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What Makes A Good Book Subtitle?

One aspect I love about my work as a Content Strategist and Story Strategist is that I get to work with talented, inspired writers who are motivated by world-changing ideals.

Publishing is one of the modules I teach in my Mompreneur Mastery training programs. I wholeheartedly believe that becoming a published author is a critical way to establish expert status and get your message out into the world!

Being an author gives you the authority to get your focus audience’s attention.

I was meeting with one of my clients earlier this week, working on her subtitle and other essential elements of her book and I’m following the inspiration to share my insights on writing a book subtitle with you.

It is interesting to learn about book publishing and book writing, even if you’re not writing a book right now. So let’s talk about it!

Right after Elisha was born in September of 2002, Joseph Epstein published an article in the New York Times, where he revealed the findings of a survey among people in the USA:

“81 percent of Americans feel that they have a book in them”

The available information, tools, and coaching on self-publishing have made it a lot easier for people in the US and worldwide to make your book publishing dream come true.

But one must take advantage of these resources to be able to produce a quality book that makes you proud, makes an impact, and makes you income.

Epstein was brutal when he closed his article with this statement:

Misjudging one’s ability to knock out a book can only be a serious and time-consuming mistake. Save the typing, save the trees, save the high tax on your own vanity. Don’t write that book, my advice is, don’t even think about it. Keep it inside you, where it belongs.

I am not going to endorse his opinion and I wonder if he’s changed his mind since then, but I am going to tell you that there’s more to writing a book than most people think.

It is a tedious process that requires a lot of soul-searching, soul-stretching, and sacrifice. 

You must definitely explore your desire to write a book.

Do you have a title?

Most people do. In fact, in my experience working with aspiring authors, in most cases, a title is all they have.

Sometimes, coming up with a catchy subtitle keeps aspiring authors up at night, but the most important element in a non-fiction book, and I think one of the most overlooked aspects, is your book subtitle.

A book’s main title has the purpose to catch attention and interest, but your book subtitle is what moves people to action!

What Makes A Good Book Subtitle? 

I’ve identified 7 main rules to an excellent subtitle that will help make your book a bestseller. Therefore, I’ll be using examples of this week’s Amazon Bestseller List.

Yes, if you choose both your title and your subtitle with a strategy in mind, you can too be a bestseller.

Whenever I publish a book for myself or my clients, it is always going to be a #1 New Release and bestseller, and on many occasions, an international bestseller.

So pay close attention!

The subtitle – in just a few words – must accomplish the following:

Elayna Fernandez ~ The Positive MOMIdentify and attract your audience 

Who is your reader? Let your readers know they are the focus of your book and each word has them in mind.

(Lean In Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg).

The title is catchy and it is very broad. Without the subtitle, I wouldn’t know whether I’m interested in reading this book. Once I read the subtitle, I’m in, because the subtitle makes it relevant to me.

Yes, men can read this book, but Sheryl Sandberg wrote this book with a woman in mind. She tells us exactly what kind of woman: one that works and wants to lead.

Elayna Fernandez ~ The Positive MOMExplain your title

Sometimes your title is a little mysterious or obscure, and it either tells no story or doesn’t quite tell the whole story.

Your subtitle is your friend here because it will keep the attention your title commands.

(Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain)

Susan Cain not only tells us this book is for introverts (or those who want to understand them), but she also frames a problem for which we can find the solution inside.

This subtitle gives the title context that helps me make the choice to invest or not invest as a reader.

Elayna Fernandez ~ The Positive MOMClarify the main purpose of your book

With so many writers publishing books today, you must tell the focus audience what makes the book worth their while.

What will reading this book do for the reader?

(It’s All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great by Gwyneth Paltrow)

The title is not giving me much, but in the subtitle, Gwyneth Paltrow tells me exactly why I need this book. If I’m someone who wants to look good and feel great and I am willing to cook, then this book is for me.

She adds adjectives and adverbs that address my objections. I may hold a false belief that the recipes that make me look good and feel great might be hard or maybe taste gross, so she is eliminating my objection right there. Brilliant!

Elayna Fernandez ~ The Positive MOMAllow readers to set an expectation for what they will learn

What are the main “take-aways” from your book?

(Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown)

The title gives me a hint of what the book is about, and yet, the subtitle gives me everything I need to know about this book.

It tells me that the book is about being vulnerable, but it sells me on vulnerability. I might not buy a book about “how to be more vulnerable” because, in it itself, it’s an uncomfortable feeling.

But Brene Brown tells me right on the subtitle that vulnerability is going to transform me. I’ll be transformed as a human, as a partner, as a mom, and as a leader. At this point, if I want transformation, I’m ready to buy.

Elayna Fernandez ~ The Positive MOMDescribe the contents, content delivery, and genre of your book

What is the book about and in what format is it written? You want your reader to know exactly what they are getting.

You’ll notice the numbers 3, 5, 7, 10, and 12 to be the most popular in outlining the keys, ways, strategies, and other content formats.

(The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Dr. Gary Chapman)

The 5 Love Languages book is one of the most sold and read books worldwide. I wrote a post about Love Languages that you might want to check out.

Dr. Gary Chapman tells us in the subtitle that he’s going to tell us a secret. We looooove secrets. Then he tells us what kind, and of course, it’s the kind we all want.

Implicitly, he is telling us that this is a relationship book that will improve your love life. He claims there’s only one secret you need to know about these 5 languages to create this magic. Sign me up, right?

Elayna Fernandez ~ The Positive MOMUse psychographics to justify why the reader should buy your book 

If your book offers a unique approach that relates to a certain audience, you must take advantage of it by adding it to your book subtitle.

(Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam M. Grant Ph.D.

We can see that the title doesn’t offer much clarity as to why I should buy this book. But Adam Grant used the subtitle to appeal to those who want success, those who are innovators, and those who are attracted to revolutionary approaches.

While we see that Sheryl Sandberg appealed to women and Brene Brown appealed to parents and leaders, Adam Grant uses information about his reader’s attitudes, aspirations, and psychological aspects of who they are. This is also what Gwyneth Paltrow did with “It’s All Good.”

And demographics and psychographics are both great, so yu can definitely combine both!

Elayna Fernandez ~ The Positive MOMHelp your reader feel part of something bigger 

Tell your readers what your brand stands for and why they must get on board with the movement your brand wants to create.

(Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace In His Presence by Sarah Young)

Jesus Calling is a very clear title, but the subtitle expands on why the reader needs to answer this call. Enjoying peace is definitely a noble purpose, especially world peace!

This is an almost obvious example because of its religious nature; however, you can always appeal to “something bigger” when you tell the reader what is going to happen in the world because of the contents of this book.

You can appeal to their imagination faculty so they see the new world that will be created when people apply the principles you are teaching.

Your Own Subtitle

As you studied these book subtitles, did you notice how some of them accomplish more than one role, and even all 7? That’s what you must be aiming for.

I love this part of the book writing process. And to be honest, I use these 7 criteria to write titles and subtitles for courses, webinars, programs, and even my blog posts. And you can too!

Before you write your subtitle answer these questions:

What problem does your book solve?

Who is your book for?

What will your reader find inside the book? 

What are the outcomes or solutions the reader will obtain from the book? What will this mean to them?

What emotions will the book invoke?

Selling your book

You want your reader to know ALL THE BENEFITS of reading your book because your subtitle is what will sell your book.

A little disclaimer: While some of the books on this list are on my list of favorites, I have not read all of them, but boy do they have great subtitles!

I’m sure if you check out the Amazon Bestseller List this week, you’ll come up with amazing non-fiction finds, as well.

What Are The Top Guidelines For A Subtitle That Sells?

On Amazon, your book subtitle must follow the same rules as book titles in that these items are prohibited:

  • Don’t reference other books, authors, or trademarks
  • Do not make sales rank claims, such as “bestseller”
  • Don’t use advertisements or promotions (like “free” or “deal”)

In addition to following these subtitle-writing guidelines, make sure you don’t repeat any words that are already in the title.

Try to keep it short. If possible, try to go for 7 words or less. The brain can only process 7 bits of information at a time.

Amazon recommends that your title and subtitle together be under 200 characters!

Do your best to use keywords that are popular to the audience that will be searching for your book in the appropriate category. You must take advantage of your book title SEO power.

So now you know that your book subtitle is an essential part of your book cover – and your book marketing.

It would be interesting to look at your book collection and figure out what exactly attracted you to the books you bought. This is especially helpful if you fit (now or at that point) the characteristics of your potential reader.

This is going to be an exciting journey.

Have you ever thought about what your own book title and subtitle would be? Share with us in the comments below. 

Elayna is a single mom of 4, an award-winning Storyteller, Story Strategist, and Student of Pain. She’s a bestselling author, internationally acclaimed keynote speaker, and 4x TEDx speaker. Founder of the Positive MOM® and creator of the S.T.O.R.Y. System: a blueprint to craft and share powerful stories that will transform your results, so you can have the wealth, opportunities, and freedom you deserve. Connect with Elayna Fernández at thepositivemom.com/keynote-speaker and follow @thepositivemom. To receive a gift from Elayna, click HERE.

Be Positive and You Will Be Powerful ~ Elayna FernandBe Positive and You Will Be Powerful ~ Elayna Fernandez ~ The Positive MOMez ~ The Positive MOM
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Karin Lubin

Thursday 20th of May 2021


Elisha Fernandez

Monday 15th of July 2019

My favorite thing about coming up with titles and subtitles is giving them power to touch someone. It has to be something people will look at and instantly feel a connect and be intrigued. I think ‘is this something I would pick up from a bookshelf and read’?

How To Write Effective, Compelling Book Back Cover Copy That Sells! ★ Elayna Fernandez ~ The Positive MOM ♥

Monday 15th of July 2019

[…] look at the spine – if the title intrigues us, and the subtitle is promising, we pull the book off the […]

Christine Goulbourne

Sunday 14th of July 2019

I never really thought about subtitles until this post! I'm reading Jack Canfields "The Success Principles: How to Get From Where You are to Where You Want to Be." I also bought " Ask and It is Given: Learning to Manifest Your Desires." In both instances, the subtitle was the alluring factor in my purchasing them!

Patty Moliterno

Saturday 13th of July 2019

Elayna, I never gave this much thought before. After reading your post, I grabbed a book that I am reading to see the subtitle. Michael Hyatt's Book - Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less. It was the subtitle that sold me on this book.