book titles


 

Nonfiction authors typically start writing chapter titles that are as vanilla as can be, but ultimately, you want to consider chapter titles that are engaging for the reader. At the same time, you don’t want your chapter titles to be so creative that someone looking at the list of contents (also known as the table of contents or just “Contents”) to have no clue what’s in your book!

Here’s a solution: You can use a clever chapter title followed by a subtitle that explains the concept a little more clearly.

In Cinematherapy, my coauthor Bev West and I had a chapter called: “I Hate My Life and I’m Moving to Bora Bora: Seeking Greener Pastures Movies.” True, you might not know what Seeking Greener Pastures Movies are, but when you look at all the chapter titles, you can see that each is around a particular theme: Mother Issues Movies, Martyr Syndrome Movies, and so on.

You can use the same trick for headers within the book. In Raising a Sensory Smart Child, one of the headers in the chapter on improving speech skills and picky eating reads “You Say Potato and I Say Topahhhhhhuuuduh”: Problems with Motor Planning”

Using an intriguing quotation within a chapter title or a header is a great way to be provocative and intriguing, but don’t sacrifice clarity. 

Writing a memoir? Often, memoir chapters don’t have titles and sections within chapters don’t have headers, but here’s your chance to get creative. You never know what title or header might grab someone’s attention. Think about taking an interesting image from a story you tell, such as “The Purple Rabbit” or “Twelve Pretzels.” Set up a dilemma or intrigue: “The Purple Rabbit’s Whereabouts” or “Twelve Pretzels and a Warning.” 

You might also use a quotation—I always loved the sound of “Bora Bora” and think that was the perfect word to use in our funny quote related to movies about seeking greener pastures and getting away from frustrating situations. Think about things you’ve said or a client has said that sum up a concept in an interesting way. Think of things you typically say to your followers and clients. 

chapter one chapter titles engaging nonfiction headers titles photo typewriter

 

You can also do a spin on a common saying or cliche. How about: “You Got This (Unless You Need to Freak Out First, In Which Case, Read This Chapter NOW)”?

Or, “Plays Shockingly Well with Others: Five Keys to Improve Your Collaboration Skills.” 

Which comes first, the clever section header or the section itself? You decide. But I think you’ll find it’s a good exercise to at least consider jazzing up your chapter and header titles.

Need some help with your book as you write it and set up your plan to get it published? Contact me about my services as a developmental editor, ghostwriter, and book publishing consultant.

 

guide to writing engaging chapter titles header titles

book titles


 

Back when I was an in-house editor at Perigee Books and later, HarperCollins, I made a point of checking the bestseller lists not just to see what books were selling but to get title ideas. There are some tricks to coming up with titles that will grab people’s attention and make them stay focused long enough to read the subtitle of your nonfiction book. Here are some examples I pulled from a bestselling business books list:

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. A classic, this book uses a number in the title to help readers feel they’ll get clear, useable information that won’t overwhelm them. You’ve probably also seen titles like The 7 Spiritual Laws of Success and The 5 Love Languages. In addition to using a number in your title, you want to use positive words that inspire people. Don’t we all want to be “highly effective,” achieve success, and be adept not just at speaking the language of love but all five of them?

Dare to Lead and Girl, Stop Apologizing! Strong verbs (dare! stop!) that are calls to action help engage readers’ interest right away.

How to Win Friends and Influence People. One of my favorite classic self-help books, Dale Carnegie’s “how to” guide reminds us that the words “how to” continue to be strong in titles. On YouTube, Amazon, or a search engine, do you type in or dictate “how to” plus “cook a perfect omelet,” “write a business plan”? I’ll bet you’ve done it. You can use “how to” in your title or your subtitle. You’ll be in good company!

The Happiness Advantage, Atomic Habits, and Unlimited Memory. Intriguing promises using strong nouns and adjectives can get a potential book buyer to read further. “Habit” is a terrific noun: People love developing, changing, and adopting habits, replacing the old ones with new ones. Who doesn’t want an advantage? Intrigue your reader with a promise of what they can achieve if they read your book: new habits, advantages, not just improved memory but unlimited memory. A thesaurus can help you strengthen your nouns and adjectives, helping you create an intriguing, enticing title.

Of course, you want a title no one else is using, so here’s a trick. Turn verbs into their -ing forms: use  “daring” instead of “dare,” and “stopping” instead of “stop.” You can do the opposite, too: “winning” could be turned into “win,” “discovering” can become “discover,” and so on.

What should you avoid? Negativity in a title. Sometimes, people will find a negative title appealing: Stop Being a Jerk: How You Can Be Nicer to the People in Your Life is a book many people need, but are they going to buy it? Or are they more like to to buy How to Win Friends and Influence People? I’d buy The Happiness Advantage before I’d buy The Disadvantages of Unhappiness, wouldn’t you?

Also, avoid words people are unfamiliar with and find hard to pronounce. I regret years ago agreeing to a book title called Running to Maputo. It was a marvelous, uplifting memoir by a South African activist who chronicled a year of his life recovering from being nearly killed by a car bomb. (He was on his way to do his daily run at a place called Maputo.) The concept was great—it was the tale of how a man slowed down, was fully present in the healing process, and then a year later was able to meet that simple goal he had the day he nearly died. But the word “Maputo” and the confusing title caused too many people to scratch their head. Now, you might be thinking, “Don’t people like new words?” Sometimes, yes. If the subtitle explains the word, it can be intriguing without being off-putting.

Strong title ideas book titles words

 

If you’re working on titles for your book, I hope you will play with these ideas and see if you can’t come up with a terrific title that’s an improvement on the one you have. The next step, of course, is to see if anyone has a book title too close to yours or if someone else has already snapped up the .com address for that combination of words. (If they have, don’t get a .net. If MyAwesomeTitle.com is taken, it would be better to own MyAwesomeTitleBook.com than MyAwesomeTitle.net)

Need some help with titling, conceptualizing, and writing your book? You might want to book a one-hour consultation call with me or some coaching sessions. Contact me and let me know where you’re stuck on your journey from an idea to a published book.

book titles


“Don’t judge a book by its title”—but that’s what we do when we’re looking at books and considering whether to buy them. A title can make or break your book. Here are three utterly mindblowing tips for titling a nonfiction book.

 

 

1. Think holistically. Your title, subtitle, and jacket work together to sell your book. I coauthored a book that got all three right: Raising a Sensory Smart Child is clearly is aimed at parents (hence “child” in the title and subtitle, and “raising a … child”). The title presents an intriguing concept (what are “sensory smarts”?). And the jacket features a happy, active child that has emotional appeal to parents who are stressed out and worried and want their child to be joyous and full of life. Sensory kids often can’t sit still so the picture puts a positive spin on that phenomenon.

 

Does your self-help book deliver on its title and promise? Does it solve a problem? Does it offer "takeaway" for readers that they can apply to their own lives?

Jacket, title, and subtitle work together to make a great book package.

2. Speak to the heart and mind. A great title will make you laugh, intrigue you, touch your heart—in short, it will speak to your mind and your heart. Here are some of my favorites:

 

That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week. If you laugh and say, “Yep, that’s my kid,” you know you have to check it out, right?

 

Eat More, Weigh Less. My boss at HarperCollins, editor-in-chief Susan Moldow, acquired this New York Times bestseller by Dr. Dean Ornish. We used to joke about variations such as “Work Less, Earn More.” Talk about a simple, compelling promise!

 

Mindblowing Sex in the Real World. The author, Sari Locker, PhD, wanted a twist on “The Real World,” which was an MTV hit at when the book was in production (I was the acquisitions editor). I thought a contrast would be good and came up with the word “mindblowing.” One of the suits at the publisher pushed hard against it but we pushed back. The book and title were hits, and years later, the title was mentioned in the New York Times. That is a title with staying power! (Pun intended.)

 

3. Switch It Up. Bev West, my coauthor and cousin, came up with “cinema therapy” and “mood movies” or “movies to match your mood.” Our book proposal’s cover sheet shows what we settled on. Someone in-house at Dell, our book publisher, suggested making “cinema therapy” one word, Cinematherapy, and using it as the title, relegating the “mood movies” concept to the subtitle. We also wrestled with “girl” vs. “gal” and other alternatives (“girlfriend’s guide” was taken). Contrast the proposal title/subtitle to the final jacket.

 

 MoodMoviesOrigTitle

Cinematherapy, movie therapy for women: a vision turned into a successful book series and television show

Cinematherapy, movie therapy for women: a vision turned into a successful book series and television show. Original title and subtitle were flipped around.

 

 

So as you’re titling, start picturing your book’s jacket. Look at other books—not just online but in a bookstore. Look at their jackets. Which ones do you respond to, and why? What are the title and jacket trends in your genre? Do you want to match them or buck them?

 

Do you have a one- to three-word “hook” that works for your brand and your book? Cinematherapy spawned Bibliotherapy, Advanced Cinematherapy, Cinematherapy for Lovers, Cinematherapy for the Soul, Cinematherapy Goes to the Oscars, Gay Cinematherapy, TVTherapy, and Culinarytherapy. How can you use your “hook” within your title as in your brand to emotionally engage and intrigue readers?