Monday, May 18, 2009

Creating Bestselling Book Titles--Try the "Look to Your Book" Strategy

Use These 5 Tips to Get Started

By Susan Kendrick

To create the title for his bestselling book, "The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich," author Timothy Ferriss created and tested many titles and title variations to come up with that final, winning combination.

To develop the title for his bestselling book, "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," Harvey Mackay reports that he hired a creative team to hold focus groups to generate possible book titles. They included “Swim With the Sharks” among the 800 titles voted on in the final ballot.

Many great book titles are painstakingly developed, and some just happen. But most are usually a combination of both approaches--strategy and serendipity, science and art, logic and (dare I say it?) pure luck. For the strategy part of the equation, having a systematic process in place saves you the time and aggravation of brainstorming pages and pages of book title ideas that go nowhere.

Before you move onto book cover design or start looking for a book cover designer, you need a unique, powerful, and memorable book title--the first step in creating a bestselling book cover and brand for your book. Try using our "Look to Your Book" strategy to confidently create a great list of book title ideas for any book--non-fiction or fiction. This is great strategy that we turn to again and again with great results.

How to "Look To Your Book"

Manuscripts are one of the most overlooked sources for a great book title. Either on your own or with help from someone else who can bring new eyes to your text, read through your chapter titles, each chapter, and the Foreword if you have one. You are not reading for content, but for individual words and phrases that capture the essence of your book in some compelling way. Keeping the two bestselling book title examples above in mind, here are five book-title-starters to look for in your book:

1. Listen to the way you say things
Sometimes in your own writing you can find an especially bold, concise, or even poetic way of saying something. It may be a phrase that speaks to a need for your book. It may relate to a benefit of reading your book. It may not encompass your entire message, but it points to it in such a powerful or offbeat way that it suddenly jumps out at you. Again, having someone else look through your manuscript is helpful because they are seeing and hearing the language you use for the first time.

2. See if you've coined a new term
Next, look for words, phrases, or expressions that are uniquely yours. Without noticing, you may have coined a new term that will set you apart from everyone else writing on your topic. Look, for example, at bestselling books like "Freakonomics."

3. Check out your chapter titles
A great chapter title or one of the headings within your chapters can also translate into a powerful book title. You have no doubt already spent time coming up with these. And, while no one by itself will summarize your entire book, one chapter title or heading can express a key point that becomes an anchor for your overall idea or approach.

4. Look for pictures and images
Finally, look for vivid images in your manuscript. "Swim with the sharks" is a great example. An image that like might come from your picturesque way of talking in your book. If you see an image, grab it and see if it can be used as a title. Again, it may not sum up your entire message, but it does give people a strong visual that they then associate with you and your book--a great first step toward creating a powerful brand.

5. Use other people's praise for your book
One more place to look for words and phrases is in the testimonials you are collecting for your book, or in any advance reviews or feedback you are getting for your book. The Foreword, testimonials, and reviews are written by other people who talk about you and your book differently than you do. They may see things that you don't, or they may describe your message or approach in sharp, colorful ways. Look through their comments for words and phrases that could make a great title.

As a friend of mine used to say--and what is true in many situations--the solution is close at hand. So, "Look to Your Book" as one more way to create a book title that is as powerful and unique as your message.

Be sure to download your Free Book Cover Timeline on our website at Learn what to do, when to do it, and how long each step will take.

Need help creating a book title and subtitle for your book? Email us at or call 1-888-634-4120, whether you need start-to-finish help or just a critique and consultation.


Susan Kendrick, Write to Your Market, Inc. All Rights Reserved., 1-888-634-4120.