How to Title a Book: Making Titles that Sell
Are you struggling with how to title a book?
You’re not alone because most authors have had many sleepless nights over exactly that. Second only to your book's cover, good titles for books can be a difference maker in not only your sales conversions but also in your book’s discoverability on Amazon.
That’s why the process on how to write book titles should be a combination between marketability and sales copy. In truth, there are many things that an author should consider before they finalize their epic book title or else face having a book that just won’t sell.
Having worked with publishing companies, and multiple NYT bestselling authors, I've been a part of many NYT bestselling titling processes. Here's how you can go about making your bestseller title:
In This Article, You Will Learn:
- The inner-workings of a best-selling book title
- Things you NEED to consider before selecting a title
- Good book titles and why they work
- Proven step-by-step process on how to title a book
- Advanced tools and tactics to help
Sounds like a lot, right? Well, there is more to choosing a book title than you think. And like I said, it's something that can easily make a difference between a book that fails and a book that becomes a bestseller.
Why Do Book Title's Matter?
Haldeman was a writer and publisher in the early 1900’s who ran a tight publishing company. He had a method that if a book didn’t sell at least 10,000 copies a year, he’d send it to his “Hospital.” There, he would tweak the book title until it performed well.
Here are some of his documented changes, reasons, and results:
Original Title: Gautier’s Fleece of Gold
Original Title’s Sales: 6,000/year
Why the original name: French writing was the rave at the time
New Title: The Quest for a Blonde Mistress
New Sales: 50,000/year
Why he believed it failed: The title doesn’t tell you what it's about.
You read that correctly…an increase in over 44,000 units sold because they changed the name to something less broad and more to the point. People ate it up.
Let’s look at another!
In this next example, you'll see that large changes aren’t always necessary. Sometimes just a simple tweak is all you need:
Original Title: Mystery of the Iron Mask
Original Title’s Sales: 11,000/year
Why the original name: Mysterious and to the point
New Title: The Mystery of the Man in the Iron Mask
New Sales: 30,000/year
Why he believed it failed: The mystery of a mask? Who cares…but what about the man who wears it? Double mystery!
His list of book title changes and their dramatic increase in sales goes on and on. But the point is, subtle or large, there is empirical proof that book titles make a difference on your marketing and sales. Even modern day authors like Joanna Penn have discovered this!This author changed his book title, and 8x his books sales. Here is the process he used to get there.Click To Tweet
And let's face it, writing a book is super expensive…so make sure when you do it, you give it the best chance to sell. Sometimes that might require re-titling it.
4 Crucial Book Title Aspects to Think About
Before we get into the process on how to write book titles, we'll need to talk about some aspects that go into proper book title selection. The tactic you prioritize with your book title creation as an author should depend on things like:
- Fiction vs. Nonfiction
- Which genre you are in
- If you’re famous or have a large following
- Your book marketing strategy
- And so on…
So, to help you with this, here are four crucial book title aspects you need to think about when doing the process on how to name your book.
1. The Intrigue Factor
Nothing draws a reader in more than creating intrigue with your title. An intriguing or interesting title can play upon one’s curiosity and be a powerful motivator to hitting the “buy” button.
However, be careful with this. Sometimes in our path to creating intrigue, we stray from our genre or are just too broad–thus causing confusion.
Good Intriguing Book Titles:
- Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies: I bet you weren’t expecting that last part.
- Trust Me I’m Lying: Kind of makes you stop dead in your tracks since its contrary to what you would think.
- John Dies at the End: Umm…did they just give away the ending? Huh…I wonder why.
2. Title Discoverability
Famous writers have the luxury of not having to worry about whether or not their titles are discoverable because their famous author brand makes it so. But for the rest of us, we need to consider whether or not our title will be found.
That’s where kindle keyword generation and research can come into play. If you want your book to show up on Amazon every time someone types in “How to train your Border Collie,” then you should consider making that your book’s title.
The title has a strong effect on whether or not your book shows up for a search term, so keep this in mind. Also, if you'd like to see which words you can use in your title to improve the chance of discovery, you should definitely use Publisher Rocket.
Here’s a good book title that is very discoverable: How to Write a Children’s Book by Katie Davis. Straight and to the point, this book clearly tells both the buyer and Amazon exactly what this book is about.
And test it out. Go to Amazon and type: “How to Write a Children’s Book”
3. Genre Mesh
What if the title to a romance book was “Warborn: Battle for Arrakis”?
No? Doesn’t fit? Yeah, exactly! Sometimes in our efforts to be different, we alienate our genre and thus our readers. The cover may show images of romance and love, but the title says “epic sci-fi military book.” Don't cross the streams.
Good Genre Specific Titles:
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep: Obvious that this is science-fiction, it also tells us it's about robotics and will be a deep thinker. PS: this is the book that Blade Runner the movie was based on.
- Neverwhere: I heart Neil Gaiman and his mystic cryptic fantasy. Disregard the spelling error you grammar Nazis, because with just those two words he completely captured his genre.
- Slasher Girls & Monster Boys: Immediately associates to the thriller and horror genre without question. And it even emphasizes the YA punch with the terms “Boy” and “Girl.”
4. Is the Title Informative
In many different marketing tactics, the title might be the only thing that someone sees. So, does your title actually convey what your book is about? For non-fiction authors, it better, and if it doesn’t… then your subtitle MUST!
But for fiction, this can be really tricky and super important.
So, make sure your title actually helps the reader know from the get-go what the book is about or what to expect.
Good Informative but Creative Titles:
- The Devil Wears Prada: Easy to see that this involves fashion and someone who is a complete pain in the butt from someone’s point of view. All that from four words.
- I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell: Pretty easy to know immediately that this book is centered around the crazy antics of a jerk – no offense to Tucker Max because he's a heck of a writer.
- How to Lose Friends & Alienate People: This gets a nod in the intrigue factor since it’s using the familiarity of a famous book, but immediately we know what this book will center on.
As you can see, there are many different aspects to a title. But you do not have to use all four. In fact, you might only use one. However, based on your situation, fan base, marketing tactic and type of book, you may find that one particular aspect gets priority over the others.
But the more of the above ingredients you include in your book title, the better you stand.
Amazon Rules and Requirements for Book Titles
Like many things amazon has certain book title rules that we must follow. I say must because they say it; however, as you'll see, there are a lot of books that violate this and don't get hit by Amazon.
- The title on your cover must match what you put into Amazon
- No claims of bestseller, 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 referencing other authors
- No advertisement
5 Steps to Choosing Your Book Title
Okay, so now that we have a basic understanding of the key components in book titling, let’s get into my step-by-step process in coming up with a good book:
- Ideas on How to Come Up With a Book Title
- Book Title Generators to Expand
- Add Emotional Trigger Words
- Final Checks That are Crucial Before You Decide
- Test Your Titles For Success
STEP 1: Ideas on How to Come Up With a Book Title
I wish creativity would strike me as often as procrastination does. If it were so, I’d be a rich man. But alas, we authors need help–which is why I’ve collected key brainstorming methods that famous books have used to get your creative juices flowing.
The key is to go through each of the below tactics, and write down everything that comes to mind as you step through them all:
A. Use Common Phrases:
Some authors just jump and use familiarity as a way to get a nod or two. But there are different types of uses. Think of the following when trying to come up with common phrases that relate to your book.
Here are some examples:
- Poetry – Fault in our Stars, For Whom the Bell Tolls
- Sayings – Double Jeopardy, The War of Art
- Famous Quotes – Till Death Do Us Part, Liberty or Death
B. One Word Titles
One worded titles seem to be the rage in today's fiction and nonfiction books. However, don't just pick a random word, but a powerful word that combined with the imagery of your cover and some internal depth in the book can create a one-two sales punch.
To generate good one-worded titles, you should use some of the steps below and see if any stick out.
- Powerful and Emotional: Endurance, Atonement
- Referential: Nevermore, It, Allegiant
- Makeup Your Own Word: Freakanomics, Essentialism,
- Iconic Words or Images: Twilight, Boneshaker, Ulysses
C. Use Parts of Your Story (Fiction Mainly)
This might be more for fiction, but think of the following aspects of your story, and then combine them in different manners:
- Character names
- Settings with embellishments
- Character motivation
- Main event or showdown
- Theme (helps with discoverability as well)
- Important lines or revelations
D. Set Word Phrases & Formatted Templates
Granted, most stuff out there has been created for blog post titles, but that's the good part. Most marketers spend their time trying to figure out how to get you to click and read their post – isn't that what we self-publishers want? Ultimately, we want you to read our title, click the link and buy it.
That's why using proven phrases and sentence structures that entice people to click is a great start. And this doesn't just work like a charm for nonfiction.
Here are two articles that list sentence templates to induce clicks and intrigue:
Go through each of the formulas and use some of your pre-generated words or phrases above and see what comes out.
E. Look at Your Genre
Ah, genre. It's super important because if you don't stick within your genre, your readers won't know what to expect. But to do this right, you need to know what your genre is like. Therefore, start by looking at other books in your genre or topic/niche. Make a list of those that sound right and analyze their structure.
If you're still stuck, then this is where genre-specific title generators can come in quite handy which is our step 2 below.
F. Hooks in the Title
I love hooks. If done right, they can be masterful. A good hook can get people to say “OMG I need this” or “What the heck…I better check this out.” If done right, you can get your readers to stop dead in their tracks.
To do this effectively, you need to think of something that relates to your book and turn general thought on the subject on its head:
- I Still Miss My Man, But My Aim is Getting Better
- John Dies at the End
- Don't Ever Get Old
G. Speak in Benefits and Pain Points (Non-Fiction Mainly)
If someone is searching for a book that will help them solve an issue, the best way to get them hooked on your book is by presenting the benefit and not the problem.
Imagine that you are suffering from migraines and you're looking for a way to free yourself from them. Would a book titled “Pain-Free Mind” sound better…isn't that what you really want? And don't worry about it being too ambiguous, that's where the subtitle comes in: “Pain-Free Mind: How to completely eradicate painful debilitating migraines and headaches.”
- How to Win Friends and Influence People – Instead of how to be a leader
- Winning: The Ultimate Business How-To Book – Instead of how to be good a business person
- How to Be a Real-Estate Millionaire: Instead of how to sell more real estate
H. Use Relevant Keywords for Discoverability
This one's my favorite. By doing your kindle keyword research, you can find out what terms people are actually searching for. Once you know this, you'll know what words people are using when they are looking for your book.
An example is someone who is looking for ways to write a resume could call it a “C.V.” or a “Curriculum Vitae.” Furthermore, proper research for Amazon keywords would show you that people who use that search also search for ways to write their cover letter. Talk about the complete package.
Now that you have some keywords that you know people are actively searching for, using them in your title and subtitle will help to make sure your book ranks for those searches and has a much better chance of being discovered and bought.
If searching for amazon keywords seems rough or time-consuming, then you're going to love my upcoming software that will do it all for you. With Publisher Rocket, you'll be able to:
- Know how many people are searching for a phrase in Amazon
- Gauge the competition for your book in that topic
- Determine how much money others are making and how much that keyword makes on average
- Ensure your book beats the competition and ranks at the top for that keyword
Yeah, I'm pretty jazzed about it.
STEP 2: Book Title Generators to Help Expand
Still not coming up with an epic title? That's okay because luckily there are these SUPER useful tools called Title Generators which use information that you provide to help you with your title.
Now there are three types of title generators:
1.Title Generators that help you think of a great name: These title generators use given data that you provide to help you select a name for your book. Generally, they are genre-specific, and the good ones usually know how to formulate a good sentence structure based on your genre's style.
For a list of the best book title generators, check out my article on the best title generators for your book.
In this article, I not only list the different name title generators, but also broke them up into categories based on their specialties. So, if you're writing a sci-fi, then you can access the best sci-fi title generators.
2. Title Generators that help improve your title: These take a pre-existing title and find ways to make it sound or read better. They use a combination of proven words and some even add an element of wackiness…which I personally love.
3.Title Generators that help grade your title: These generators take a potential title of yours and give you a grade based on previous bestseller's success. The only one worth mentioning is Lulu's Title Tester. This one was professionally made using over 100 years of best-selling titles. Ultimately, this free tool will tell you the likelihood of your book becoming a based seller based on previous data. It's pretty excellent.
Step 3: Add Emotional Trigger Words
There are fundamental words that have more weight…we call these power words or emotional trigger words. Imagine telling someone that a book is “good.” Now imagine how much more weight your description would have if you said “mind-blowing.”
Here are a couple more examples:
- Big compared to ginormous, monumental, gigantic
- Neat versus exciting, exhilarating, jaw-dropping
- Beat versus slaughter, destroyed, obliterated
See the difference?
A couple of word changes can quickly evoke emotion in your potential buyer. It can cause urgency, mysticism, intrigue, etc…. Basically, these words are proven marketing words that will increase engagement and drive better conversions.
So, where can you find these epic words?
In this step, you'll want to take your working title and start adding or switching some of your words with the right emotional trigger words and drive a better mood or feeling. If you're writing a horror book, then switch the word scary with monstrous or hideous.
See how they can increase your mood factor…triggers!
STEP 4: Final Checks That Are Crucial Before You Decide
Now that you have a couple of working titles in mind, it's time to verify that you won't run into the pitfalls many authors have over the years. There are certain things that–even with an epic title–can ruin you if you don't check.
The following 5 aspects are things you should think about before you select your book title:
1. Pre-Existing Popularity:
In the U.S., there is no copyright laws on titles. It’s for this reason that you will see a lot of books and movies that have the same title like these. However, be sure to follow these rules in creating your copyright page!
But the truth is, do you really want to battle with an uber-popular book? Some people might think that this would be a great strategy. However, if someone downloads your book by mistake, be prepared to receive a scathing review.
Furthermore, popular books that have the same title usually have some really strong marketing. So, unless you’re a true marketing guru, it might be a good idea to ensure your book title isn’t the same as another very popular book on the market.
Or if you decide to anyway, be sure to prepare for this as you plan your book marketing strategy. Either way, take heed. You can check this by doing a simple Google and Amazon search for your potential title.
2. International Words and their Implications
When J.K. Rowling published Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the UK, her marketing team realized that the U.S. market wouldn’t be as receptive to the name.
To Americans, the word “philosopher” didn’t have the same connotation as the UK and was perceived as being boring. So, they changed the name for the U.S. market to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
As it turns out, there are lots of movies, TV shows and books that have changed their titles because of the subtle differences between the UK, Australia, and the USA. You can check out some examples here.
3. Domain Name Availability
I’m not a big proponent of creating a website just for a book. I believe that if you are going to make a website, it should be for you as an author and you can showcase all of your books there. This is author branding versus just book branding.
But there are some that disagree with me on this. Therefore, if you intend to create a website just for your book, then make sure you can get the domain name of your book title – this will really help the discoverability and marketing of the book.
4. How’s this going to look on the cover?
Your title plays a SUPER important role in your book cover design. Make it too long, and your book designer will kill you. Therefore, keep in mind that your title will need to fit your book cover design.
Here are a couple of things to think about with regards to your cover and your potential title:
- Is it too long?
- Is it balanced right?
- Will it fit with the image I want to use on my book cover?
If you need any help in fixing the above five prevalent issues in common book titles, here's a great article by Indie Book Launcher on the Practical Considerations for Your Book Title.
STEP 5: Test Your Title For Success
Figuring out how to name your book is one thing…but making sure it's the right title is a whole other ballgame.
One step that a lot of authors skip in their book title process is that they never test their titles with their target market. This can be instrumental in your success. Just ask Tim Ferriss. In 2007, Tim Ferriss had an amazing book in his hands, and he thought he had the perfect title: “Broad Bands and White Sands.” But thankfully, he didn’t just go with it. After testing, he found out that his third option “The 4-Hour Workweek” was a HUGE hit.
He had his winner, and well, the rest is history.
The point is, if Tim had just gone with his personal favorite, he wouldn’t have had the success that he has now. That simple $200 test probably gave him a 1000x ROI.
Now, I understand. Not all authors have $200 or have a superior ads background. So, below I have three title testing methods that range from easy to hard, as well as free to expensive.
Using Facebook Groups
This is not only free but also the easiest way to test your book title. Simply find a book group on Facebook, and create a poll post. In the poll, you can list your potential title and have people vote on which one they like best.
IMPORTANT: One mistake many authors make with this is that they use just any group thinking that it’s okay. Don’t do that. Ensure that the group you use is one that is perfect for your niche. Your target market should be responding…not just anyone.
Professional Survey: PickFu to the Rescue
If the two options above don’t fit your need, or you’ve already mined Facebook enough without defining results, then perhaps PickFu can come to the rescue.
PickFu.com is a service that allows you to submit your book titles or covers and have anonymous people vote on which one they like best. Super easy to use and quick to setup – plus very affordable. A lot of people have had success with this strategy.
One Last Step: Adding a Subtitle
With regards to Nonfiction, you absolutely should use a subtitle. There are a LOT of marketing angles that will help you with your book's sales conversions and discoverability. To understand how to effectively create a book subtitle, be sure to check out my full article here.
As for Fiction, that depends. In truth, your book cover and title should do a good enough job of letting the potential reader know exactly what kind of genre and style this book is. However, if it might be ambiguous, then solidifying it with a subtitle can help. For example, a author friend of mine had a YA romantic thriller. The cover was excellent, however, there wasn't anything that would distinguish the book as a YA. Therefore, he used a subtitle that made it clear it was a YA book.
So, ask yourself, if you gave your fiction book cover to a total stranger and asked them to guess what genre it was and who was the target reader, would they get it right? If so, then you're good. But if not, then you might want to make it more clear with your subtitle.
Good Book Titles: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
For a little more fun and recap on how to come up with a book title, you’ll want to check this video out. Plus at the end, I have a little fun covering some of the more…horrendous, terrible, absolutely ridiculous book titles out there.
Want more videos like this? Then click HERE to subscribe to my YouTube channel
Other Resources on How to Title a Book
There are a lot of great resources out there that can help you with this process. During my years of research on the topic, here are some that I would recommend you check out so as to build a stronger title selection.
- 100+ Blog Title Templates That Grab Attention: Sure it’s for blog titles, but you’ll find out that this list of titles can really stimulate some creativity.
- Michael Hyatt Four Favorite Strategies for Creating Titles: From the master himself, he has a couple of ideas that are pretty unique.
- Tools to Help You Title Your Book: This is a guest post that I did for Write to Done that uses some blog title generators to help stimulate some ideas.
- A-B-C-D Formula for Irresistible Nonfiction Book Titles: a guest post by one of my favorite self-publishing authorities, Derek Doepker. He lays out the goods on nonfiction specifically.
- How To Write An Unforgettable Book Title That Screams “Buy Me!: my friend Steve Scott shares the 10 steps he uses to create profitable book titles (he’s sold over 1 million copies)
Podcast Episode – When and How to Title a Book
Sometimes authors, in their quest for creative titles, just miss the mark…and some are just down right dirty:
Hey…You go girl!
But a perfect title has to have a combination of marketability and creativeness. It needs to convey the point of the book, not alienate the genre, be discoverable, and convert customers into buyers.
So, give it a try and don't forget to download my free cheat sheet on how to create a book title that sells!
Hey Guys, I’m Dave and when I am not sipping tea with princesses or chasing the Boogey man out of closets, I’m a Kindlepreneur and digital marketing nut – it’s my career, hobby, and passion.