Do you have a favorite book title? One that is memorable and interesting, all the while telling you just what the book is about?
Here’s another perspective on what makes an ideal nonfiction book title. Previously I wrote that the ideal title employed two elements: content and creativity. You can also think of them as the familiar and the unfamiliar.
It is critical to signal to a potential reader what a book is about, what category or genre it is in. Readers looking for a history book don’t want to be confused by or have to wade through dozens or hundreds of titles which may be history, how-to, business, self-help or religion. They want to know immediately which to ignore and which to focus on. So there needs to be something in the title that clearly and quickly signals the familiar–in particular the genre and the specific area under consideration, with which a reader would have at least a previous passing acquaintance.
At the same time, a book can’t seem to be just the same as other books. Something has to make it stand out, seem different, interesting, dramatic, helpful, arresting. There needs to be a creative flair.
You’ve heard this before: the best titles do both.
Here’s some bestselling history samples from a recent Amazon list.
Actually, these titles aren’t perfect in my mind. They tend to rely too much on the subtitle to convey the familiar, the content. But the titles are arresting. Also, two of the titles that don’t clearly convey content (Team of Rivals and Collapse) are written by superstar, previously bestselling authors. As I’ve said before, it just doesn’t matter as much what the title is when the author is already very well-known.
The two, I think, that best combine the familiar with the unfamiliar, creativity with content, are The Lost City of Z and The Day Wall Street Exploded. Both convey specific information and intrigue. The one looks to be a true-life Indiana Jones; the other says it’s a dramatic slice of economics in the United States.
Who said history was boring?