Choosing the correct title and subtitle for your book is the most important step you can take in successfully marketing your book. Your book’s title is the first impression prospective readers glimpse on your Amazon page. Not only is it spread across your front cover—it’s also a bold headline across the top of the Amazon page.
You have seconds to capture the attention of a potential book buyer—or an influential person like a media professional or someone recruiting speakers for an upcoming conference.
No pressure. Don’t blow it.
How Should I Title My Book?
There is a lot of advice online about choosing a book title. We’ll try to condense it for your use here. Here at Front Edge Publishing our professionals have decades of experience, but we’re also always looking for the latest news as the publishing industry evolves and grows.
Where Will My Book Title and Subtitle Be Used?
Your book title and subtitle will be used in many different ways and places—far beyond the cover of your book. Here’s a good list to consider from author Scott Berkun of the many uses for your title:
- To convince someone to be interested in the book—this is the one people think about
- The cover
- The Amazon (or other bookstore) listing
- Advertising, marketing and branding
- Any t-shirts, flyers or other promotional material
- In presentation slides
- The domain name (Web address)
- In book reviews (and in the title of book review blog posts)
- Words the author will repeat 5,000 times in interviews, lectures, radio and TV appearances (should they be so lucky)
- As your one-line bio on TV or for magazine articles
- As the brand name for other ventures (courses, conferences)
- The thing readers (hopefully) will say to their friends 5,000 times
One more tip: The Bible of Metadata these days—Ingram’s 2018 book Metadata Essentials—warns authors to take that bewildering list of places where titles can appear very seriously. To ensure that your marketing works effectively, the main title should be word-for-word identical everywhere it appears. The main title on your book cover should match your title page, your metadata listings and any media promoting or covering the book’s launch. Ingram reminds authors that consistency in using even the smallest title words—like “The”—will matter across online searches.
Where Do You Start in Choosing a Book Title?
Start by re-reading your manuscript. That’s how our team starts. Take note of key words or phrases that pop out or are used repetitively in your book. Ask others who you trust to do the same exercise. Compile your lists and then review them.
Head to the internet. Do a Google search and an Amazon.com search for the keywords or phrases you’re thinking of using in your title. Do they lead you in a particular direction? Are there other books in your genre that have also used those words or phrases? You want your book title to be unique and you do not want to use the title of another book that is currently actively selling—that will only confuse potential buyers.
According to Tucker Max, the Co-Founder of ScribeMedia.com and a NY Times Bestselling Author, there are 5 attributes of a good book title:
- Attention grabbing
- Informative (gives an idea of what the book is about)
- Easy to Say
- Not embarrassing or problematic for someone to say
Choosing a Book Title: The Radio Test
Our own David Crumm, the Founding Editor of Front Edge Publishing, always adds one more attribute of a good title, “Does It Pass The Radio Test?”
If a potential book purchaser heard the author being interviewed on the radio or on a podcast while driving their car, would the title be memorable and easy enough for the listener to remember and write down—or search for on Amazon—when they reached their destination? If not, it’s not a title worth keeping.
Book Title Tips: Try Alliteration
Some title experts suggest using alliteration in book titles. This can be helpful for getting people to remember the title. Some examples of alliteration in the titles of recent bestsellers:
- The Plan Paradox
- The Woman in the Window
- Gone Girl
- Fire and Fury
Don’t Break Any Amazon.com Rules
Amazon sales account for approximately 50% of all print book sales, therefore they get to make the rules about book names and covers. Amazon will only accept a title that conforms to the following rules:
The title field should contain only the actual title of your book as it appears on your book cover. Missing or erroneous title information may bury valid results among extraneous hits. Customers pay special attention to errors in titles and won’t recognize the authenticity of your book if it has corrupted special characters, superfluous words, bad formatting, extra descriptive content, etc. Examples of items that are prohibited in the title field include but are not limited to:
- Unauthorized reference to other titles or authors
- Unauthorized reference to a trademarked term
- Reference to sales rank (e.g., “bestselling”)
- Reference to advertisements or promotions (e.g., “free”)
If you’re publishing multiple stories as one book, ensure the contents of your book are accurately reflected both in the title field and on the cover, by including terms such as “Boxed Set,” “Bundle,” “Collection,” “Compilation,” or “Series.” Stories that are part of a series must be in sequential order within a book and collections of individual stories must have all stories listed in the metadata.
If you’re publishing a companion book based on an original work, such as a summary, study guide or analysis, begin your title with the term “Summary,” “Study Guide,” or “Analysis.” When designing your companion book cover, make sure the term “Summary,” “Study Guide,” or “Analysis” appears before the title of the original work in a font at least as large as the rest of the title.
What Is a Subtitle? How Do I Create a Subtitle?
A subtitle is the second group of words that are used to describe your book to readers. It can be used to tell readers more about your book—including key topics and themes they will find in your book.
Dave Chesson of Kindlepreneur.com tells authors to think of their subtitle as “a tiny aggressive salesperson who is selling your book to the masses.” That salesperson is bold and specific and that’s exactly what your subtitle should be! Brainstorm all of the benefits a reader will get from reading your book and then make sure that you relay that information to a potential reader in the subtitle.
When you create your subtitle, you don’t have a lot of characters to use. Amazon requires that your title and subtitle together must be fewer than 200 characters, so they must be specific and they must be compelling and they must follow the same guidelines that titles do when they appear on Amazon.com.
As you draft your title and subtitle make sure that you consult your list of keywords (popular search terms that are likely to lead potential readers to your book). But you certainly don’t want to shove every single keyword into your available 200 title characters. Figure out which keywords are the most powerful—and make sense in catchy, compelling title. Remember, it’s all about a powerful phrase that will also increase your search engine optimization!
Test Your Book Title
Once you’ve come up with a few potential titles and subtitles it’s time to test them. This is where having an established audience of readers will come in handy. You can use your social media or email list to sample opinions. If you have emails, use Survey Monkey to test titles and subtitles. Once you have a winner, put it up against another choice. Use the feedback you get to see if you are on the right path.
Another way to test potential titles and subtitles is to use Google Ads, (formerly Google AdWords). It’s a bit complicated, so I’ll let Roy Furr explain it in this article, How to Test Book or Product Titles Using Google AdWords.
Once you’ve settled on a title or two, set up a Google alert for your prospective titles. Google will alert you via email if that phrase gets used in an internet news item. This is a great way to find out what context your book title is being used and who else is using it. It may reveal an association that makes you uncomfortable, which is a good thing to know before settling on a title. Google alerts on your title also can be very helpful in pointing you to reporters or writers who are focusing on that subject. It’s a great way to build your media-contact list.
The important takeaway is to test multiple titles and multiple subtitles. Keep testing until you have a clear winner and one that you will feel good about for years to come.
Here are some Read the Spirit and Front Edge Publishing Titles and Subtitles that we feel have successfully met the title/subtitle challenge :
- Struck by Hope: The True Story of Answering God’s Call and the Creation of Little Pink Houses of Hope
- Finding God in Unexpected Places: Wisdom for Everyone from the Jewish Tradition
- Solus Jesus: A Theology of Resistance
- Light Shines in the Darkness: My Healing Journey Through Sexual Abuse and Depression
- The Black Knight: An African-American Family’s Journey from West Point—a Life of Duty, Honor and Country
Care to Read More?
Here are the parts in this Metadata 101 series:
- Part 1, How to create book metadata that will increase discoverability and enhance your marketing
- Part 2, How to Write a Great Short and Long Description of your Book
- Part 3, Determining binding, paper and color options for a printed book
- Part 4, How to Request Endorsements, Forewords and Prefaces for New Books
- Part 5, How do I find BISAC codes for a new book? 5 Tips for Success
- Part 6, What are the different kinds of eBook formats? And, how do I make an eBook?
- Part 7, Should we mention my dog? The Art of the Author Bio
- Part 8, What should I call my book? The Art of Creating a Title and Subtitle