How Searchable are Your Book’s Title and Subtitle?

by | Sep 13, 2013

by K.M. Weiland (@KMWeiland)

Often it seems like the titles of nonfiction books are almost an afterthought on the part of the author. Say what’s in the book—what else is there? But titles and subtitles are especially powerful elements in your book’s discoverability online. Author and blogger K.M. Weiland offers us some guidance on how to make the most of this opportunity. Here’s her report.

Who are we kidding? Readers do judge books—particularly non-fiction books—based on their titles. The book’s title, subtitle, and cover are our first (and, often, only) chances to hook readers’ attention. Readers look at the cover or read the title, make a snap decision, and they’re either hooked like a mackerel—or they are outta there.

Just as importantly, titles and subtitles are becoming increasingly important in the shadow world of metadata and SEO. The words we choose for our titles have to be more than just catchy sound bites. They have to be stocked with viable keywords that will help online retailers’ search engines guide readers to our books.

How the Right Title Can Make Your Book a Perennial Top Seller on Amazon

Back in 2011, I independently published my first non-fiction book Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success. I already had a nice little platform via my site Helping Writers Become Authors, but nothing astronomical. I wrote and published the book based on my own passion for the subject and my blog readers’ desire for more information on the subject.

To be entirely honest, I didn’t expect the book to do all that well. Outlining is pretty nichey (or so I thought at the time). Certainly, I figured, I’d sell more books and make more money if I wrote something for a broader audience. In fact, since the book does deal with much more than just outlining, I was actually encouraged by several people to change the title, to try to hook in people who weren’t strictly interested in outlining.

But then the book came out, hit the top of the Writing Skills category in Amazon’s Kindle store, held it for 12 months solid, and even still remains in the top 5.

How the heck did that happen?

Many factors are at play here, but if I had to credit the book’s success to just one thing, that one thing would be its title.

What Makes a Good Non-Fiction Title?

What’s so great about my title? It’s not clever. It’s pretty boring, actually. It states the book’s subject and nothing else. Kind of like making a Star Trek movie and titling it Guys (and Girl) Who Fight in Space.

Snore. Or is it?

Here’s the thing about my boring, on-point title: its very specificity is what helps readers find it. All of the primary keywords are in the title. If someone wants a book on outlining a novel, what are they most likely to type into the search engine? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, Hmm, “outlining your novel.” And, when they type that in, guess what pops up at the top of the results?

Structuring Your NovelSometimes less clever is more clever. Whenever possible, we’re going to want to choose a title that speaks for itself. Does it tell readers what the book is about? Is it searchable? Does it include the keywords readers will be typing into Amazon’s search box when looking for such a book?

What makes a good subtitle?

At the end of the day, the guidelines for a good subtitle are no different from those for a good title. The true beauty of the subtitle is that it gives us that many more keywords to play around with.

This is something I feel I could have done better when subtitling Outlining. The subtitle Map Your Way to Success adds a little cleverness to the overall title and reflects upon the “roadmap” metaphor used throughout the book. But it doesn’t really help me in the keywords department.

That’s why, when I wrote my follow-up book Structuring Your Novel (straightforward again!), I consciously selected a subtitle that allowed me to not just clarify the subject, but to pack in a few more tasty keywords. After much thought, I chose Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story.

Put the title and subtitle together, and we’ve not only got the important key phrase “structuring your novel,” but also the important words “novel,” “writing,” and “story”—all of which are given that much more weight by being included in the title and subtitle, rather than just the metadata.

Together, your title and subtitle have the potential to be one of your most powerful marketing tools. Take the time to brainstorm not just obvious or catchy titles—but those that will give you the most bang for your buck when your readers start running those searches.

self-publishingK.M. Weiland is the author of the epic fantasy Dreamlander, the historical western A Man Called Outlaw and the medieval epic Behold the Dawn. She enjoys mentoring other authors through her website Helping Writers Become Authors, her books Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel, and her instructional CD Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration. She makes her home in western Nebraska.

Photo: Amazon links contain my affiliate code.

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