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.
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.
Based on our research at Thomas Nelson, consumers first look at the book’s:
- Back cover
- Flaps (hardcover books or trade paperbacks with “French flaps”)
- Table of contents
- First few paragraphs of the book’s content
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.
- Titles that make a promise:
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
- Titles that create intrigue:
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
- Titles that identify a need:
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
- Titles that simply state the content:
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.