How to Select a Subtitle That Sells

By September 13, 2016 Book Titles 16 Comments

How-to-write-a-subtitle

Guest Post by the uber talented and super popular Chandler Bolt.

Titling a literary labor of love is a common struggle for many new authors.

The pressure is on when attempting to come up with the perfect book title. We want titles that are catchy, evocative, memorable, pithy—a tall order for just a few keystrokes. It’s no wonder freshman and seasoned authors alike stumble over the title hurdle.

Even more challenging for newly-minted authors is how to select a subtitle. A book’s title may be the sitting presidential figurehead, but the subtitle is the behind-the-scenes, hard-working cabinet member. A stellar subtitle will elevate a book’s cover, intrigue readers, and explain exactly what the book’s about, in just a handful of words.

Subtitles are where an author can hone in and pack a punch with an artful turn-of-phrase. The subtitle has a distinct role apart from the primary title. While your book title clearly tells readers what the book is about, the job of the multi-faceted subtitle is to speak to the precise benefits readers will receive from your book.

In this article, you will learn

  • Amazon requirements to selecting a subtitle
  • Step-by-step to selecting a subtitle that sells
  • Book subtitle examples

Don’t discount the power of a subtitle.  It can do so much for your book on the Amazon market and complement your perfect book title as well.  So, let’s find out how you can tap into all of those different benefits.

Amazon Rules: What is a book Subtitle?

A subtitle is just a subordinate title that allows you to put more information into it and thus drive home the real point and benefit of your book.

With regards to Amazon, it is not required but your title and subtitle together must be under 200 characters. The good news though, is that you cover does NOT have to have your subtitle on it – however, in most cases, you’ll want it there.

Also, your subtitle must follow the same Amazon rules as titles:

  • No claims of bestseller, or rank or anything of the sort
  • No claim of deals, discounts or reduced price type shenanigans
  • Can’t reference other books or any other trademarks
  • No reference to any other authors
  • No advertisements

Now, let’s get to the magic of selecting a good book subtitle!

Be Specific, Be Bold

Should you remember nothing else about our subtitle lessons, remember this: Be specific and be bold. Think of the subtitle as the tiny aggressive salesperson selling your book to the masses (if there’s one thing we know about salespeople, it’s that they aren’t subtle).

Bold Writing

Aspiring authors often hesitate to get specific in their book’s titles—there’s a fear of turning readers off, or potentially spoiling plot points. At Self-Publishing School, our advice is that your subtitle is the chance to tell potential readers exactly what your book is about. Don’t squander that chance by being wishy-washy.

If specificity is one side of the perfect subtitle coin, then clarity is the flip side. Clarify and specificity go hand-in-hand. Your subtitle should be crystal clear. If it’s in any way ambiguous, then it’s back to the drawing board until you’ve cleared away any lingering murk.

Your subtitle in Cliff Note form: Specific, bold, clear. Got it? Ok, we trust you understand these concepts. But, how do you get there with your own book?

Read on, we’ll walk you through the process step-by-step until you’ve arrived at your own razor sharp, killer subtitle.

Step 1: List Out All the Benefits

The first step to crafting a rock solid subtitle requires you to articulate all the benefits your book will have on your readers. Let’s break this down.

Imagine a book is about becoming a more productive person. What are the myriad benefits a reader would take away from reading this book? Ideally, readers would have more time with their family, they’d make more money at their job, they’d be better at business, they’d spend less time doing what they hate, they’d have more time to travel, they’d get up earlier in the morning, etc.

Now, simply apply this lesson to your own book. What are the unique benefits your readers will have after reading your book? List each and every benefit you can come up with. Use your imagination and write down even the tiniest or most far-fetched notions that cross your mind.

Step 2: Select the “Attention Grabber” Benefits

You’ve just listed the extensive number of benefits lucky readers will gain from reading your book. What’s next?

Highlight the benefits that grab the most attention. Ultimately, you want your subtitle to jump out at prospective readers, so focus on any listed benefits which do the same. List all jaw-dropping, attention-grabbing benefits; these may be future subtitle gold.

Step 3: Speak to Those Benefits and Make a BIG Claim

Now that you have your list of jaw-dropping, attention-grabbing benefits, you’re going to capitalize on those. You’re going to need to speak to these highlighted benefits, as well as to your readers’ unique pain points.

It’s time to come up with a big claim. The bigger, the better (as long as you’re being truthful!) Your end game is for your subtitle to spell out exactly how you’ll solve your readers’ pain points. Mull this over during the next step.

Step 4: Write Out Examples and Pick the Best 3

Now it’s time to write out some possible book subtitle examples. This is a free-writing, free-association brainstorming exercise, so don’t self-censor. Just get some words on the page — cohesion be darned.

If you have any possible subtitles kicking around in your brain, write out these ideas. Free write whatever else comes to mind, and let it flow. If it helps you to have some structure, set a timer for five minutes and write as quickly, intently, and furiously as you can in that finite period.

Author Creativity

Once you’ve filled the page with as many possible examples as your brain can muster, pick the top three out of the bunch. Congratulations, you now have your gold, silver, and bronze medal subtitle contenders! Things are getting exciting, time to move on to Step 5.

Step 5: Get More Bold & Be More Specific

This is the part that makes people uncomfortable. We authors are afraid to make specific claims in our titles. We worry that our books may not measure up, or our claims may later be refuted. We worry we’ll be called out on our big book claims, and that we won’t pass muster.

Guess what? One of the most important parts of this next step is forcing yourself outside of the safe boundaries of your comfort zone. Once you push yourself outside the haven of your self-imposed comfort zone, that’s where the magic will happen.

Here’s what you need to do to push your own boundaries: As you’re crafting your subtitle, speak directly to your target reader. Be bold—remember, your subtitle needs to make big claims, the bigger, the better! (And again, be truthful. Your book actually has to solve the problem you’re claiming to solve, and if not, then edit your book until it does.)

Our Self-Publishing School Rule of Thumb: Until your subtitle makes you uncomfortable, we’re not happy. If the claim you’re asserting in your subtitle doesn’t make you feel at least a touch queasy, then you’re not being bold or specific enough. Keep going until the words make you quake in your proverbial boots and reach for the Pepto. Now, we’re talking!

Book Subtitle Examples: Before & After

We’ve touched on theory and brainstorming exercises, now let’s explore some real world subtitle examples.

Subtitle Example #1

book subtitle examples 1Subtitle Before:

Reach Your Peak: Find Your Passion, Focus Your Efforts, Fulfill Your Purpose

Reading this title and subtitle you have absolutely no idea what this book is about. It’s a vague, comfortable title. It’s not specific and it doesn’t make any claims. It doesn’t require the author to step outside of their comfort zone.

Subtitle After:

Go Solo: How to Quit the Job You Hate and Start a Small Business You Love

See how that’s much more clear? Now readers know author Kelsey Humphrey’s book is about starting a business. Drilling down to a specific subtitle helps readers understand what the book is about and what benefits will transpire if they read it. That’s the power of getting more specific and more clear.

Subtitle Example #2

book subtitle exmple 2Subtitle Before:

Ignite: Spark Your Dreams, Create Solutions & Achieve Success

Again, this is lofty, non-specific, and contains vague words. Readers have no idea what the book is actually about or how it will benefit them.

Subtitle After:

Ignite: 3 Simple Steps for Re-sparking Your Buried Dreams and Building a Plan That Finally Works

Author Mitch Matthews now conveys that he wants to re-spark buried dreams and put into motion plans for his readers. Moreover, he claims that his book can do that in only three steps. That addition of “3 simple steps” makes the title really pop, in addition to adding needed specificity and clarity.

Subtitle Example #3

Example of book subtitle 3Subtitle Before:

“No-Gym” Workouts for Women: At home exercise programs for women with busy schedules, so you can lose weight and achieve the body you want in 30 minutes or less

That’s a lot of mumbled, messy words = word salad.

Subtitle After:

No Gym Needed: Quick and Simple Workouts for Gals on the Go. Get a Toned Body in 30 Minutes or Less.

The second subtitle is far more specific, clear, and concise. Women who are short on time and want a quick, results-oriented workout know that author Lise Cartwright’s book will help them because the subtitle spells it out.

Subtitle Example #4

version of book subtitle 4Subtitle Before:

The Art of Apprenticeship: How to Find Your Gift, Connect With Like-Minded Leaders, and Make Money With Your Passion

Not awful, but could be improved and finessed.

Subtitle After:

The Art of Apprenticeship: How to Hack Your Way Into Any Industry, Land a Kick-Ass Mentor, and Make a Killing Doing What You Love

Author Azul J. Terronez’s second subtitle is much more powerful than the first. The second subtitle hits the three benefits, and it has zing.

The Power of Benefits

One additional important closing point to keep in mind: When coming up with possible subtitles, don’t start with keywords, instead start with benefits (and work out the keywords later). If you start with keywords, you’ll have a subtitle that doesn’t make much sense.

A subtitle that sells the benefits of your book (and contains appropriate keywords) is much more important than having one that’s loaded with keywords that don’t actually relate to your subject matter.

Now that you have the tools to craft an amazing subtitle, let your creativity take over. Be bold and go big—your readers will respond in kind.

About the Author: Chandler Bolt

chandler boltI’m Chandler Bolt, CEO of Self-Publishing School. At Self-Publishing School, we help people write, market and publish their first bestselling book. We’ve worked with tons of entrepreneurs, speakers & coaches to help them get their books written, become bestsellers & use their books to grow their businesses.

About Dave Chesson

When I am not fighting dragons or chasing the bogey man out of my kids closet, I like using my previous Online Optimization skills to help other authors with the 'technical' stuff and get the right authors to the top of Amazon and any other eBook service out there.

  • Chandler Bolt

    Thanks for having me Dave! Hope this was helpful for your people 🙂

  • Vitali

    Thank you for a great article! These techniques clear up the mystery in creating subtitles for non-fiction books. But will these rules work equally well for fiction books?

    • Yeah, Chandler did a great job on this one. In truth, I wouldn’t recommend it for fiction. Subtitles aren’t as used in fiction and generally are chosen so as to best represent the genre it is a part of. Usually the title and book cover do most of the talking and the description seals the deal.

      • Vitali

        Thank you for the answer Dave. Good explanation.

        I love browsing through your website and reading the articles. You give us more useful information than any course I’ve ever seen. Great job!

  • Eric Etka

    Thanks this helped immensely. I think I’ll go with “Drug-Free Hacks for ADHD” ’10 easy steps to help you stop screwing up your life’… LOL – seriously though. All the other book titles in this niche are boring AF. Following this blog and doing pre-research has shown where to capitalize on a book series, along with generating a following of completely misunderstood, creative, exciting, wild group of humans. Good Job Chandler. Dave, as always, you rock.

  • Kageni Soul Coach

    can the title be in first person if its a personal memoir?

    • Yes it can…it just can’t be the name of someone else. Amazon just doesn’t want it to be ‘misleading’

      • Kageni Soul Coach

        Thank you Dave 🙂 This Blog has been Gold! Even liked the Facebook Page.

        I am writing my journey to finding my life purpose after spending time in the Corporate world..etc what I am torn apart from is

        “A Quest to Find my Authentic Self and Discovery my Life Purpose”
        or
        A Quest to Find Your Authentic Self and Discover Your Life Purpose

        (Trying to see from the point…”Benefit for the readers”
        Is there such a thing as a long subtitle?

        • Very cool and I’m glad you like it 😀

          • Kageni Soul Coach

            Quick Question which is more powerful for a personal memoir..

            “A Quest to Find my Authentic Self and Discovery my Life Purpose”

            or

            A Quest to Find Your Authentic Self and Discover Your Life Purpose

          • It’s always best to speak more in the Reader’s language. So the “Your” is more impactful.

          • Kageni Soul Coach

            You are a Legend! Thank you

  • Gundi Gabrielle

    hey guys – just an important update: Amazon DOES now require title AND sub title to be identical to the cover. I got several notices from KDP about “additional text” that had to be removed within 5 days or the book would be taken down. I was told to review my entire catalogue. This is new – but they are now cracking down on this. Also, on a new book that I’m about to release, they wouldn’t even let it go into pre-order until I had made corrections. In this case, I added the subtitle to the cover and that was acceptable – as long as they both match……

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