Tips About Book Subtitles: How to Write Better Ones

How to Write Effective Book Subtitles

Well-written subtitles are one of the most potent elements in book marketing. If you’re an author looking for ideas about how to write book subtitles, read on for help from the pros at Smith Publicity. Coming up with the main title of a book can often be agonizing for authors. But no matter how good it is, much of the book’s sales and success will depend on the subtitle. The subtitle clarifies the book topic, unlike the main title, which is written to be catchy.

choosing the tight subtitle for your book can help with book sales. Especially for non-fiction books, the subtitle is every bit as important as a title. The main title should be clear, impactful, intriguing, and should pique interest. The subtitle takes it from there and does the heavy lifting in terms of creating or losing the reader’s attention. The subtitle should explain in a specific way what a book is about.

Consider these two examples:

  • Book title: The World is Flat.

You see this title, and it could be a novel, humor, satire, history — just about any genre.

Now you see the full title: The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. (This is the classic bestseller by Thomas Friedman) Still an intriguing title, but you have a much better idea of what the book is about, especially if you’re already familiar with such a well-known Pulitzer Prize-winning writer.

  • Book title: Miracle of the Air Waves

Okay, this book could be about a miraculous event of some type? A show? A novel?

Now the full title: Miracle of the Air Waves: A History of Radio. Now you know clearly what the book is about. (This book is a bit more obscure, by Edward A. Herron, published in 1969, by a division of Simon & Schuster.)

When it comes to promotion, a book without a subtitle, or one with an unclear subtitle, can require overly complicated explanations in press releases and pitches. It takes up valuable space in press materials and can make it more challenging to describe what the book is about. 

Tips for Writing Book Subtitles

  • Make sure you have a subtitle
  • Don’t make the subtitle too long; a subtitle should be precise, concise, descriptive, and clear
  • Keep search engine optimization in mind; try to use keywords and phrases that will help your book organically appear in searches
  • Be creative, but don’t go overboard

At Smith, we’ve seen non-fiction books from prospective clients – good books – that didn’t have subtitles.  Put simply, in most cases, a non-fiction book without a subtitle is rudderless – you don’t know where it’s going or what its actually about. The bottom line: Keep book marketing in mind when creating a subtitle. Don’t assume the reader will know what your book is about from the main title. Your book will inevitably be more appealing, and your publicist can be more productive.