Lessons from Napoleon Hill for a Million-Dollar Book Title

Amazon ImageLong ago, pioneering self-help author Napoleon Hill was struggling to name his forthcoming book. Neither he nor the publisher were satisfied with their tentative title, The Thirteen Steps to Riches. Although Hill had thought up more than 500 other titles, they simply didn’t have a title worthy of the book.

Finally the publisher got impatient and called up Hill. “If you can’t think of anything better by tomorrow, we’re going to go with ‘Use Your Noodle and Get the Boodle,'” he said. When he went to bed that night, Napoleon Hill was determined to have a better title by the next day.

In the wee hours of the morning, Hill awakened certain that he had a winner: Think and Grow Rich. He woke up the publisher with a phone call, and the publisher too agreed that this was the million-dollar title they had been aiming for. Since its first publication in 1937, Hill’s masterpiece has sold more than 60 million copies around the world. Who knows how many copies Use Your Noodle and Get the Boodle might have sold!

I’d like to pull four important points about book titles from this story.

First, it often takes lots of effort before you arrive at the ideal book title you are seeking. Inexperienced brainstormers usually stop too soon, before the best ideas come out. When you are working on a book title, be sure to write down each idea and each fragment of an idea. Keep going, in several different sessions if need be, until you have at least a hundred possible titles in your notes.

Second, bring other people into the process if you can, because every mind has a different set of associations and connections. Hill would probably never have thought up Use Your Noodle and Get the Boodle, himself. Sometimes authors get perfect title ideas from children, teens, friends and colleagues who don’t even know much about their topic.

Third, dreadful ideas may lead to wonderful ones. Did you notice the strong resemblance between the publisher’s terrible book title and Hill’s eventual terrific one? Don’t edit your ideas while you are brainstorming. Jot down even ideas that are completely inappropriate. Consider whether options that make everyone cringe might have some creativity in them that you can capitalize on and improve.

And last, it’s essential to know how to recognize the title that is precisely what you are looking for. Hill was searching for something simple and catchy, yet dignified. His winning title put together four ordinary, one-syllable words in a resonant phrase that people still love to repeat today. When I teach the process of generating company names, tag lines and book titles, I emphasize the importance of identifying goals, audiences and preferences so as to draw up a list of specific criteria for the naming project at hand. Without a list of criteria, you are in the position of waiting for a lightning bolt from heaven and may have a hard time recognizing it when it flashes in your consciousness.

Use these tips to produce a wealth of options, then select the book title that gets the job done best.

Here’s hoping you go on to think up a one-in-a-million name – and like Napoleon Hill, you see it make you a millionaire many times over.

Marcia Yudkin is the author of The Sound Bite Workbook and Head Stork of Named At Last, a company that brainstorms catchy tag lines, company names, product names and book titles according to the client’s criteria. For a systematic process of coming up with a compelling new name or tag line, download a free copy of “19 Steps to the Perfect Company Name, Product Name or Tag Line” at www.namedatlast.com/19steps.htm .