Four Strategies for Creating Titles That Jump Off the Page

If there’s one thing every publishing professional hates, it’s a title meeting. Why? Because coming up with compelling book titles is arduous, time-consuming work. The same is true for bloggers and their blog titles.

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Yet nothing in the marketing mix is more important than a strong title. It is like a newspaper headline: If prospective readers are intrigued, they keep reading. If they don’t, they move on to the next book or blog post.

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Based on our research at Thomas Nelson, consumers first look at the book’s:

  1. Title
  2. Cover
  3. Back cover
  4. Flaps (hardcover books or trade paperbacks with “French flaps”)
  5. Table of contents
  6. First few paragraphs of the book’s content
  7. Price

I didn’t mention the author because it varies. If the author is well-known, it might be the most important element. (This is why publishers sometimes put it at the top of a book.) If the author isn’t well-known, it can be a non-factor.

Notice that price is last. Readers don’t buy price. No one ever said, “That book looks great! If it were only two dollars cheaper.” Or, “This book doesn’t really appeal to me, but if it were a buck less expensive I would buy it.” As long as the book provides enough value for the price requested, it sells. But I digress.

The most important component is the title.

So what does it take to create great titles that get books on the bestsellers list or pageviews for a blog post?

Great titles are PINC (pronounced “pink”). They do at least one of the following: make a promise, create intrigue, identify a need, or simply state the content. Let me provide a few examples from the current bestseller lists.

  1. Titles that make a promise:
    The 4-Hour Body Sexy Forever Barefoot Contessa
    The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman Sexy Forever: How to Fight Fat after Forty Barefoot Contessa How Easy Is That?: Fabulous Recipes & Easy Tips
  2. Titles that create intrigue:
    Heaven Is for Real Inside of a Dog The Seven Wonders
    Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know The Seven Wonders That Will Change Your Life
  3. Titles that identify a need:
    Fearless The Total Money Makeover How to Write a Sentence
    Fearless: Imagine Your Life Without Fear The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One
  4. Titles that simply state the content:
    Bonhoeffer Why We Get Fat Autobiography of Mark Twain
    Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy Why We Get Fat Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1

Some of these titles employ more than one strategy. For example, The 4-Hour Body makes a promise, but it also creates intrigue—How could you recreate your body in four hours?

Please note that these guidelines are primarily for non-fiction books and blog posts. Coming up with fiction titles is a whole other thing—though it seems like the strategy is usually to create intrigue, for example, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest or What the Night Knows.

And I have to admit that many books break these rules completely and succeed. I remember trying to come up with a title for Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. Our committee was convinced that the author’s title would never work. We believed that no one would have a clue what it meant.

But Don was stubborn and wouldn’t budge. We finally acquiesced. And all it did was work! The book has sold more than 1.3 million copies to-date and still continues to sell tens of thousands of copies each year.

By the way, for bloggers, one of the best books you could ever read is Advertising Headlines That Make You Rich: Create Winning Ads, Web Pages, Sales Letters and More. The book sounds cheesy and is expensive. But it is worth its weight in gold. It is basically a catalog of headline templates that have proven effective in selling all kinds of products. I constantly refer to it.

The bottom line is that the right title can make you or break you. It is worth spending the necessary time to get it right.

Question: What strategies have you used in coming up with winning titles for books or blog posts? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Jeffrey Pennypacker

    Great Post Michael, I am in the middle of creating a name for an e-book. I thought about crowd sourcing it through facebook and other friends. Have you tried this method? The working title is “7 Epic things a single mom can do to help her son become a man.” obviously a little long. The newest title is “Make a man out of him, A 7 step guide for single moms raising boys.” Any input is welcomed.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Yep, I have. I have done it right here on my blog. It’s a great way to get a lot of ideas fast.

  • tabitha

    i am in the proces of writing one and i so far have 4 titles, am yet to settle on the most appropriate

  • Jerry Klobutcher

    I do not want to start a blog but I have written my first novel and I believe I have an excellent title. But, when I looked to see if the title had ever been used I found that it had, more than once. What are the rules/laws regarding using a title that has been used before? I would think that it isn’t that unusual with the amount of reading material that is out there.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      It’s not that unusual. Titles can’t be trademarked unless it is based on a trademarked product. The biggest problem is the confusion it can create.

  • Jerry Klobutcher

    Thanks for the information and that is what I thought intuitively. But, as you said, more than one book with the same title can create confusion so I renamed it.

  • http://www.damaged-mirror.com yaelshahar

    One other point worth noting is the way Amazon and digital publishing in general are beginning to alter the picture. Because of the way search engines work, a title that includes more information and more keywords will get more hits than one that doesn’t. So while a vague and evocative title might provoke curiosity in a human bookstore browser, it won’t help the book’s online sales. And since increasingly more books are sold online than in bookstores, we see more and more books with short punchy titles, followed by a colon and a longer key-word filled description. The result is the colon-ization of book titles across the board. (Does this make the foregoing analysis a bibliographical colonoscopy…?)

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I love this: “bibliographical colonoscopy.” I think you are definitely right about what is happening. I hadn’t really thought about it before.