Sunday, June 12, 2016

Literary Seduction: Choosing Your Nonfiction Title


Authors understand that getting people to read our books is almost like seduction: we lure them in with a good-looking cover, capture their interest with our title, then we tell our story.

Let’s say you have chosen to write a nonfiction book. You have picked your topic. Next, you’ll want to have a working title, one that you may change in the future, but something that allows you to refer to the book comfortably.

Taking some time and effort to choose your title makes sense. This will help guide the direction of your writing. If you find later on that you have strayed, you can then decide whether to change the title or to bring your writing back in line with your original idea.

As you will see in what follows, there are some sound suggestions for developing a title that will help your book reach its audience. You’ll be balancing between what is creative and what is clear. In some cases your title may be a bit mysterious, but you will choose to clarify with a subtitle.

Your book’s formal title may be different from the “nickname” you started with, your working title. No problem.

Writing coach Kristen Eckstein (2013) has written a fine short book, a bargain on at $0.99 for the Kindle version: AUTHOR’S QUICK GUIDE to Creating a Killer Non-fiction Book Title, one of her series of GUIDES. I’ll summarize some of it here, and explore how it applied to my own memoir, but I also encourage you to buy her book.
I titled my memoir of our 50-year-long interracial marriage Ting and I: A Memoir of Love, Courage, and Devotion. Let’s analyze this in the light of Ms. Eckstein’s prescriptions:

1. The primary title is Ting and I. Unless you are well-known, you are advised to keep your title short, five words or less. Done. Who is “Ting”? My wife, born Su Tingting. “Ting” added a touch of mystery, a good thing, and perhaps echoed the familiar movie The King and I, another good thing. It sounded foreign, which is exotic to some and attractive, but off-putting to others, so the result is mixed. Women buy more books than men, so it would have been nice if this suggested that “Ting” is indeed a woman, but it doesn’t. Can’t win ‘em all.

2. My Ting and I’s subtitle is A Memoir of Love, Courage, and Devotion. It tells you what kind of book it is, a memoir, which is good. Check. It does not exactly indicate what benefit the reader will get, though some might enjoy reading about love, courage, and devotion, and some may even be inspired.

3. The title does not indicate how to do something, and How To is a favorite category for book buyers. Perhaps reading the book will show you how a very lovable person (my wife, Tina) behaves, but the title and sub-title don’t indicate that. Oh, well.

4. The title lacks numbers, which are often very attention-getting: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, One-Minute Manager, 50 Shades of Grey. A number is specific, almost a promise.

5. The title and subtitle were not chosen for Search Engine Optimization [SEO], but sometimes one should do so. You can find lots of material on SEO, but you will have a real challenge to stand out, unless you have picked a very small niche.

Karen Eckstein’s handy GUIDE includes a link to her coaching site,, and a link for a free set of instructions, “The 50 Ultimate Book Titles Template,” with suggestions for creating your own killer, ultimate, maximally effective title. Hmm, “The 50 Ultimate…” seems like she took her own advice.

         For fiction titles, you have more latitude, but some of the same rules apply. Moby Dick? The Sun Also Rises? Tender is the Night? To Kill a Mockingbird? Could you guess their themes? Talent trumps titles.

         Ebook success Karia (2105) gives the following advice, prefer:
·      Short title with explanatory sub-title
·      Keywords likely to be used in searches
·      Title that indicates benefits
·      Title that raises curiosity
I think Ting and I: A Memoir of Love, Courage, and Devotion, fell short on promising benefits. How to Manage Nursing Care at Home, seems to fit all the above except “curiosity.”

         Karia (2015) cites Craig Valentine’s book World Class Speaking, for this mnemonic summary, EDGE, for benefits:
·      Esteem (more): gain prestige, confidence
·      Do more: improve your abilities and performance
·      Gain more: money, friends, time…
·      Enjoy more: be happier, worry less

        Your title should offer some of the above. Ask others for their suggestions. If you have a significant Social Media following (Twitter, Facebook, email), you can try “A/B comparisons,” soliciting votes on which title (A or B) they prefer. You can spend money on Facebook ads and make A/B comparisons with Click-throughs or Likes as the metric. Later on here, I discuss my generally successful experience with Facebook ads. 


Excerpted from my most recent opus, Write Your Book with Me, published by Outskirts Press, available from OP,,, and other online booksellers. Free ebook offered at my site,

Today, I downloaded an ebook with a near-perfect title: M.A. Grant's The Coaching Secret: The Ugly Truth. Pithy. People love secrets and myth-busting. 

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