How to Select a Subtitle That Sells

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. When it comes to the anatomy of a book, the 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?

The best subtitles are specific, bold, and clear.Click To Tweet

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.

How does your book benefit your reader?  Your subtitle should help with this.Click To Tweet

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 you're coming up empty, use a book title generator to help you come up with attention-grabbing subtitle ideas.

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!

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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 1

Subtitle 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 2

Subtitle 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 3

Subtitle 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 4

Subtitle 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.

Podcast Episode – When and How to Change Your Book Title

Podcast Episode – When and How to Change Your Book Title

                                          
                                          

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 bolt

I'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.



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43 thoughts on “How to Select a Subtitle That Sells

Comments
  1. Limor Matityahoo

    Hi, My book is a best seller on Amazon for the past 4 years now (New Stomach Old brain: How to lose 125 pounds in one year and stay sane ), and I decided to try ads. Thing is, my ads get suspended because the subtilte seems to be a claim. The only way I can change this is by changing the subtitle to an unclaiming one, maybe: “”Bariatric surgery – what happens when your body changes and your brain stays behind”. My question is, is it ok to change a subtitle after 4 years as a bestseller? won’t it hurt my sales? are ads worth this effort?
    Thank you..

    1. Dave Chesson

      Oh…this is a tricky area. Technically, I’m pretty sure you can change the subtitle and be fine. However, I think there are some tertiary effects of doing this that might not be good. By changing your subtitle, you will inherently change a lot of the keywords phrases you rank for, and you show up for. Furthermore, that subtitle is a very good subtitle, and it might hurt your conversion rates if you switch from it.

  2. Sam Jones

    Fantastic! The best blogs are the ones where the comments are adding value to the post itself:)

    About to publish my first book- title is good I think (Sex, Truth and Freedom) but I am struggling with the subtitle… clear and bold, uhuh… 😀 now I have: Journey into Powerful Submission. It’s about BDSM and I think that needs to be added, because most readers will not know what submission is. Hm…

    If you have any tips I’d love to hear it but I’ll give it a go myself too!

    1. Dave Chesson

      Instead of directly saying BDSM, perhaps think of phrases that are BDSM phrases (my following examples are only examples since i dn’t know your book or what is right) like “Bondage gone wrong” or “Dominating Billionaire Boyfriend”, etc….

  3. Jan

    Dave – couple of quick questions — do you still think that “Usually the title and book cover do most of the talking and the description seals the deal.” 02Nov2016 or do we need a subtitle for a kid’s fiction picture book? Also we are adapting and retelling a story from another language. Who is the author, the original one or us? Thanks.

    1. Dave Chesson

      Sorry, it was implied that title meant the whole title and subtitle together.

  4. Andreea

    Hi. My nonfiction book is about our love story and the failure of our business (a salt cave, halotherapy). Can you please help me with titles and subtitles? I am thing at

    1. What ended the salty dream?
    no one talks about failure anymore

    2. This could be your story
    why failure will change your life?

    3. Love and salt
    the story of an ended dream

    thank you

    1. Dave Chesson

      Three seems to be the best (Title is excellent) however, I’d be careful with the subtitle. Is the actually a memoir or a legit nonfiction. I know, I know, a memoir is technically a nonfiction, right? But when it comes to marketing, a memoir should be treated as both a fiction and nonfiction. Sure it’s a true story, but it is a ‘story’. People read memoirs to learn and be entertained. So, with this, you #3 title is excellent, but the combination of the title and subtitle doesn’t tell me (the interested market scrolling through Amazon results) what this really is.

  5. Paulina Vallin

    Hi! Does a fiction book also need a subtitle? Mine is a fairytale.
    Thanks,
    Paulina

    1. Dave Chesson

      They don’t need them, but I usually recommend it. In fiction, a shopper needs to be able to look at the cover and title and subtitle, and KNOW exactly what subgenre that book is. Not just that it’s a fantasy book, but taht it is a epic LitRPG fantasy. Sometimes you can’t just do that with the cover and title…and that’s when the subtitle is really important.

Comments are closed.

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