011 - Defining Your Book's Title, Subtitle, and Tagline
Dec 14, 2019
Perhaps you have an idea for a book but you’re at a loss for a title. Perhaps you have a strong title but no clue if your material is strong enough to support it. Either way, you likely have some ideas around a title. Sometimes choosing the subtitle and tagline get lost until you’re far into the book or done with the entire manuscript. You may need your editors help to flush these elements out, but let’s take a stab at it here and see what we can come up with.
As I state in my book (Let’s Get Your Book Published), Research at Thomas Nelson indicates that consumers first look at the book’s:
- Back cover
- Flaps on the jacket
- Table of contents
- First few paragraphs of the book’s content
So it’s easy to see why strong titling (and design for that matter) is crucial from the outset.
Sometimes you have to write the entire book before you can give it a name or title. Maybe you can’t start writing until you’ve flushed out a truly great title in your head. Choosing the title is kind of like choosing the subject matter. You have to really sit back at some point and ask the question: “What is my book really about?” and “What am I trying to do with my book anyway?”
A good title is concise, powerful, and generally fewer than four words in length.
And now that books are primarily being sold in an online environment we must also use their title and subtitle to define the contents …and tell readers (or shoppers) what it’s all about by selectively choosing key words.
Does the book make a promise? If so, what is it? You can also try to add intrigue by creating a question, expressing a dilemma, or pulling imagery or dialog from the content of your book to create visual imagery. Identify who needs your book, then create a title that fulfills that need in some way.
Your title can:
- Be a concrete promise
- Reflect the content of the book
- Create an emotional response
- Stimulate the reader: outraging them, intriguing them, etc.
- Identify a clear benefit or need the reader can expect to learn about
- Define a platform or stimulate name recognition around the ideas you’re trying to get across
- Be unique or easy to remember
- Be descriptive
Here are some general guidelines for coming up with a title:
- ACTION WORDS: Using strong words can get your book leaping off the shelf. Use these words to create a book with energy. Use “-ing” suffixes at the end of your verbs to indicate ongoing action.
- CHARACTER NAMES: If you have developed a strong character in a novel, you might consider honoring him or her.
- CONFLICTED OR MYSTERIOUS: How can you get the reader’s attention and still stay on point with the content of your work? Can you hint at the content yet not give it away? You can use the subtitle to explain things in a bit more detail with this kind of title.
- ONE WORD TITLES: See if you can find a single engaging and descriptive word to define the entirety of your book’s message. This can be very powerful titling technique, especially when supported by strong cover art.
- PLACE NAMES: Have a strong setting that means something to you? Go with it.
- POETIC LANGUAGE: Be romantic, lyrical, or a little bit obscure and elusive. A great example is Gone With The Wind.
- QUIRKY: What makes the reader pause and say, “huh? or “what?” That may be all it takes to get a hook in and get them to open up your book.
A good title is also one that makes it easier for people to find your book. Think in terms of keywords that describe your book.
Do some research into other effective titles in your respective genre. It’s important to look around at the market as you decide what title suits you and your book’s content. Don’t get too concerned with what family and friends think unless they’re a trusted reader or peer reviewer and/or understand your content as well as your goals and objectives for your book. Remember that the best title that suits you is not always one that suits everyone else. If you are moving your book into coaching or training than you might like to name your title to support the modules of your training programs or institution. And if you are not selling your book online as much as you are in the classroom or workshop then you might name it something that better corresponds with the outcome of your program or stages of progression through your program.
- A subtitle is not generally used for a novel.
- Subtitling follows some of the same rules as choosing a title. But remember that you only have a few seconds to catch the attention of the reader. If you don’t appeal to the reader they’ll pass right by your book. You have a few seconds to make an impact.
- Your subtitle can clarify or round out a somewhat vague title, identify who your target audience is, differentiate your book from others in the same field, convey what your book is about, or hammer home a point.
- Maybe your subtitle acts to differentiate your book from other similar books in your market. You may also want to consider using SEO-friendly words (search engine optimized) in your subtitle to give your book more visibility in a competitive market. Before you choose a subtitle, do some research on the most commonly searched for words related to your book’s theme. Do this by just punching in the title in a search engine and jotting down the most common words you see as a result.
- There are no rules on how long or short the subtitle should be, but you do want to say what you need to say as concisely as possible. Less than ten words would be perfect. You also don’t want to repeat words that are in your title.
So, to review, your subtitle:
- Can be used to clarify or expand on the title
- Can define an unclear title
- Shouldn’t duplicate ideas or repeat words from the title
- Uses keywords
- Gets to the point
- The tagline is another opportunity to clarify what the book is about.
- You’ll sometimes see this in the small print at the top of the book. It’s not often visible on the small thumbnail in an online sales environment.
- Think in terms of a short emotional hook, a mission statement, a promise, or a slogan that snags a reader’s attention.
- It should be something memorable.
- It should be thought-provoking or answer a question a prospective reader has.
- You’re summing up the book and sparking the reader’s imagination. Don’t mislead readers. Don’t leave them believing your book is something it’s not. Always take a look at other books and see what works.
To summarize and give you a few more closing thoughts and ideas…
- I like to develop titles that tell the reader where they will arrive upon reading your book.
- You want to always speak to the reader and give them the sense that the investment of their time will take them from where they are to where they want to go.
- I like to think book titles can showcase or fulfill key values all readers are looking for.
- I like using the BANKCODE system to define this out further…B.A.N.K. stands for blueprint, action, nurturing, and knowledge. There are 4 key areas that help relate to buyers – why they buy. Using this system might help draw out further your book title or subtitle…by relating better to the kind of reader or buyer you are trying to attract.
- Is the title predictable?
- Does the reader get some idea on the structure or system you are presenting?
- Are you giving them a sense of the processes you created?
- Does this excite them to want to read it?
- Are you getting their attention and stimulating them?
- Is it fun or does it give them an invitation for an opportunity?
- Are you giving the reader a sense you are trying to build a relationship with them?
- Do you convey that this book is not about you but about building community and relationships with them?
- Is the title intelligent?
- Does the title speak a universal truth?
- Does it showcase self-mastery, intelligence, and logic?
That’s a lot of information for one show, but please listen again and begin making notes and drawing out title ideas. I look forward to next time!
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