patterns among the responses. A few people might be super enthusiastic about one title, making it a clear winner. Others might have clarifying questions, meaning it will need some refinement.
Your aim is to gain validation on your options and iterate on them. If people are not clear or not interested in a title now, then they won’t be clear or interested in it later. You might as well revisit the title early on while you haven’t invested a lot of time or energy in creating the book.
That’s pretty much it to writing titles of books! Once you’ve selected a final title and subtitle, you should now begin planning, writing, editing, and publishing your book.
This post was originally published on Udemy’s blog. If you’d like to learn more about the step-by-step process, check out my course on Udemy called: How to Pick a Bestselling Book Title Before Writing a Book