How to Craft the Perfect Title and Subtitle for Your Book

Books & Writing November 3, 2014

What separates the pros from the amateurs? Some would say the design, others, the marketing. While such elements are important, they’re not the fundamental part of what makes professional books stand out from the rest.

The difference, as you may have guessed, is in a book’s title and subtitle. From a promotional standpoint, these two elements stand as the most important part of a book’s presentation. Just think, the title is what shoppers notice first when browsing books in a bookstore. When googling a new study resource, the book title is what appears first on Amazon.

These are only a few of the hundreds of reasons why it’s essential to have the perfect title and subtitle. In this article, we will explore precisely this.

Find the Focus Topic

Before you begin the process of determining a title or subtitle, find the book’s focus.  To discover this, consider your book’s overall message and what a reader can expect to take away from reading it. Here’s a list of questions to help the brainstorming process. Answer each one in one sentence:

  1. What is the main purpose of your book?
  2. What’s one thing a reader can expect to take away from your book’s message or story?
  3. Why should a reader buy your book?
  4. Who should buy your book?
  5. What is your book? (e.g. guide, story, novel, novella, memoir, testimony, etc.)

To help with this process, download these questions in a fillable Word document to keep your notes and brainstorm ideas:

Download a Focus Topic Worksheet

Start with the Subtitle

It may seem strange to craft a subtitle before a title, however the process of doing so directly aids in the creation of the title. As the “description” or modifier of the title, the subtitle better equips us for crafting a catchy title.

With the questions we’ve answered in the previous section, we can develop the subtitle. Look to your one-sentence answers and for the most compelling or unique parts of them. Place yourself in the shoes of your reader: which answers communicate the heart and soul of the book?

After reviewing and brainstorming your answers from the previous section, put your pen to the paper and write three to five subtitle options. Ensure that each proposed subtitle is clear and to-the-point. For example:

A Bad Subtitle

This subtitle is too vague and gives a reader no insight as to the book’s meaning or purpose.

A Journey of Hope

A Good Subtitle

Unlike the preceding subtitle, this wording is true to the book’s intention and offers readers a glimpse about how the content is delivered.

30 Ways to Kick Bad Eating Habits and Live Healthier Everyday

Craft a Compelling Title

After settling on a subtitle that is clear and descriptive, next comes the title. Because the bulk of explanation lies with the subtitle, titles can be short. For example, the subtitle listed in the previous section would not make a good title simply because of the amount of words.

The fewer words, the better. Especially with fiction, it’s not uncommon to have a title that’s a single word. As with any part of a book, all that matters is what fits the content best.

A Bad Title

This title is unnecessarily wordy. The less words the better and the more we can trim off the title the greater its effectiveness.

A Journey Through an Unknown Country

A Good Title

Again, the shorter the better. This title takes the idea above and brings it down to bite-size. We can depend on the subtitle to help clarify its meaning.

Country Unknown

Keep in mind these are only rules of thumb. There are many titles (even best sellers) that break these rules. The key to crafting a title and subtitle that works well, is knowing when and how to break them.


As with an effective design, the title and subtitle are essential to a book’s marketing efforts. Without utilizing both to their fullest, we run the risk of boring, confusing, or misleading readers. If every sentence within a book requires attention, double the care is required to tell readers why they should give those sentences their attention.

What Do You Think?

In your experience with title and subtitle creation, what has worked best for you? Any tips or techniques we missed? Share your experiences in the comments.

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