Writing a nonfiction book? Make sure you write the right title

Book cover - HLJB larger

A title that really “does what it says on the label.” And it has been an Amazon top 10 best seller in the UK for the last 12 years, frequently hitting the Amazon #1 spot in all equestrian categories. Simple but powerful.

All book titles (fiction as well as nonfiction) are a very important part of the marketing of a book. With nonfiction and particularly business books, like every other piece of marketing communication should, the book title has to offer or at least suggest a benefit to the reader.

It’s the title people react to when they see a book displayed, whether that’s on a shelf in a bookstore or online. When people are looking through books you only have one chance to get their attention, which is why your title needs to be powerful enough to stop them in their tracks.

Don’t forget the search engines

Another important consideration within contemporary nonfiction book sales is creating a title that’s easily found by search engines, either within an online sales site like Amazon, or on one of the general search engines like Google. As you know search engine optimization (SEO) is a science in itself, but essentially you should ensure your title contains the most obvious words someone would key into a search box when looking for a book like yours.

HTWB Words That Sell

This title and design were about as subtle as an air raid, but they worked

Probably the best title of all my books was “Writing Words That Sell” which I co-authored with US writer John Butman.

I have to put my hand up and admit that this was not my first choice. I can’t remember what my first choice was but the editor at Lennard Books (the original publishers) told me to go away and come up with something more hard-sell.

A clear promise

“Writing Words That Sell” stuck in my throat a bit because in those days I think I must have had delusions of grandeur, and that was a bit too hard-sell for my taste! However later on I had to eat my words (is there a metaphor in here somewhere?) because the book sold like hot cakes (still with that metaphor…) Well, for a business book it did, anyway.

Everyone loved the title because it promised something worthwhile. And even though the book was first published way back in 1991, amazingly it – albeit a dusty, crumpled version – is still around today.

Keep it simple

Titles should also be simple where possible. I co-authored another book of mine with gemologist Norbert Streep and was a commonsense, down-to-earth guide to buying and wearing jewelry. Norbert and I agonised for weeks over a suitable title until one day I said to him, “Norbert, how have we been referring to this thing for the last three months?”

“The Jewellery Book,” replied Norbert.

“There’s our title,” I said. After we’d both finished laughing, we phoned the publishers and they thought it was a great idea too. It was simple and although there was no obvious promise, its simplicity suggested that it was a simple book about jewellery, which is exactly what we wanted to convey.

Make good use of a sub-title

Sub-titles are quite fashionable and they help a lot to qualify the promised benefit. I’ve used them for several books so far and they work nicely, e.g.:

If you browse through book titles on Amazon or other online sources you’ll see how the subtitles work. You’ll also see how attractive some titles are, and why, which will help you choose the title for your book.

Be creative and make up a new word

Using familiar words in a new and different way, and/or in new combinations, can be a very strong approach for a book title, as long as the new word or phrase you create strongly expresses the book’s promised benefit or hook.

Powerwriting” is one such example; and another book idea I had (which I want to do one day) was “Laughterology: the science of humour and how it works for us.

Currently I have registered the hashtag #blogversation and plan to write an eBook about it soon…watch this space!

What are the best nonfiction book titles and sub-titles you’ve come across, and why do they work so well for you? Please share your thoughts below.