Everyone knows that the title of a book is critical; it's the first thing that people see, and if it doesn't create interest, they aren't going to look any closer. Not everyone, however, knows that the subtitle is almost as important. Both, in fact, play an important role, and their roles are quite different. The main purpose of the title is to attract. You want people to take a second look, and if they are in a bookstore, to pick it up and look at it closer. This is where the subtitle comes in; its main purpose is to explain. It should give the reader more information on the book. In particular, it should state what the benefits of reading the book are, and convince readers that they will be helpful to them.
Let's consider the title first. To catch a person's interest, a title has to be different and unique, and assuming it is a nonfiction book, it should promise something. This means that the purpose or aim of the title has to come through clearly, so be careful if you decide on a “cute” title. If people don't know what it means, even if it makes them laugh, in most cases it's not going to perk their curiosity. Finally, it should be “catchy,” — something that is easy to remember and sticks in their mind. This means that it shouldn't be too long; five words or less are usually best.
With so many books on the market this may seem like a big order. First of all, almost any title that comes to mind immediately (after you have decided to write the book) has been used. So it's always a good idea to check your brainchild out on Amazon.com. It's not against the law to use a title that has already been used, but it may cause some confusion. So don't settle on a title too quickly; check it out thoroughly and give it considerable thought. Let your unconscious brain work on it for a while; you may be surprised what it comes up with.
A few other things that are helpful in obtaining fantastic titles are:
- Humor in a title is always good.
- Make sure it answers a question. Don't use questions as titles.
- A twist on a well-known phrase frequently makes a good title.
- Use alliteration if possible (e.g. “Aim at Amazon”).
- Use metaphors (a word that stands for another word), but be careful its meaning is clear.
- Let yourself go. Be a little daring and outrageous. You never know what you can come up with.
- Think in terms of power phrases such as: “Amazing New Discovery:…, ” “You Can…” “Sure-fire Way to …” “Better than …” “The One Minute …”.
When you have finally decided on a title, sit back and ask yourself if it satisfies all of the above criteria. If it doesn't — go at it again until you find something that does.
Now for the subtitle. As I said earlier, its main function is to explain. It should give more information about the book and explain its benefits, and if it has to do this, it obviously has to be much longer than the title. One sentence is the norm, but it can be several sentences, and this is what I recommend. The important thing is that it does the job.
One of the major things you have to think about when writing subtitles is keywords. They are words or phrases that are typed into a computer by people when they are searching for something. Keywords are picked up by search engines such as Google and Yahoo. They are particularly important when people are looking for a nonfiction book on a particular topic on Amazon. They type in a few words related to the topic, and look over the first few books that come up on the screen. You therefore have to ask yourself what someone is likely to type in when they are looking for a book on the topic of your book. As it turns out, there are places where you can look up good, or frequently used, keywords. Some of them are:
In practise, search engines look first for exact key words, in other words, the same words in the same order as the person typed in. So it's a good idea to get some of them into your subtitle.
Earlier we saw that power action words and phrases are helpful in titles. As it turns out, they are even more important in subtitles, and should be used whenever possible. Typical of these words are: Benefit, Achieve, Improve, Think about, Avoid, Change.