Selecting a Marketable Nonfiction Book Title

By Robert W. Lucas

With almost 40,000 books a year published in the U.S., and the millions that have gone before, your book title is a crucial piece of your writing success. The title and subtitle that you select will serve to stop readers and encourage them to either open a link on a bookseller website or take the book off the shelf to explore further. Unfortunately, many authors who write how-to, self-help and educational books do not give adequate thought to selecting a marketable nonfiction book title.

The following are important points to consider related to selecting a book title that is going to grab the attention of potential readers and make it stand out among competing titles in the same genre.

Choose a Title that Is Concise. Short is better when it comes to selecting a marketable book title. Generally, successful titles are better when they do not exceed seven words. Pick a title that catches reader attention, informs, solves a problem, makes a promise or otherwise shows value. Consider past best-selling books on the New York Times Best Sellers list:

  • The Sleep Revolution
  • Shoe Dog
  • Boys Adrift
  • Race and the Conspiracy of Silence
  • 100 Questions & Answers for Women Living with Cancer

One thing to know about titles is that they cannot be copyrighted. With all the books in publication now and in the past, the chances are good that a title you like has been previously used. It is often subtitles that differentiate books and helps readers tell them part. Still, you probably should not use a title of a book that is already published because readers might become confused. Also, you would not benefit by promoting your title only to find that a bookseller is offering an alternate publication with the same name to customers. They might do so because the profit margin is higher on the competing book, they already have that one of those books in stock, they personally know the author, or for myriad other reasons. It is probably better not to waste time and money competing when you do not have to.

Even though words cannot be copyrighted, they can be trademarked. So, if the exact wording or phrase you plan to use as a title has been trademarked, you should avoid it due to potential legal issues that will likely arise. You would not want to pay to print a thousand books only to receive a cease and desist letter from a trademark owner who then wants all copies of the book recalled and destroyed and likely demand some sort of compensation as well. It is relatively easy to check trademarked names by doing a Google search and visiting the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website. If you are in doubt, it is best to consult a lawyer familiar with copyright and trademark laws related to publishing before using a title.

Add a Descriptive Subtitle. Create a phrase that appropriately lets readers know what the content is about and provides insights into the benefits or what they will gain by buying the book. Subtitles should enhance the reader’s knowledge of what to expect in the book. A well written one helps increase the potential that a potential buyer will select the book from a bookshelf and look at it.

Here are the subtitles for the best-selling books listed above.

When trying to decide on a subtitle, you may want to jot down a list of all the key benefits that readers will gain from the book and then categorize these. Select key words from each category and incorporate some of those into your subtitle.

For example, three of my books are a compilation of fun and creative ideas, strategies and techniques. Trainers, facilitators, presented and adult educators can use them to add pizzazz to their learning environments and actively engage learners. The ideas and techniques that I incorporated include the latest brain research related to how adults learn and assimilate information. Since there are literally thousands of ideas in each book, I organized the books into chapter categories and then we looked for key words to address the actions or benefits offered. Those categories were ultimately grouped together into a subtitle that focused on the total outcome of what they would help readers accomplish when applying concepts learned. The titles and subtitles that my publishers ended up selecting were:

Your title and subtitle are crucial element in the success of your book and you should give it careful consideration before choosing it. Like any other phase of the developmental process when creating your book, a simple way to help decide what works and does not is to prepare various versions of potential titles and subtitles. Send these out to as many friends, relatives and other writers as possible and ask them to pick their top three favorites. You might want to use the free services of SurveyMonkey to conduct your survey. Use the responses that you receive to narrow down options and help decide what your final book title and subtitle will be.

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