How to Create a Book Title: 10 Steps to Titling a Non-Fiction Book

A gripping book title is sheer magic. When you think about it—I mean really think about it—the book title is the first thing that draws in the reader. Even when you have an attractive cover with emotionally compelling imagery and graphic design, no one would even consider your book unless they first like the title.

When you hand your book to a client, a meeting planner, a speaker’s bureau or the CEO of a prospective company as a gift, the first impression you will make of yourself is the book title itself. It must instantly move the reader to venture beyond the cover and discover the secrets hidden within. That is a lot to ask from 1-5 words, I know!

Next, picture your book on the bookshelf of a crowded bookstore. In some bookstores, there are 75,000 other books competing for a reader’s attention. So your book title has to grab attention and clearly state your thesis…at a glance. Your book title and cover artwork only have 7 seconds to do their job in a retail environment, so let’s explore how to make these seconds count.

If a reader found your book online, the odds are high that they came across your book by searching on your keywords or your genre. Perhaps the search algorithm showed them your book as a being relevant to what they were looking for, or they might have found your volume on a virtual bookshelf along with other similar works.

Whatever means they used to find your book, the only way to captivate your audience is by moving them over that first hurdle— the Title.

There are very specific types of words that magnetize people and promise a spellbinding reading experience. At the same time, there are certain practicalities to consider, including keywords that the search engines love to see.

We’re about to explore the contents of a great title, giving you the tools to make yours unforgettable— and make more book sales.

The first consideration for your title is to determine how many words to use. You may feel relieved to know that many successful non-fiction books of our time have short titles. In fact, modern practices prefer to keep the length to five words or less.

Though this may seem like a godsend if you’re not long-winded, in fact, it can be a bit challenging. Think about it – you’ll have to encapsulate an entire book into just five words.

When we title a book, here is the process we use. A European author we are publishing asked to have his book re-titled after discovering that his original title concept was trademarked. We assembled our team to embark on re-titling.

Here is the 10-step process we use internally to perform title work:
  1. Read the manuscript
  2. Read the description provided by the author
  3. Determine the ideal target audience for the book
  4. Discuss what makes the target audience tick
  5. Brainstorm key concepts and keywords
  6. Build phrases from the words outlines in the brainstorming session
  7. Combine title and sub-titles into various combinations
  8. Test the top 3 ideas with a team (focus group, social media and/or author’s street team)
  9. Refine and finalize the top idea
  10. Trademark search and previous title search to ensure the title is not in-use

If your book’s topic is a bit arcane, narrowing down your title to under 5 words can be something of a problem. The best approach is to focus on the benefits and results, appealing to emotion rather than using an intellectual approach. This is where applying serious thought will really pay off.

Let’s have a look at some examples. Here are several books from the business section that have been at one time or another on Amazon’s Top 10 List for over 6 months.
  • The Art of War – Sun Tzu
  • It Worked for Me – Colin Powell
  • Getting Things Done – David Allen
  • The Total Money Makeover – Dave Ramsey
  • Today Matters – John Maxwell
Yet punchy book titles aren’t just restricted to classics and standards in the business section. Let’s have a look at some new-school best sellers.
  • The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell
  • Tribes – Seth Godin
  • Prosper – Ethan Willis and Randy Garn
  • The $100 Startup – Chris Guillebeau
  • The Art of Seduction – Robert Greene
  • Drive – Daniel Pink
  • Born to Win – Zig Ziglar and Tom Ziglar
To give you some added perspective on crafting your own alluring title, here are some additional guidelines to bear in mind.
  • Do use words that end in -ing
  • Use words that can be understood at the 8th-grade level
  • Leverage well-known clichés
  • Over the top words are now unpopular, such as ultimate, mega and super

Besides using short titles with these specific attributes, there are other tactics you can capitalize on. Controversy is one of them. In fact, nothing sells better than a title with an edge. While a descriptive title bogs down and bores the reader, controversy sells every time.

Think of what might interrupt the reader’s thought pattern as they’re searching amongst the many titles they find. Imagine a title that will arrest their thinking on your topic—but be warned: if you make a promise on your cover, you’d better be prepared to deliver it inside the pages! Your title needs to be a match to your content, or your readers will tell on you in their reviews.

Take a look at the titles of these unconventional best sellers.
  • The 4-Hour Work Week – Timothy Ferris
  • Leadership and Self-Deception – The Arbinger Institute
  • What Money Can’t Buy – Michael Sandel
  • Eat That Frog! – Brian Tracy

When naming your book, there are a handful of common mistakes that can quash readers’ interest immediately. There aren’t many of them, but any one of them is enough to discourage your readers from ever giving you a second look.

One of these common mistakes is a lack of clarity. Make sure that your title is not so clever that no one understands what your book is about. If your title is vague, unclear or fuzzy, you won’t interest your reader. Fuzzy is for caterpillars and koalas—not alluring book titles. Be direct.

Likewise, unclear positioning can turn readers off. Be very clear about who your book is for, why they should read it, and what they can expect to get out of it. As much as possible, evoke this in the book title.

Many new authors make the mistake of thinking everyone should read their book. This is farthest from the truth, as very few books have universal appeal to everyone all the time. Books are all about niche markets and the pros in this business write their books to appeal to narrow groups of people.

In terms of cover design, when it comes to the size of your title on the book cover be sure to leave a bit of breathing room. This is what designers call “white space.” Leave enough of the background so that your title maintains a pleasant balance. You want it to be both readable and attention getting.

A common mistake that authors make is allowing the title and subtitle to take up too much room on the cover. This once was fine when books in print were the main event. But these days electronic distribution is edging into the peak of popularity, and the title design must be treated accordingly so that it appeals to readers online. This means your title needs to be readable in the space a little larger than your thumbnail.

Finally, avoid using language that is outdated, corny or otherwise inappropriate. You may be inadvertently turning off your readers, clients, and prospects by using outdated language, by golly.

If you don’t have access to a focus group when naming your book, try running your title by a group of your friends, social media circles or colleagues. Get their feedback and their impressions. Most of them will be glad to chime in and offer their support.

Now you have the tools to develop an incredible non-fiction book title. Post your book title ideas to this article and open a discussion on your work.

Bryan Heathman is the President of Made for Success Publishing and the host of Book Publishing Success podcast show. Bryan works with best-selling business authors including NYT best-selling authors Chris Widener and Tom Hopkins, plus up-and-coming authors including Johnny Covey. Bryan is the author of Conversion Marketing, a marketing book on converting website visitors into buyers. Bryan’s Fortune 500 experience includes Microsoft, Eastman Kodak and Xerox.