Authors often agonize when creating the main title for their book. Some high-profile authors pay thousands and thousands of dollars to experts just to come up with a catchy main title. But when it comes to book promotion of nonfiction books, the subtitle is the most important element.
A book’s main title is designed to make an impact, catch attention, and pique interest. The subtitle does the rest of the work. It explains, or should explain, in a very specific way exactly what a book is about. In book publicity, the subtitle is crucial for this very reason. If a producer or editor receives a book with no subtitle or an inferior one, he or she is not going to take the time to look at the book. It’s that simple. Time is precious to media. Many outlets receive hundreds of books a week in the mail. A title has to hit them hard, fast, and clearly.
In press releases, nonfiction books with bad subtitles often hamper book marketing efforts. Just as when media receive a book in the mail, when reviewing a press release, if a producer is not given the essential information within 10 to 15 seconds, forget about it.
Even the best main titles would not be as effective if not augmented by precision subtitles. Consider the super bestseller Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. The main title is terrific; it’s clever, hip, and unusual. But would you know intuitively what the book was about if it didn’t have the subtitle of A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything? Before the book exploded in popularity, an editor seeing the title in a press release or receiving the book might possibly not have taken the time to read this wonderful book. The main title, combined with the subtitle, says it all. The clever cover art of a sliced apple revealing an orange inside certainly helps, but it plays directly off the subtitle.
What does The Tipping Point mean to you, if that’s all you read or heard? A publicist would have to make up for the lack of a subtitle by taking crucial time and space in a press release to describe it. But, add in the subtitle to Malcolm Gladwell’s gem, How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, and you have a powerful title. Gladwell’s title still allows for some mystery as to the book’s exact content, but it certainly provokes interest.
Another example: What would the title Built to Sell convey to you or a reporter or producer? Building what? Selling what? Add in the subtitle for this book by John Warrilow and you get everything you need to know: Turn Your Business into One You Can Sell.
When creating a subtitle for your nonfiction book, consider these points, each of which will help in a book marketing and publicity campaign:
• Above all else, make sure your book has a subtitle!
• Be creative, but don’t go overboard. Save most of the creativity for the main title
• Provide specific information in the subtitle, explaining in a few words exactly what your book is about
• Keep it short. Create your subtitle as if you were writing a press release headline for the book.
• Keep Search Engine Optimization in mind. Try to use appropriate keywords and phrases that will help your book organically come up in searches.
The bottom line: When it comes to book publicity and getting people to take interest in a book, make it as easy as possible. Don’t assume the reader will know what your book is about from the main title.
Your book publicist will be thankful.