“Aargh! Screw this. I’ll just call it How To Write A Book and be done with it. Stupid thing.”
I was six weeks into my search, and drowning in dreadful book titles. The more I thought about it, the more crap oozed out of my brain and into my “title ideas” document in Scrivener.
This was not good.
My launch date was hurtling towards me, my cover designer—who has the patience of an angel—was becoming agitated, and I was on the verge of chucking it all in the bin.
You think it’s tough to write a whole book? Try coming up with the title.
It’s far tougher.
Especially when you keep seeing fabulous titles elsewhere that are already taken, or just totally irrelevant to your topic.
I didn’t have this trouble with my first book—I came up with something somewhat meaningless (Business For Superheroes) and paired it with a subtitle that made sense (From Scraping The Bottom To Six Figures In Just Six Months). Not the title I’d choose were I writing it again today, but at least I wasn’t chewing up the furniture.
I reckon I was having trouble with this book because it means more to me. My first book will always be special because your first time as an author is momentous, right?
But this one… this is the book that’s launching my raison d’être. This one is The Shiz.
When you write a book, it takes over your life. In a good way, I hope—because as Terry Pratchett said, writing is the most fun you can have on your own. So your title takes on this significance that grows into a monster.
Your title is one of the most critical parts of your book. If you write a crap title, it doesn’t matter how good the rest of your book is, most people won’t read it. You can get away with that if you’re uber-famous already, and have a giant and loyal fanbase… but if you’re a small name, or you’re just starting out in business, or you’re unknown as an author—you’d better have a good title for your book.
No pressure, then.
And in this age of instant information, we’re surrounded by other people’s fantastic book titles. We’re gutted they’re already taken.
We want to be smart. Different.
We don’t want to follow the internet marketing crowd and use a click-baity title that makes us feel icky.
Perhaps most of all, we want a title that feels like the inside of our heads. Something we can wrap around ourselves and say, “Yes, this is me. This sums up what I can do for you.”
So, how do we do that?
I’m going to give you 10 top tips I’ve used for myself or for my clients.
Bear in mind I’m writing for non-fiction authors, here—but if you’re writing fiction (and I salute you!), you’ll find some of this helpful too.
You know a lot of people: family, friends, clients, peers… ask them to help.
Tell them why you’re writing your book, and what it’s going to do for your readers. Give them a wee summary, and let them fire ideas at you.
Some will be dreadful, and you might be tempted to roll your eyes—but don’t, because they might not give you any more ideas. Listen to everything your people say, awful or not because you never know where the next good idea will come from.
Tell people there’s no such thing as a stupid idea, and keep encouraging them to make suggestions.
If people are reluctant, remind them that everyone who helps you write your book—no matter how small the help—will get a mention in the acknowledgements. Trust me when I say that everyone wants to see their name in print.
If you’re anything like me, your bookshelves are stuffed with books from every imaginable industry and genre. I am Vicky, and I am a bookaholic.
My bookshelves are worth their weight in gold before I even take one down and dive in—because the titles are fantastic for exploding that creative block.
It doesn’t matter whether the books are in your industry or genre, or not. In fact, it’s better if they’re not, then you won’t become frustrated or, worse, tempted to copy.
Go through your bookshelves and see if you can adapt the idea or the formula to your book. Here are a few from my bookshelves:
You can see how you can take some of these titles and play fill-in-the-blanks, right?
And others may give you some ideas, too. Can you create a word, as Steven Dubner did with “Freakonomics”?
Amazon is a fantastic research tool. In fact, people use it as a search engine.
Go hunting, starting with the bestsellers in your industry. What are the top titles? Are any of them similar to your book topic? What are people searching for and what are they reading?
Take a look at all the titles with high numbers of reviews: what type of titles are they? Can you adapt the formula and create your own book title based on the bestsellers?
Now go fishing outside your industry.
Take a look at the bestsellers in other categories, and find out which titles seem to work and which don’t.
Some time ago, I discovered a bloody brilliant website called AnswerThePublic.com. It scrapes Google to find out which questions people are asking. Go and use it: you get a limited number of searches per day for free.
Pop your keywords in—for example, if you’re writing a book about dog behaviour, type that into the search bar and wait. The site will pop out hundreds of questions people are asking about those keywords.
It doesn’t work brilliantly with extremely long phrases, but for two or three words it’s fantastic.
Remember Google, too: you can dive deep into their keyword research tool, and I recommend you do so… but you can also do a quick search by watching what auto fills in the search bar when you start to type.
And, of course, there’s Amazon—again. Find out what people are typing into its search box by using Kindle Keywords—then see if you can come up with a book title you know people will search for and find.
Waaaaay back before the internet was a proper Thing, Jay Abraham—one of the godfathers of modern marketing—used to conduct book title research using classified ads in magazines.
Actually, to be accurate, he used to research book topics. Abraham wanted to be sure there’d be a market for the book he was considering putting out there, so he’d place classified ads in relevant publications to see if they’d sell. Before he wrote a single word.
The book that got written was the one that sold the most. For all the other books Abramam sold, he simply refunded the people who’d pre-bought a copy.
You can do the same today for your book title—but much faster.
Set a few Facebook ad campaigns up, each featuring a different version of your book title. Have each ad go to its own landing page, and see how many clicks you get. You don’t even need to pre-sell the book, we’re just looking for which book title—which headline—gets the most interest.
If you don’t want to pay for ads (and I understand that, but it could be money well spent) do it with email. Send a series of emails to your list talking about the topic of your book, and include a link to an article or video—using a variation of your title as the headline. Whichever gets the most clicks is probably your best bet.
Test a wide variety of different titles, including ones you hate—you never know what’s going to sell.
If like me, you’ve written most of your book but are struggling to come up with a title that doesn’t make you want to poke your own eyes out with a spoon, you could do exactly what Jay Abraham did. Sell your book before you’ve finished it. There’s nothing wrong with doing that, and if you sell it under a variety of different titles, you’ll find out for sure which one sells best.
If you’re testing it with email clicks, Facebook likes and shares, and similar “soft” metrics, you’ll still get some idea of what works and what doesn’t. Give it a go.
What’s the question you get asked most often by your clients and prospective clients? Why not use that as your book title—if your book answers the question, of course.
Even if you don’t eventually settle on that question as your book title, it gives you a place to start.
Ultimately, if you’re writing a book for your business, it should solve a problem for your reader. It should answer a burning question they have. If they have that question in their heads, then they see it on the cover of your book, what do you think they’re going to do?
They’ll at least pick it up and look inside… and if you’ve done a splendid job on the back blurb, the contents, and the introduction, they’ll buy it.
Listen to people. What questions are they asking? What do they truly care about? Tap into that on your front cover, and you’re flying.
On the cover of Brené Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection, her subtitle is: “let go of who you think you’re supposed to be, and embrace who you are”.
Her title and subtitle are curious, and they promise benefits. Who doesn’t want to be happy with who they are, instead of continually worrying about what they’re supposed to be?
It’s not only other book titles that can inspire you, though. Go and find a classic headlines swipe file, and dive in. Find tried-and-tested formulas, and play with them.
Start with “how to”. It’s an oldie, but it works—because it promises the reader an instant benefit. How To Win Friends And Influence People is an absolute classic—and that headline is at least part of the reason why the book continues to sell so many copies.
How about this, just off the top of my head: How To Grow Perfect Carrots Despite Poor Soil, Buried Rocks, And Naughty Sheep.
Silly? Yes. But if I were looking for a book on how to grow veg, it’d catch my eye and pique my curiosity. It’s promised me a benefit (perfect carrots), overcome a few objections (poor soil and buried rocks), and promised me a story (naughty sheep? What?).
What about random phrases, puns, and jokes? There are loads of books out there with titles that, on their own, make little sense.
Just make sure your subtitle explains everything.
My first book fits this category. Business For Superheroes: From Scraping The Bottom To Six Figures In Just Six Months. It’s like a little memoir combined with a how-to story.
Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way To Deal With Change In Your Work And In Your Life. Funny title, but the subtitle explains precisely what I’ll get when I buy it.
Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator. Sounds like I’ll learn stuff and get a little salacious enjoyment out of it.
Or how about Nice Girls Don’t Get Rich: 75 Avoidable Mistakes Women Make With Money. That’s a bestseller right there.
You might find the perfect phrase that can’t stand alone—but with your subtitle, it’ll sell your book. Which leads me onto…
I know this sounds obvious, but when you’re writing new drafts and editing your book, pay attention. Are there any words or phrases that jump out at you?
Make a note of them all—some of them may be the germs of the perfect book title. But even if you end up with lots of pithy phrases that don’t make the cut, you can still use them to promote your book on social media…
Is there something in your introduction or conclusion that perfectly sums up the feeling of your book? Does it feel like a title when you try it out on people?
What about your preface, or your own thoughts on writing this book—does anything you’ve experienced while writing it jump out as a possible title?
Get your beta-readers to do this too: highlight anything they think could become a fantastic title.
Finally, I’d like to introduce you to technology. If your brain is letting you down, don’t despair—turn to the internet.
Go and find one of the many book title generators floating around in the ether. It’s not cheating; it’s magnificent.
My favourite is Portent’s title maker, which you can find here:
It’s not just visually pleasing, it’s bloody brilliant.
Technically, it’s a content idea generator, but it works just as well for book titles. In fact, it’s flung out a whole fragrant pile of fantastic article ideas I’m going to use to promote my next book.
What, you want more? No problem. I also use these title generators:
Use the tools. They may not come up with quite the right book title, but they’ll get you started on the right path. The people who created them understand books, publishing, and sales and marketing—so you’ll get a head start on what’s likely to work.
I’m gonna be honest with you here: trying to come up with a title for your book is likely to drive you round the bend. It’s had me screaming into a cushion with frustration.
Go with it.
Sometimes when your brain gets into a loopy state, it can come up with all kinds of marvellous ideas.
Use the tools in this article.
Your title will come, but you have to put in the work.
For now, though, if you’re having trouble—at least call your book something. For a long time, my most recent book was called The Book Book (hilarious, I know). Giving your book a working title helps you see it as a Proper Thing and will help you imagine it as a finished product.
You can change the title later.
When you do start working on the title in earnest, remember your name and your business will be associated with your book title forever. You’ll be writing articles about it, making videos, doing interviews, and talking about it at events and conferences.
You’ll be introduced as Bernice Twiddle, author of How To Grow Perfect Carrots. Your title will be out in the wild forever… so make sure it’s something you can at least live with, if not love.
You’ll be stuck with it for a loooong time.
Now go forth and create a fabulous title.
If you want to learn more about how to write, self-publish, and market a book for your business, snaffle yourself a copy of How The Hell Do You Write A Book? Then check out the blog and podcast for more articles and guides. If you want a little (or a lot) more help, find out how you can work with me.
Vicky Fraser is the founder of Moxie Books and author of How The Hell Do You Write A Book and Business For Superheroes. She helps business owners write books, connect with readers and new customers, and grow their businesses. When she's not doing that, she's hanging from a trapeze by her feet.
Please log in again. The login page will open in a new tab. After logging in you can close it and return to this page.