How to Find an Endless Supply of Best-selling Ideas
for Your Nonfiction Book Title
by Marcia Yudkin
Published on this site: December 22nd, 2011 -
more articles from this month
Feel stumped when it’s time to create your book title? There’s no need
to stare helplessly at a blank page or blank screen. Instead, jump-start
your creation of a title by looking at successful books on today’s
best-seller lists and using the patterns you can identify in those
titles to spark your own ideas, tailored for your own book’s content and
For example, you might look at the book title “Kisses from Katie: A
Story of Relentless Love and Redemption,” and analyze it as three
emotional words using alliteration, then “A Story of…” two qualities,
one of them modified in a curiosity-provoking way.
Likewise, you could look at “Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation
and the Meaning of Everything” and analyze it as a weird, provocative
question, followed by a simple one-word summary of the topic and a grand
Among business books, you might find yourself lingering at “The 4-Hour
Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich” by Tim
Ferris and break it down as four promises, the first one as a
way-out-of-reach dream and three more compelling promises starting with
As in that example, you’ll also see many numbers, particularly in
strongly selling business books and self-help titles, such as “The 48
Laws of Power” by Robert Greene or “Goal Setting: 13 Secrets of World
Class Achievers” by Vic Johnson.
Another attention-getting pattern is a reversal of expectations. For
example, “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker makes us curious because
we normally consider fear a curse rather than a gift.
Among cookbooks, you’ll find grandiosity, as with “How to Cook
Everything” by Mark Bittman. (Surely that’s a huge exaggeration!)
In the science section, where many of us would expect dry, academic
titles, you might smile at “Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and
Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World” by
Lisa Randall. The pattern there consists of an opening phrase that
quotes a popular song with a double meaning and a subtitle that defines
the topic literally, completely ignoring the song reference.
Something you’ll notice in many titles is alliteration – repeated
initial sounds. For instance, as I write this, the nonfiction best
seller list includes “Suicide of a Superpower” by Patrick Buchanan and
“Living Large in Lean Times” by Clark Howard – where the repeated s’s or
l’s make the title phrase much more memorable.
You’ll also see titles that bring together opposites or contrasts to
create tension in a phrase, as with “The Big Short” by Michael Lewis or
“Forks over Knives,” a book version of a documentary film on plant-based
Undoubtedly you’ll spot examples of one of the most popular title
patterns today, a one-word main title followed by a much longer,
clarifying subtitle, such as “Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of
Geography Wonks” by Ken Jennings or “Rigged: The True Story of an Ivy
League Kid Who Changed the World of Oil” by Ben Mezrich.
Remember to use the patterns you see in your research for inspiration.
Do not copy them. When you’ve done it right, you’ll have a resonance of
success that people feel without knowing why that makes them want to
explore your book and buy it.
Marcia Yudkin is Head Stork of
Named At Last, a company that brainstorms catchy tag
lines, company names, product names and book titles
according to the client’s criteria. For a systematic
process of coming up with a compelling new name or
tag line, download a free copy of "19 Steps to the
Perfect Company Name, Product Name, Book Title or
Tag Line" at