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How to Choose a Good Book Title When Self Publishing Nonfiction

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.


Had an interesting conversation come up in my authors group on Facebook. One of the authors asked about how to get feedback for potential titles for her upcoming book. The answers brought up a number of issues that go into choosing a good book title, especially for self published nonfiction.

What is a Book Title, Really?

Essentially, everyone knows what a book title is in a literal sense. It's the name given to a longer work of writing.

But when we're talking about marketing nonfiction books, a book title becomes something else entirely. It becomes part of the "packaging" of the work. The title is the "ingredients label" that tells potential readers what's inside the package.

True, clever titles may be attention getting. But if they don't tell readers much about what's inside, their marketing value is reduced or even eliminated.

Does your book title tell readers the book is for them?

Your book title is part of your book's "packaging," serving as its "ingredients label" to tell potential readers what's inside.

— Heidi Thorne

SEO for Book Titles? Really?

One of the other authors in the group suggested paying attention to SEO when choosing a book title and subtitle. SEO? Yes, SEO!

It's no secret that a large share of books today are sold online, particularly on Amazon. In fact, Amazon is a very sophisticated search engine in itself! It has to be. Buyers who are looking for a book on a certain topic will usually type in a keyword or phrase in the Search bar, just as they would if they were searching on Google. So the Amazon system needs to know what results to return to the buyer. Therefore, if your book title, subtitle, description and categories aren't set up for SEO, your chances of showing up in results are limited or eliminated.

In addition to Amazon, potential book buyers may also search for their desired topic on standard search engines such as Google. Because Amazon is one of the world's most visited and trusted sites, books that meet the search criteria can also appear in search engine results.

Here's an example. My most popular book as of this writing is still my first book. I titled it SWAG: How to Choose and Use Promotional Products in Marketing Your Business. Because "swag" is a slang term that refers to promotional giveaways and goodies, I thought using that in the title would be clever. But if I would have just titled, it SWAG, it would have been an SEO dud. So thanks to both my subtitle and description, my book shows up in searches on Amazon for promotional products.

We have to remember that we are living the world of robots. So no matter how clever or artful a potential book title might be, if it doesn't speak robot, it has less chance of being found online.

How to Think of a Good Title for Your Book

Choosing the right keyword(s) to use in a book title and subtitle requires that you understand your target market, as well as what's going on in their heads when they're searching for the information you offer.

Here's an exercise that can help. If your target audience of readers said any or all of the following statements, what would be in the blanks? What would get filled in the blanks can be a good place to start when doing your keyword research.

  1. I want help with ____________.
  2. I want to understand ___________.
  3. I want to know more about _____________.
  4. I want to know how to _______________.

Once you've come up with some potential keywords or phrases, use a keyword research tool such as Google AdWords' Keyword Tool (available to AdWords advertisers) or online sites (e.g., When you enter a keyword or phrase, you will receive a list showing the word or phrase you entered, along with related variations. While your proposed keyword or phrase may appear, you may find more popular variations of it that could be even more effective possibilities.

Then it's time to get creative! How can you integrate your keywords or phrases into your title or subtitle? Try several variations to see which one relates best to your work. It should also sound natural, meaning that when the title is read aloud, it doesn't sound awkward.

Asking for Feedback on Potential Book Titles

Asking friends for feedback on potential book titles can be a good idea if you feel unsure of your choice or are deciding between titles. But there are some guidelines and challenges when asking for this input.

Understand Why You are Asking for Help. Though most authors who ask for title feedback are legitimately seeking help in making this important decision, others seem to have other motives. Some are in "look at me" mode and want to get some validation for themselves or their work. Others feel that doing so, especially on social media, might give them some pre-launch marketing buzz. This buzz may have limited value since people may not follow the conversation long enough to find out the winning title. It will be a long-forgotten memory by the time the book comes out.

Get Feedback from the Right Friends. If your friends don't understand your work or your potential buyers, they are not ideal candidates to evaluate your book title. Only recruit those that would be potential readers or who have a experience in your industry or market. Plus, if they don't understand the need for your title to be SEO friendly, they may poo-poo a potentially good book title because it's not artistically pleasing to them.

Provide a Description and/or Table of Contents. In networking, I often have authors tell me that they're going to write a book with such-and-such title. Sounds great... maybe. Just asking friends for feedback on a title or subtitle without providing a description, SEO target topic, or a table of contents is a waste. They may think it's an awesome title by itself, but it may not align with what's inside the book or your marketing goals.

Get Professional Help. Getting a professional critique of your book manuscript by an editor, including the title and subtitle, can be valuable in making this choice. The friend relationship factor is eliminated and they can evaluate your title in light of whether it will be a good fit for your book and your market.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on March 23, 2017:

Will definitely do, Heidi.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 23, 2017:

Aw, thanks, Larry! Appreciate you stopping by. Cheers!

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Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on March 23, 2017:

Always informative:-)

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 23, 2017:

Hi Flourish! Glad you found the questions and feedback advice helpful. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Have a beautiful day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 23, 2017:

Hi Suhail! Glad those questions will help you with your book. In addition to the title, it can also help with writing the entire thing. Keep us posted on your book's progress. Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 23, 2017:

G'morning, Billybuc! Yeah, I know you're a fiction guy at heart. And thank God for chocolate chip cookies! I'll connect with you elsewhere to see what was going on with the email. Happy Weekend to you, too!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 23, 2017:

Great info. I'm not a non-fiction kind of guy, but great info. By the way, I tried to comment on your newsletter this morning and it wouldn't let me....mildly annoyed, but I had a chocolate chip cookie and got over it quickly. :) Happy weekend, my friend!

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on March 22, 2017:


The following questions that you outlined are going to help me immensely when I publish my book for reading by young people in the country of my origin:

I want help with ____________.

I want to understand ___________.

I want to know more about _____________.

I want to know how to _______________.

Great advice!


FlourishAnyway from USA on March 22, 2017:

The questions you outline are especially helpful advice. The feedback section, too, is very helpful. Thoughtful, timely feedback from people who have your best interests at heart is invaluable, and it's so unfortunate that many people either don't seek it out properly or at all.

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