That’s Intriguing #117: Are Titles Really All That Important?

Freakonomics (1)
A consulting client asked me, “Are titles really all that important?”

I told her, “You bet they are.”

My first agent, Michael Larsen, who now heads up the San Francisco Writers Conference with his wife Elizabeth Pomada, once told an audience at Maui Writers Conference, “Titles sell books.  There are times I’ve decided to represent an author because he or she had a great platform and an attention-grabbing title.”

Someone in the audience asked, “What’s an example of a great title?”

Mike said, “Tongue Fu! is the best title I’ve heard in ten years.”

I walked outside and plopped down in a chair.  Tongue Fu! was MY title. I’d been delivering workshops on that topic for years.  But I was a busy mom who was trying to juggle my career with raising my sons.  Who had time to write?

My epiphany was, the more I spoke, the more I’d speak.

If I wanted to be a visionary on behalf of my future, I’d put paid speaking aside for a few months to produce a quality book, because that would drive my career more than anything else.

Plus, writing gave me an opportunity to be more of a stay-at-home mom…:-)

That book Tongue Fu! has been published around the world.  In fact, it was just the #3 bestselling book in South Korea.

Since I coined that word, I was able to trademark it which means we’re able to market, merchandise and monetize it in perpetuity.

I’ve had the privilege of speaking on that topic for Boeing , NASA, the U.S. Navy, State of Hawaii and the U.S. Embassy in London.

We’ve certified dozens of Tongue Fu! trainers who get paid to teach these techniques to corporate clients, associations, government agencies and educational institutions.

So, are titles really all that important?  I would say … a resounding YES.

Here are 7 pay-offs of a winning book title. A strategically-crafted title and sub-title will:

1. Stop people in their tracks and grab their attention because it’s not a “blah-blah” title that blends in with all the other books on the shelves or on the Amazon page.

2. Address a problem people are facing, a need they have, or a benefit they want.

3. Contain SEO key words that establish you as an expert on that subject and bring your title up high in online search so people “Googling” your subject find your book and website.

4. Promise real-world, actionable deliverables. What will readers stop, start or do differently as a result of reading your book?

Note: this is why many sub-titles have metrics in them. When readers see 7 Steps, 12 Keys, 30 Days; they conclude the book will give them replicable tips and tangible results.

5. Engage readers with a NURD (new word), provocative concept or visual image that gets their eyebrows up and causes them to reach for the book as they think, “Hmmm, that’s intriguing, I want to know more.”  Think Freakonomics and Blue Ocean Strategy.

6. Feature alliteration or rhyme so the title rolls off the tongue and stays in the mind.

You can test the memorability of your title any time you want, for free. Just tell it to people and ask them to repeat it. If they can’t repeat it; they didn’t get it. And if they didn’t get it; you won’t get the sales, consulting clients, speaking engagements or media.

Please note: alliteration and rhyme can be annoying if overdone so run your title by your brain trust first to make sure it’s relevant and appealing to your target audience instead of being cutesy or an over-the-top eye-roller.

7. Contain no superfluous words. As Strunk and White said, “Every word must tell.”

In fact, you may have noticed a trend in business books. Many feature a one word verb.

Drive by Dan Pink

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Switch by Chip and Dan Heath

Nudge – Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

POP! – Sam Horn (had to throw that in)

Linchpin – Seth Godin

When you do this right,  Sheryl Sandberg with Lean In and Malcolm Gladwell with The Tipping Point, you can coin an iconic cultural phrase that becomes part of our vernacular and that everyone adopts when they discuss that issue.

This makes your book an evergreen because people become your ongoing word-of-mouth advertisers and keep you and your topic top-of-mind.

As someone who has helped hundreds of people craft ROI titles, I know there is an art and business to developing a title and sub-title that get your work noticed … for all the right reasons.

Want more POP! techniques?  Check out the free articles and videos on our site that show how to create clear, concise, compelling communications that earn attention and respect.

Picture: Freakonomics- Dubner & Levitt

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