Make Your Book Title a Promise

carrotGot a Non-Fiction Book? Tell Your Reader What’s In It for Them!

NOTE: the following suggestions apply to non-fiction works.

Book titles and corporate slogans. The two have a lot in common (something I realized from all my years as a copywriter). Let’s look at some famous slogans:

GE. We bring good things to life.
Delta. We’re ready when you are.
Avis. We try harder.
Burger King. Have it your way.
Virginia is for lovers.

What’s true about all of them? They’re promises. They tell you what you can count on. Same with a brand. Think Dove soap. Tiffany’s. Volvo. IBM. Any doubt as to the promise in those brands? Keep this in mind as you create your book title. If you’re writing non-fiction, your title and subtitle are as crucially important as a great-looking cover.

Promise, Then Elaborate
When I created the title for my first book, I kept in mind the idea of the “promise,” and came up with The Well-Fed Writer (a detailed how-to guide to “commercial” writing, where the income potential money was FAR greater than typical “freelance writing”).

I then used the subtitle to reinforce, clarify, elaborate on the promise of the title. I went with: Financial Self-Sufficiency as a Freelance Writer in Six Months or Less – an additional promise in its own right. Don’t make readers wonder what your book is about; have them “get it” right away from the title and subtitle. A good rule of thumb on titles vs. subtitles? If the title you come up with sounds more explanatory than catchy (and is more than 4-5 words, max), it’s probably a better subtitle.

It all comes down to benefits. Good title/subtitle combos tell readers what’s in it for them, why they should bother picking up the book in the first place.

A Case Study
A few years back, I was hired to mentor a new self-publishing author, an ad industry veteran who’d written book on creativity. While he wanted to tap my expertise on a variety of nuts and bolts issues, in his mind, his cover artwork (and photography) was paid for and nailed down, along with, of course, his title, too:

The Field Guide to Creativity:
One Path And 101 Pointers For Discovering Fresh Ideas

I told him his title needed work. He wasn’t happy. But, after all, here was a book – a really good, interesting, valuable and yes, creative book – purporting to help people be more creative, and its title simply wasn’t. Well, he took my advice, revisited the idea, he and I and a bunch of his friends (via email) brainstormed a bunch of jazzier titles, and here’s what he ended up with:

ZING! Five Steps & 101 Tips for Creativity on Command

Not a promise in a strict sense, but in way, the feeling it evoked was.

Speaking of Creativity…
I had a client recently, a long-time elementary school art teacher, who’d created a wonderful “idea book” for young people designed to spur their unique creative expression through a host of fun, unusual artistic techniques, complete with necessary supply lists. Early on, she’d named this seven-year labor of love:

The Color Book: A Book of Ideas to Inspire Young Artists

Her rationale: color and choice of color were fundamental to a child’s artistic development (and the book was so colorful). I questioned it. My thinking? For starters, her title made sense to her, given what she knew about the concept – none of which was self-evident to a buyer.

Just as importantly, it was potentially confusing; it could mean a lot of things (i.e. color swatches, history of color, etc.). Finally, it didn’t explain what the book was and didn’t begin to really do justice to the book’s mission. I suggested something I felt was more descriptive of that mission:

Art Sparks! A Creative Adventure to Inspire Young Artists

Again, a promise. And while she liked it, she initially resisted it, more out of attachment and inertia. But, she quickly realized that she needed to think of her buyer, and came to love it as she saw that it truly captured her heartfelt mission for the book. Now, someone can look at the title and know instantly what the book is about and the benefits they’ll get from reading it.

Know what the #1 best-selling trade paperback of 2002 was, according to Publishers Weekly? A cookbook! And one that sold 1.8 million copies. Title: The Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook: Feasting With Your Slow Cooker. (Authors: Dawn J. Ranck and Phyllis Pellman Good). Now is that a promise or what?

(Adapted from The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living, by Peter
Can’t land a publisher? Why not do it yourself, and make a living from it? Check out the free report at, the home of the award-winning 2007 release The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living. Author Peter Bowerman is known for the award-winning (and self-published) Well-Fed Writer titles, which have provided him with a full-time living for over five years. (