Most authors completely gloss over one of the most powerful tools they have at their disposal.
Their book subtitle.
They put all of their efforts into crafting a great book title–which is a worthy effort–but they fail to realize that their subtitle is just as powerful.
In fact, your title and subtitle are intertwined.
Together they drive book sales or tank your book–even more than your book cover in most cases.
That’s why giving your subtitle just as much (if not more) attention as your book title is paramount to your book’s success.
And in this article, I’ll give you the same framework I’ve used with countless authors across just about every industry you can think of–real estate, business, self-help, and more–to help them create book titles that sell and end up becoming Wall Street Journal bestsellers.
What Is a Book Subtitle?
Just to make sure we’re on the same page from the get-go, a book subtitle is your book’s secondary title (or technically “subordinate” title). It’s your opportunity to explain to readers what your book is about–further convincing them to read it.
Subtitles aren’t required. Many authors even forgo them entirely.
But that can be a grave mistake–one that I highly recommend avoiding.
Because as we’ve already mentioned, subtitles are powerful.
They’re another opportunity to “sell” your book to potential readers. And in an ever more crowded market, us authors need to utilize as many tools as we possibly can to stand out.
Why Subtitles Are CRITICAL to Your Success
Built to Last.
Do you immediately understand what this title means?
Of course not.
It needs further explanation.
But this is the title of one of the renowned, bestselling business books. How did it become a massive success with such a vague title?
Because of its subtitle–Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.
All of the sudden, everything makes sense. And it makes you want to know what those “habits of visionary companies” are.
That’s the power of the subtitle.
Its job is to remove all doubts readers have about what our book will cover. And more specifically, doubts as to whether they should read it.
Because people don’t buy vague.
Readers don’t have the time or attention spans to consider reading a book with a vague title.
If they can’t immediately see the value in reading your book, they won’t.
And this is very difficult to accomplish without a subtitle.
How to Write a Great Subtitle in 4 Steps: Generating Great Subtitle Ideas
1. Think from your target reader’s perspective
Ultimately, your subtitle is for your target reader.
It’s marketing copy that speaks directly to them–their desires, their problems, and what kind of benefit they want out of a book.
So, you need to get into the heads of your target readers to understand what kind of subtitle would grab their attention.
There are tons of ways to do this–here are some of the most effective strategies I’ve found:
- Actually, talk to your target readers – chances are you know or work with a few people who are part of this audience. Ask them what books they read, why they read them, and what they hope to get from them.
- Review mining – research books similar to yours and see specific pros and cons people talk about in reviews on Amazon or Goodreads.
- Run a survey – if you have access to an audience of potential readers, run a simple survey asking them what books they read and why. You can even ask them which potential book title/subtitle you’re considering they’d be more likely to buy.
- Run a test – set up different landing pages that promote your book with a call-to-action of getting them to signup for a waitlist. Put a different title/subtitle on each landing page and send the same amount of paid traffic to each via a split test.
2. Brainstorm benefits
Step 1 is Step 1 for a reason. You need to know exactly how to communicate with your target readers before proceeding.
Once you have an idea of certain languages, buzzwords, and problems that grab their attention, start brainstorming benefits to build your subtitles on.
Because all great subtitles are built on benefits.
They describe what the reader will walk away with after they read your book.
So, your job as the lead salesperson of your book is to find the most compelling benefit to use in your subtitle.
The best way I know of to do this is by listing out all the problems your book solves.
Go into detail.
For example, if your book teaches life coaches how to grow their business, it might cover these main issues:
- Content creation
- Lead generation
- Hiring team members
- Building processes and systems
- And many more
Listing these out helps you see the bigger picture of everything your book can do for your target readers.
And from here, you can see new ways to describe these benefits in your subtitle.
Once you’ve nailed down a key benefit you want to use in your subtitle, try to communicate it as simply as possible.
Your book’s title and subtitle are like your elevator pitch.
You have just a few seconds to communicate what your book is about and what’s in it for the reader to buy it and take the time to read it.
Which is why it needs to be as short and simple as possible.
So, practice writing out your subtitle with your main benefit with as few words as possible. Use concrete language.
For example, with the life coach, let’s say the biggest benefit was scaling a life coaching business.
You might consider a title/subtitle like Life Unleashed: Secrets to Scaling Your Life Coaching Business That No One Will Tell You.
The title Life Unleashed hints at what is available to life coaches who successfully scale (i.e. more time freedom and more money).
The subtitle gives the necessary explanation for the title and tells the reader what they’ll receive in the book.
At this point, we need to condense and simplify as much as possible.
In this example, “That No One Will Tell You” can be removed because that’s implied with the word “Secrets”. We could replace it with something like “& Changing YOUR Life” which reinforces the short title and brings the benefit of scaling your business to life.
There are tons of different directions we could go in this oversimplified example, but the key thing to remember is simplicity brings power.
When done right, a condensed subtitle also makes your message more concrete–meaning your reader knows exactly what to expect and the value they’ll receive.
And concrete ideas sell.
4. Build off bestsellers’ success
No matter what, you need to research bestsellers in your category.
Some people avoid doing this because they don’t want to “copy” their competitors. But that’s not what we’re doing here.
We’re looking for patterns.
Because bestsellers are bestsellers for a reason. And you can learn a ton by dissecting the titles/subtitles of books similar to yours that have already seen incredible success.
Usually, after looking at the top 25-50 titles in-depth, you’ll begin to see what kinds of benefits and concepts are most attractive to your target readers.
And you can use those insights to refine your title/subtitle combo.
Great Book Subtitle Examples
1. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
Atomic Habits is actually a pretty descriptive and compelling title on its own, but the subtitle takes it to the next level.
An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones works so well because it:
- Reinforces the title – after reading this, there is no doubt what “Atomic Habits” means.
- Describes exactly what is in the book – a habit-forming framework.
- Grabs attention – words like “Easy” and “Proven” suggest a brand new framework because habit forming traditionally has connotations of being difficult and rarely successful (this also makes a promise which can be powerful when you can meet expectations).
2. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
Mindset could mean a lot of things on its own. Sure, we can infer that the book is probably about success or performance, but we don’t have any context.
The New Psychology of Success brings incredible power to the title because it:
- Clarifies the title – we now know the context of what/how we’re addressing the idea of “mindset”.
- Suggests a new “way” – “New” is very powerful because it suggests there is a movement in the psychology of success. This creates intrigue with people who are seeking success and have read many well-known self-help books by leaning into cognitive dissonance.
3. Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know
Think Again is pretty unclear on its own–even if it’s a provocative phrase.
The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know is the perfect subtitle for this book because it:
- Feels like an oxymoron – how are you supposed to know what you don’t know? This creates intrigue amongst leaders seeking to improve their critical thinking and strategic decision-making abilities because it makes them feel like they are missing this skill.
- Reinforces the title – Think Again now means something new. It suggests we need to think from a new perspective, and that doing so will have incredible benefits.
Your Subtitle is Your Book’s Unsung Hero
Your subtitle won’t ever get the credit it deserves. It works outside of the limelight to drive sales.
That’s why you can’t afford to get it wrong.
Because if you do, your title will be weak. And when your title is weak, you’ll see fewer sales.
This is a proven fact.
It’s hard to say how many sales you’ll miss out on, but publishers and authors have proven this theory (I talk more about Naura Hayden in this post).
So, give your subtitle the time it deserves. Talk to your target readers, put yourself in their shoes, and create a simple, benefit-driven subtitle for your book.
You’ll be glad you did.
And if you need help crafting your title and subtitle–or ensuring your book actually sells, we’re always here to help.
You can click here to book a call with one of our book coaches and learn more about the framework we’ve been using to help authors become Wall Street Journal best sellers.