Choosing a great book title is part art, part science.
In fact, E. Haldeman-Julius, who conducted one of the largest and most meticulous studies of what makes a book title sell, concluded, "A good title is a work of genius."
Genius, however, can be cultivated.
Often "genius" appears when you do the exact opposite of what everyone else does. Marketing expert Dan Kennedy is fond of saying that if everyone else in your industry is doing the same thing, try the exact opposite. You're likely to succeed if you do exactly what others are not doing.
In this case, most people come up with their book title after they've written their book.
Or perhaps, as they write their book.
I used to think this was not a bad thing—to let the title emerge, as it were, as you write the book.
Now, however, I believe that the best time to choose your title is before you write your book.
For several reasons.
5 Reasons to Choose Your Title First
1. Choosing your title first will focus you on what the book should be about. This will save you tons of time and effort. In fact, the focus you will experience once you nail down a great title and subtitle can shave months, even years off the writing process.
Writing a book is a big task. Most of us end up going off on tangents and chasing rabbit trails of information that we later will have to cut (which can be painful). When you know you have a winning title, you can use that as your touchstone for what needs to be in this book. If you get other ideas—fine. Put them in an Ideas file for later books. This book you're writing now needs to keep its focus.
2. Choosing your title first by market testing will help you determine whether your idea will fly. This is another way you'll benefit from doing the opposite of what most authors do. Most authors get excited about the idea, and the market testing comes after the book is out. If it sells, it's a winner. If it doesn't—well, you've wasted a chunk of your life and perhaps several thousands of dollars to get it into print.
The better way to know what to write about is by choosing and testing a title before you write your book. Then, make sure your book stays on course with this title.
3. To refine the premise and promise of your book. When you take the time to market test your idea and conduct research on your title, you will find out exactly the best slant to take. Often your original idea is fine, it just needs some refinement. Let your market tell you how to refine it—before you invest a lot into the book.
4. Choosing your title by testing could build you a list of potential buyers. If you have people participate in a survey, you can ask if they'd like to be put onto a list to be notified when the book will be out or, better yet, to be contacted again as you write the book, for further input. When people invest themselves in your process of writing and titling a book, they're much more likely to not only buy it, but tell their friends about it too. ("You've got to read this book. I was involved in the process, sort of, so I feel I helped writ e it. It's a great book about ....")
5. Having a great title increases your chances of getting a traditional publisher to publish you. Most traditional publishers can recognize a great title when they see one. If you approach them with a professional-looking book proposal that has a great title, a great marketing plan (which you will have, because you've already started the marketing and done some great research), and possibly a list of people who are interested in buying the book—well, this does give you a definite edge over what publishers usually see.
What are you waiting for? If you've got a book idea, get to work on choosing a great title for it. A title that will focus you, galvanize you to envision your book clearly, put you in touch with your market, and possibly, attract a publisher who will pay you an advance to write the book, pay to publish it, and even help you promote it for a while.
Just please take my advice, and start with your title!
And if you need more help in choosing your best title and testing it ...
1. Ask your question about choosing a best-selling title. I will be answering them in articles (this was sparked by a question), on the blog, and/or in my upcoming course, "Choosing Your Bestselling Title" Telecourse. When you ask your question, you will also get access to the replay of the teleseminar in which I answered nearly 20 questions about choosing a great title.
2. Get the Special Report, "How to Choose Your Bestselling Title." This report builds on the above article, but includes so much more! For only $14.95, you will learn:
5 characteristics of a besteselling title
7 criteria for choosing your best title (and the minimum number you should shoot for)
The different "jobs" your title and subtitle must do. Miss even one, and your book is likely doomed.
12 places to go for great title ideas
The killer criteria that trumps all others when you test your title
How to create a "swipe file" of bestselling titles from which to brainstorm your own
How to use your research to create templates of best-selling titles you can use over again, not just for your title, but for marketing as well
7 ways to test your titles and come up with the winner that you can be sure will sell your book—including one that will actually net you income before your book is even published
7 action steps for choosing your bestselling title