What’s in a name?
The string of words on the front cover of a book may seem like an innocent row of letters – harmless and reliable. But for a writer they can represent one of the hardest parts of the whole process of writing.
There’s a reason writing a title is hard – like naming a child; it’s a name that you have to believe you’ll still love in ten years time. A name that exemplifies everything you could wish for its future. And one that you won’t get sick of saying 100 times a day when you’re out on the circuit promoting it.
The emotional and mental input can be overwhelming if you allow it to be. And finding the perfect title – when it comes down to it — can have a major impact on whether your book is taken to the counter, or put right back on the shelf.
But don’t stress out: a title can be the very piece that pushes an uninformed reader or a casual browser to click the ‘look inside’ feature, or to go right away to buy your book, but for those loyal fans, reviewers and your early readers, the content is the main thing that will determine how your book is received at the launch.
How to find a title for your book
With that in mind, here are five guidelines to follow when you’re choosing the book title that will perfectly complement your masterpiece.
1. Be consistent with your brand
When most writers think about the title of their book, they are thinking about what will influence buyers to take the book to the counter, or to click the ‘look inside’ button online. But this is only one of the many roles you need your book title to play.
Your title will determine the design of your cover, your website domain, any advertising, marketing, branding and promotional material, the Amazon listing, and (hopefully), an ongoing association between the title and your name as the author.
Which is why it’s important that your title fits your brand, your business, and your name.
A title that clashes with any of these might seem quirky and amusing to you a week before publication, but will be something that you could come to regret when you’re at those book signings or on a teleseminar.
But if your book fits your brand, if it matches the other work you do — maybe your products and programmes, or other books you have written (or will write!), then it shouldn’t be too hard to find a title to match.
The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris is a great example of building a brand around a book title. He has gone on to use that ‘Four Hour’ moniker for his blog and subsequent book titles (4-Hour Body and 4-Hour Chef).
[Editor’s note: if you’re struggling to find a match with your brand image, then play around with some adjectives that you can use to describe you. Are you classy, or bold? Strong, or gentle? Find a handful — 3-5 that suit you — and use them for all your branding whether that’s a book title or your graphic design.]
2. Be memorable rather than obvious
When it comes to letting people know what your book is about, a ‘take-no-prisoners’ approach is highly recommended.
Don’t hide the purpose of your book amongst clever language and wordplay, especially if you’re aiming for a specific audience – this isn’t fiction writing, and chances are people won’t take the time to work out what the title means. It’s like a bad joke — if you need to explain it, then it isn’t working.
And, if your audience is searching for something specific, then just give it to them. Don’t make them look harder than they need to.
Attention is limited — especially if someone is searching online — so make very clear what your book is about, right from the title. You want to avoid potential confusion about what the reader is getting. And remember, you have both title and subtitle to play with.
Do this in a way that is memorable, leaves room for the imagination, and creates a window for someone to glimpse into your content.
And provocation can work well.
Even if your reader disagrees with the claim in your title, he or she might be intrigued enough to pick up the book and read more. As long as you’re confident that your blurb can keep them reading – and that your title is not provocative to the point of absurdity — no-one likes hyperbole that can’t be backed up.
In Purple Cow, his manifesto is ‘be remarkable or be invisible’.
A title like this encapsulates the topic without giving away the ‘how-to’. What’s the ‘what’ that your reader will get from the book?
What’s your one-line claim? What do you stand for?
Put it on the cover!
3. Use cliché to your advantage
Clichés are the bane of every writer’s existence. They are the thorn in our editor’s side, and if you write with them, you can expect your editor to mark them for deletion.
But, for titles, recognise what works: clichéd titles might cause you to groan, but you’ll notice they abound on the non-fiction shelves and bestseller lists around the world.
And as much as clichés might turn you off — maybe you see them as stale (yes), or unimaginative (yes), remember, they are on the bestseller list for a reason.
Yes it’s about weight loss — but presented in a way that appeals to our intellect as well as our emotions.
Orin Hargraves explains that clichés are clichés for a reason. They work.
And they can work in your favour as an author, by creating familiarity of context.
By putting your reader in a familiar context, the title is just like serving home-grown comfort food to guests in an exotic location. It’s something they can instantly recognise, and will be drawn towards, especially when they are in new territory or unfamiliar surroundings (and as an author, you may still not be known to them — yet).
Keep the cliché fresh with a bit of wordplay such as alliteration, assonance, or word repetition, so the familiarities and the differences are prominent.
Or, better yet, use a structure that is familiar to your reader, without making the statement in the title too obvious. (How to…. by…. without…. is a good model — and substitute some lesser-used words so that your reader is drawn to your book without being able to quite put his or her finger on why.)
4. Use ‘Promise, Intrigue, Need, Content’
When you know the context of your title, and where you want to go with it, Michael Hyatt suggests employing PINC to make your title stand out: promise, intrigue, need, content.
Make a promise in your title about what can be achieved through reading the book; create intrigue by touching on unique topics and not giving the content away; find the gap of need that your reader can fill by reading your book; or, if your message and content is strong enough, simply state it.
And Hyatt argues that the best titles employ more than one of these strategies: if it’s a truly unique topic, you can easily create intrigue simply by stating the content.
And many of your promises are also the needs of your reader, restated.
With non-fiction books, you most likely already know the promise, intrigue, need, and content of your business and brand, so use these to your advantage when creating the title for your book.
You know what your clients and customers want, what they say, so simply use those words in your title.
If we were writing a book here at Author Unlimited, we might want to use our brand tagline in the book’s subtitle: Why being an author is about more than writing a book. We are making a promise (it’s about more than the book), and also creating some curiosity about what that might be. (we hope anyway!)
5. Relax: you can’t speak to everyone
Being an author is as much about accepting criticism as it is about accepting accolades.
You will be judged, or rather your book will be judged — important to separate your book from yourself.
No two people have identical taste, and no book has ever had a title that is adored by everyone. Which is why, as much as you need to keep you audience in mind when crafting your title, ultimately, name it for yourself.
A great title is great, but it won’t make your book any better than it is. And once your book has made the journey from shelf to basket, and been checked-out, it’s the content that makes or breaks it for you and your reader.
When it comes time to choosing a title – whether you do it before you start writing, or a week out from publishing – don’t put too much pressure on the outcome.
And, remember, perfect is in the eye of the beholder, so if you find a title that makes your heart sing, then be thankful, you’re definitely on the right track!