Naming a book or info-product is often a royal pain in the neck.
And that's because most of us tend to sit down at our desk hoping for inspiration to strike. The weird bit is that inspiration is often in some other place altogether. It's right in front of your nose, but often you may not see it. Let's go on a treasure hunt and find out how to get an enticing book title in next to no time.
If you were Alexander the Great, how many cities would you name after yourself?
As he worked his way through his conquering spree, Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, Judea, Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia, Phoenicia, Anatolia (modern Turkey), Bactria and all the way to India. Often when he'd conquer the cities, he'd name it after himself. And Alexander named 70 cities after himself and one after his horse!
It's slightly obvious that Alexander didn't feel the need to take the time to create unique names, but as writers; as business owners, we have the somewhat troubling task of having to choose names all the time. If we write a book, we need a name. If we conduct a seminar or give a presentation, a name also helps. And yes, even a giveaway report might need a name.
The question that arises almost immediately is: how do we name our information products? How do we come up with a non-boring, non-yucky book title?
First, let's look at what we need to do to get a great title.
Step 1: Don't write the title. Find it.
Step 2: Paradox in the title
Step 3: Go from writing to explaining
Step 1: Don't write the title. Find it.
If you look through the Psychotactics website, you'll find some pretty interesting book titles and some below-average ones. One of the below-average book titles is called “Blackbelt Presentations”. For a name to tickle the brain, it needs some oomph, and if you want a name that has none of the pizazz, it's ‘Black Belt Presentations' The reason why it's so boring is remarkably simple.
I was the author. I wrote the title.
But what are you supposed to do as an author? Aren't you supposed to come up with the title?
Yes, you are, but incredible as it sounds, your title is often located elsewhere. If you pick up a book, watch a video, and you are alert, you're almost always going to find a title, often within a week, but usually within the day itself. Authors write catchy phrases without realising it.
Take, for instance, a book I was reading at the cafe one morning. My mind was on my upcoming book, which was on the topic of talent. And within the book I was reading, the line went like this: “Yes, but the main thing is that greatness is doable. Greatness is many, many individual feats, and each of them is doable.”
If I were writing a book on pricing, that idea of “doable greatness” would not have stood out for me.
As it happened, the term was exactly what I was looking for. And the phrases seem to pour out of the book. “Incremental mastery, the mundanity of excellence.” Without trying too hard, I was able to find a series of phrases, all of which would make catchy book titles. Granted, the author was also quite proficient at her writing, but even under normal conditions, you'll find yourself running into phrases that can become titles.
And if you can't see the title yourself, you'll be amazed at how clients can find it for you
In November 2018, I was headed to speak at an event in Australia. My slides were about the topic of “how to acquire talent”. At that point, the name of the presentation was “The Talent Equation”. Along the way, Renuka and I ignored our own advice and tried to force bit a title. The result? We ended up with a name, “The Talent Muddle”. At which point I sent the slides over to a client and friend, Simon Lamey. He came back and told me he loved Slide No.8.
What was so special about Slide No.8, I wondered
And there it was. It said “Suddenly Talented”. I remember vaguely writing that term, but it was just something I slid onto a slide. But it stood out like a beacon to Simon. And of course, the penny did drop. We both—that's Renuka and I—knew that we had the title we had been looking for. If you think that's a fluke, almost the same thing happened to Chris Anderson when he wrote the book, “The Long Tail”. It was one slide. It became the basis for its own book.
If you've written a chapter or a report, send it to a client or friend
Ask them to read a small section or chapter and send int the short ideas or “sound bites” that resonate with them. You and I can spot phrases and important bits in other people's work but have a decent amount of myopia with our own. Send it out: send out that presentation or webinar or booklet. Let a friend or a client help you out.
But that's just one method.
Once you have the name, how do you know it's not just a name. How do you know it's super cool, instead? Let's find out in the next part where we look for the paradox in the title.
Step 2: Paradox in the title
Notice the title of the book, “Suddenly Talented?”
What's odd about that title?
It's not hard to figure out that “talent” doesn't seem to be something that shows up knocking on your door. Most of us believe talent to be either inborn or something that takes a mind-boggling 10,000 hours to acquire. Sudden talent seems to prod us, even provoke us. And it's a paradox that's doing all the work.
When you put two opposing forces together in a title, your book title goes from good to great
See that? “Good to Great” also happens to be the title of a book where “good is the enemy of great”. And if you really want to see some great titles, head over to a bookshop, or as I did, go to the library. There on the shelves of parenting, one book jumped out at me. The title: Shitty Mom. Then in the cookery section, “Three veg and one meat” caused me to do a double take.
Titles that have opposing forces include:
Prosperity without Growth
The Mundanity of Excellence
The paradox might not seem quite that easy to get to, at first
But it's a good indicator of a title that will get immediate attention, even in a crowded library. It isn't to say that a straightforward book title won't help. But if you had the choice of a book title that said “Graphics for Business” vs. “The Non-Designers Design book” which one would you pick first? Tens of thousands of books don't have this paradox factor, but put that paradox in your title and watch how it gets immediate attention.
But what about one-word titles?
Books like Outliers, Grit, Positioning. They're all best-sellers. Shouldn't you be choosing the one-word title as well? It's your call, of course, but if you do choose one word, your subtitle has to do all the explanation.
Your subtitle will need to pack enough curiosity to get the reader to pick up the book off the shelf. If on the other hand, you have a paradoxical title, as well as a curious subtitle, you've provided your book with the best possible option ever.
Once again, you want to look for this kind of title while reading, watching or listening
Or, in turn, using the keen insight of your client or friends. However, trying to find something that might not always work out right away. After all, the “Suddenly Talented” title took well over a year for us. And you might not have time or luck on your side. In which case, we have to use the third and most promising method of all: the explainer method. Let's find out how we go about using the explainer method to our advantage.
Step 3: Go from writing to explaining
I was in Houston, Texas, when a participant at the sales page workshop tried to write a few lines. The lines were confusing and sounded stiff to the ears. It was just before the lunch break, so we headed out for lunch. Over that Peruvian meal, someone asked her yet again about the product she was selling. And what she said next was pure magic.
She'd gone from writer mode into explainer mode
When we explain something, there's a bit of a shift in the way we express ourselves. While writing can remain quite rigid, the spoken word has no such boundaries. It can start, zigzag its way across, and use analogies to explain the concept.
Which is approximately how I came up with the name “The Brain Audit”. It wasn't like I sat down to tease out a name for a book. But when asked what I was really doing, I'd say, “it's an audit system. Your brain goes through a bunch of speedy steps when you have to make a decision. And this system, well, you could call it a Brain Audit”.
The same principle was used for the title of a course we'd be conducting in the future
We already have a series of books for sale on the topic of storytelling, but I was keen to do something more in-depth—an online course. When prompted to write a name for the course, I couldn't come up with anything at all.
But when asked to describe the course, I seemed to perk up and talk about how a story progresses from suspense to success and then a big fat problem. “It's a bit like traffic lights,” I'd say. “Red, orange and green”. You know the name of the course already, don't you? It's called “Traffic light storytelling.
Blackbelt presentations—that's very much a “sit down and write the name” kind of title.
But Chaos Planning, The Brain Audit and Traffic light storytelling all came from this need to explain the concept to someone else. And while you're never really sure how the explanation tumbles out, you try and explain as you notice the furrowed confusion on the face of your audience.
You backtrack, jump hoops and try and explain yourself. Using this method might seem a little uncomfortable at first, but within a few tries of explaining yourself, you'll find it to be one of the most efficient ways to get to a title. If you're a consultant and you want your client to come up with a title, ask them questions and that's how they'll come up with their title.
One little story and we're out of here:
Many years ago, I was sitting with my friend, Eugene Moreau. I don't know the name of his presentation course, but as he was explaining it to me, he drew out thirteen boxes on a piece of paper. To me, it seemed obvious that instead of just another random name for a course, he should call it the 13 Box Course. And that's exactly what he did.
Which in turn brings us to the end of how to write a book title—and a non-boring one too
Step 1: Don't write the title. Find it. Or get a client to find it for you. Ask the client to read just a single chapter or a booklet or look over your slides. Ask them to pick on phrases they liked. That's your starting point.
Step 2: Make sure you have a paradox, wherever possible as it dramatically increases curiosity. A paradox is when the terms almost contradict each other like “Shitty Mom” or “Suddenly Talented”. There are titles like 13 Box or Traffic Light Storytelling that don't fit this model, but they're still curious titles. The goal is for someone to pick up your book, your report or your course.
Step 3: Step from the writer mode to the explainer mode. In explainer mode, you're more likely to go down a path you've not explored before. You'll use analogies, stories and words that will fit together at some point.
It won't matter if you write one book or seventy books. Using these steps, you're likely to avoid Alexander the Great's “name writer's block” and give each of your product an individual, curious title every single time.