The 4-step process for choosing a book title that works hard and stands out

The 4-step process for choosing a book title that works hard and stands out

When publishing an expertise-based nonfiction book, there are a lot of different elements to consider. It's how it gets the right attention so that the people you want reading it, read it. You need to plan your book strategically, use appropriate promotion and monetization strategies, and package it so readers will see it and think: “Wow, that’s exactly the book I need!”. One of the most important elements to get right is choosing a book title.

By capturing the spirit of what you’re writing and making it a title that readers will be drawn to, you’ll be well on your way to success with your book — and your business.

While you still have to apply a degree of creativity to coming up with ideas for titles, there are some systematic steps you can take to make things easier and more predictable. This proven, repeatable, 4-step process for choosing your business book’s title encourages that creativity — while also making it easy for you to assess different title options to find the one that works best.

Choosing a Book Title - Step 1: Brainstorm keyword phrases

Search-optimized titles are vital to publishing a successful book today. This is because search terms are what make it possible for you to reach your readers. And some of what makes a title work for search also works for people. After all, the purpose of search and recommendation engines is to present relevant results to…that’s right…people. So, if you can tap into what your ideal readers are searching for, they’ll find your book and want to read it.

First, and most importantly, think about terms your readers are likely to enter when searching for books like yours on a retailer website like Amazon. These are shoppers with active purchase intent and if your book fits their needs, they’re likely to buy it. It can be helpful to think about already-published books that yours is similar to. Take note of the language used in those books’ titles, their descriptions, and any words or phrases that come up repeatedly. These may signal terms that are particularly important to readers. These are good indicators of potential keyword phrases.

Second, think about internet search engines like Google, and how your book might be found by people searching terms tangentially related to your subject as well. These people may not be actively looking to buy a book, but they’re interested in your subject and solutions related to it.

Based on your research, narrow your list to between eight and twelve search phrases — ranked in order of importance.

Choosing a Book Title - Step 2: Brainstorm subtitle ideas, then title ideas

When it comes to nonfiction book titles, they usually include both a main title and a subtitle. It may seem counter-intuitive, but I suggest you work on the subtitle first. The subtitle is the more descriptive of the two parts, so by landing it first, you’re free to be more creative with the main title, which needs to stand out so it gets your readers’ attention.

Using the top three to five search phrases from Step 1, brainstorm a long list of at least ten subtitles for your book. Here are some tips for coming up with ideas:

  • A subtitle is longer than a main title; ten to fifteen words is the sweet spot, though.
  • Make it descriptive and clear. Think about phrases like “how to” or “the guide to” or “learn to”.
  • Think about Amazon categories your book fits into and look at the bestseller lists for those categories. This is a great place to see the types of titles and subtitles that resonate with your readers.

Once you’ve put together a solid list of subtitles, brainstorm ten or more main title ideas, keeping these tips in mind:

  • Keep it short — ideally five words or fewer.
  • Your main title should be easy to say and to spell.
  • Think about incorporating the name of your unique solution, methodology, or approach from your book into at least one of your title options.
  • Consider using proven literary devices, like rhythm, alliteration, puns, contrast, metaphors, or humour to make your title more memorable.

Choosing a Book Title - Step 3: Test your titles and subtitles

Ready to see which of the titles and subtitles you’ve come up with work best? Then you’re ready for Step 3, where you’ll test them. First, you’ll do this qualitatively with a focus group, and then quantitatively through either a poll or a smoke test.

Qualitative Testing

For qualitative testing, you could ask anyone you’ve shared your book with already for feedback to think about your title options. They already know your book’s content, so they’ll have an informed opinion of which title works best.

To carry out this testing, you’ll want to first ask which subtitles work best and then, second, combine the most popular subtitle with your main title options, asking which of those combinations work best. Then, once you’ve got a list of the most popular title-subtitle combinations, you can move on to quantitative testing.

Quantitative Testing

Two types of quantitative testing that work well for assessing your book’s title are A/B testing and smoke testing.

  • A/B Testing. With A/B testing, you put your strongest ideas up for a vote, using a service like PickFu or SurveyMonkey. I like both services because you can buy panel respondents and have your survey completed quickly — so you don’t have to solely rely on your own network.
  • Smoke Test. To do a smoke test, use Google AdWords or Facebook Ads to create advertisements for your book that use the different titles. Then, see how many people click on each one. This gives you solid, in-market feedback, so you’ll know which titles work and which don’t.

Just like you did with your qualitative testing, test your subtitles first. Then, take the winner and use it as a consistent subtitle to pair with each main title. Your results might look a bit like this:

Example of subtitle testing results

Example of main title testing results

Choosing a Book Title - Step 4: Make the call

Now, you can make a smart, well-informed, and thoroughly tested decision on your title – a title that will get discovered, resonate with your readers, and correctly set their expectations of what they’ll get when they read your book.

Having said that, in the end, you need to choose a title that you’ll be proud of, so don’t feel you must absolutely go with the popular choice. Use the data as input, but use your own good judgement to make the final decision as an author and businessperson.