Start thinking of your book title as soon as you start conceptualizing your book. If you’re writing a nonfiction book, it should have two parts: the main title and the subtitle. The title is a catchy phrase that relates to the theme of the book and will attract your readers. The subtitle explains what the title means.
Often the subtitle will be your working title while you’re writing the book before you’ve come up with the right catchy phrase. Then suddenly the catchy phrase jumps out at you.
Book Title Not Obvious until the End
For example, I wrote a World War II book about Bernard Mednicki, a Belgian Jew who fled the country with his wife and children when the Nazis invaded, moved to southern France, posed as a Christian, and, through a series of incidents, found himself in the Maquis, the French resistance.
In my second edition of the book, I resubtitled it A Belgian Jew in the French Resistance to attract potential readers who might not know what the Maquis was.
Having grown up in the fifties when the mythology of Jews going to their deaths “like lambs to the slaughter” was taken as fact, I was so fascinated with the idea of a Jew in the Maquis that the subtitle immediately presented itself: A Jew in the Maquis. Only at the end of the story, where Bernard lands on Ellis Island with his family, recalls the experience they have just survived, and says, “Never be afraid,” did I know that the complete title of his story would be Never Be Afraid: A Jew in the Maquis.
Title Obvious from the Start
Other titles are obvious right from the start. For the second of my two Holocaust books, I helped a survivor of the concentration camp Auschwitz and her American-born husband to write her autobiography. When they presented the project to me, the title was A Young Child’s Journey through the Holocaust, a reasonable title that, I thought, explained roughly what the story was about but didn’t differentiate it from what my agent referred to as “a glut of Holocaust literature.”
But what fascinated me about her story was that she had been in the last selection of the entire war. Anyone who knows Holocaust history knows of the infamous Dr. Mengele, the Angel of Death, who would line up the inmates of Auschwitz and then point to them one at a time and say, “You to the right” or “You to the left.”
If you were selected to go to the left, you knew you were about to be cremated. Thirteen-year old Golda was selected along with a hundred women, including her mother.
But unlike every selection that had come before hers, the Nazis didn’t carry that one out. The Soviets were getting close to the border of Auschwitz, so the Nazis had to start their cover-up. The women were released.
Some forty years later, Golda now was probably the only person still alive who had survived the last selection of the war. The complete title was obvious to me: The Last Selection: A Child’s Journey through the Holocaust. (We decided “Young Child” was redundant.)
Title to Make a Point
Other titles serve the purpose of highlighting a main argument. The book from which this blog entry is adapted is an example. As a book coach, “I don’t have time” is the number one excuse I hear from writers and others for why they “can’t” start writing their books. Yes, you do have the time, as I showed in previous blogs here and here.
So. I confronted their excuse head on by titling my book You’ve Got the Time. Call it a catchy phrase but, alas, 1. I’m not the only author who has chosen that exact title; and 2. Time for what? My subtitle is unique and answers that primary question: How to Write and Publish That Book in You.
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This piece was adapted from Ken Wachsberger’s You’ve Got the Time: How to Write and Publish That Book in You. The complete book is available and ready to guide you here. For book coaching and editing help, email Ken at [email protected]