Sell More Books Using Titles That Engage Your
In this article, the author outlines how to sell more books
by engaging your readers curiosity in the books title.
If you want to find more readers and sell more books, you must
choose a title that immediately engages your prospective reader's
attention and compels them to take the next step and learn more.
That's why the titles of many bestselling nonfiction books are intended
to arouse the prospective reader's curiosity.
Curiosity titles succeed because they are deliberately
vague, or intentionally provocative. Either way, however, curiosity
titles can sell more books because they attract attention and engage
prospective book buyer, provoking questions that compel the prospective
book buyer to take the next step:
In a bookstore, the next step generally is to turn the book over
and read the back-cover, or review the table of contents.
Online, the next step usually involves reading the book's description
and skimming the reader reviews.
In either case, the reader has been engaged, and is on their way
to buying your book.
The Six Types of Curiosity Titles
- Titles that require explanation. These titles
don't make sense on their own, arousing questions like "What's
this all about?" Once prospective reader has asked themselves
this question, they're almost certainly going to turn the book,
or read on, to learn more.
- Contradiction titles. These titles contain
words that, on the surface, contract themselves. These titles
cause readers ask themselves, "How can that be?"
- Outrageous titles. These go a step further
in provoking reader's to learn more.
- "Peeping Tom" titles. These titles
appeal to your reader's voyeuristic tendencies. Upon encountering
your title, readers want to know "What it was like to go
through that?" or "What's the real inside story?"
- Exploration titles. These titles provoke questions
like "What does the author mean?" They are provocative
in that they challenge the reader's existing knowledge by implying
that there is more to be known about a topic than the reader's
- Relationship titles. These titles sell more
books by creating a relationship between a topic and a frame of
reference that readers can relate to.
Although "transparent" titles that clearly describe
a book's benefits and the book's intended market are usually the
most desirable, sometimes "curiosity" titles, like the
ones described below, can sell more books. These titles can also
be more memorable, making word-of-mouth referrals and recommendations
Secrets of Titles that Require Explanation
One of the most successful nonfiction book successes of the past
30 years is Richard Bolles' s What Color Is Your Parachute? which
is updated each year. Originating as a comment during a meeting
discussing the plight of those who have been downsized, Parachute?
books have sold over 10 million copies around the world.
With 10 million copies in print, clearly, the title has outsold
its more "straightforward" competition, because it engages
the reader's curiosity and begs the question, "How can this
book possibly help me?"
The titles of Malcolm Gladwell's best-selling nonfiction books
also arouse curiosity. The latest is Outliers. When a reader picks-up
a book with a strange title in the "bestselling nonfiction"
area of a bookstore, they inevitably ask: "What is an outlier?"
and "Why should I care?" This compels them to turn the
book over, or--if they're online--read some of the descriptive copy
or watch the author video.
Contradictory titles can be very successful. They succeed by making
the most of the brief second, or two, available to attract a prospective
book buyer's interest and encourage them to spend more time exploring
your book's contents. The strength of these titles comes from the
apparent opposition between elements of the title.
The contradiction between title elements can make these titles
An example is David Chilton's Wealthy Barber. How can a barber--someone
who spends their time cutting other people's hair--become wealthy?
What's the catch? Once you have engaged your prospect's attention
enough to get them to ask a question, it becomes relatively easy
to complete the sale. Consider 2 books containing the same information:
- The Wealthy Barber
- A Guide to Financial Independence
Which title is more memorable? Even better, Which title promises
you a better reading experience?
Timothy Ferriss' The 4-Hour Workweek is a best-selling
exampleof a contradiction title. Upon encountering it, readers will
typicaly ask: "How can it be?" or "What's the catch?"
And, the book is turned-over, or opened, and the door has been opened
to another copy sold. Even if they don't believe the title's premise,
they're likely to want to know what the author is trying to get
The power of Outrageous titles attract readers by "going too
Seth Godin, one of America's most popular marketing authorities
and personalities, is a master of the outrageous title. One of Seth's
best books is his Purple Cow. After all, "Purple
cows don't exist, so what he talking about?"
Another one of Seth Godin's books is his All Marketers
Are Liars. If you're a marketing professional, you'd be
hard pressed not to ask, "What does Seth mean?" or "Has
he really good too far this time?" And, having asked the question,
your attemtopm jas beem emgaged and you explore further.
Selling more books with a "Peeping Tom" title
Just as drivers always slow down when passing the scene of an automobile
accident, readers want to know the inside story, they want to know
what it was like to survive an event or go through an experience.
David Ogilvy's Confessions of an Advertising Man is a classic
example of a "Peeping Tom" title. It promises, and actually
delivers, an insider's look at the thought processes and one of
the pioneers of modern advertising.
In a similar vein, Paul B. Brown's Publishing Confidential and
Jerry Simmons' What Writers Need to Know about Publishing, provide
inside glimpses of book publishing.
Curiosity titles can be successful for decades. Frank Bettger's
"How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling has
been in print for well over 50 years! This title connects with everyone's
love of a "rags to riches" story. The title also resonates
with a universal fear of failure.
Examples of Successful Exploration Titles
Exploration titles encourage readers to learn what they don't know.
They challenge the limits of a prospective reader's existing knowledge.
One of a best examples of an Exploration title is Patricia Shultz's
1000 Places to See Before You Die. The success of this concept has
been repeated in other "1000" books, such as Workman Press's
1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die and a host of imitators.
Books Don't Sell Themselves
It takes a title to sell a book. Curiosity is one of the most powerful
techniques you can use when choosing a title for your book. Curiosity
titles find more readers and sell more books by engaging the prospective
book buyer's interest and compelling them to learn more.
When does a curiosity title make sense? A starting point is to
analze the titles of existing books in your field. What type of
titles do they have? Are the titles so descriptive and targeted
that they lack character? If so, a curiosity title might make sense.
If you do choose a curiosity title, however, make sure it is a
meaningful one, one that--after a brief description or explanation--makes
sense to your readers. There's a thin line between arousing curiosity
and confusing your prospect book buyer. Curiosity titles, once explained,
should become obvious, so they'll stick in your reader's mind.
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