How to Choose a Bestselling Title (Updated)

Marketing begins with an immediately accessible concept. As books turn digital and jacket art becomes a less important draw to readers, your title becomes your best (or worst) marketer. If you look at the New York Times Bestsellers list each week, you’ll see common words repeating almost formulaically by category. How can one tap this formula? Simply by paying careful attention; even just looking at your own bookshelf or Kindle queue. Here are the top titles we found to guide you in the right direction.

Guide to, Ways to, How to1,579,015 / 195,516 / 645,521
These titles may sound boring, but our research finds they’re also the most saleable. The very simple explanation? They’re practical. They promise to fulfill something you need. But if you want to take advantage of the biggest proven trend in bestselling titles, you don’t necessarily need to have written a self-help book. Think of popular memoirs like Toby Young’s How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, a spin-off of the famous prescriptive business title: How to Win Friends and Influence People. Even fiction takes advantage of these tropes: think of Melissa Hunt’s breakout book, The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing.

For nonfiction, think about getting creative with recycled formulas to address specific circumstances, i.e.: “What to Do When,” (119,112 in Search Results on Amazon) or calls to action, like: “How to Start (107,615 in Search). Readers browsing for particular information, whether for personal or professional interest, will respond to both the authority of a “How to” title and the originality of your spin on it. More ideas: “The Art/Science of,” “Rules for,” “Quick Tips.”

Perfect: 745,141
Are we more perfectionist than ever? Apparently so! Popular book titles reveal alot about human psychology. Using the word “perfect” seems to automatically guarantee a better shot at bestsellerdom, from the book-to-film, A Perfect Storm, to self-help, and in this case, self-published bestsellers, like Creating Your Perfect Lifestyle.

You/Your: 438,059 / 472,518
Frame the topic of your book around a well-placed “you” or “your,” and you have established a connection with your readers. The aforementioned bestseller The Start-Up of You makes you the central focus of the title, while Seeing the Big Picture: Business Acumen to Build Your Credibility, Career, and Company is a more traditional example. Other bestselling titles such as Welcome to Your Brain and Don’t Look Behind You are playful takes on this tactic.

Paris: 159,857
Have you heard of or read The Paris Wife? Expat memoirs, self help (consider Bringing Up Bebe), and fiction alike are trends one sees all the time, and Americans have always had a vague love obsession with Paris, evidenced by our taste in literature. Ironically,  A Reliable Wife also became a runaway bestseller, with wife at #36,150 in search. Could this be a trick to try – we think so.

Lives/Life: 1,481,047 / 1,480,996
The Time of Our Lives
, A Stolen Life, My Horizontal Life, Life As I Blow It… We were surprised by the number of books on the bestseller lists containing these words. Three
possible reasons: it implicitly suggests an “arc” or progression or wholeness to a story; it caters to voyeurism – an intimate look at another’s life; and finally, it brings a kind of drama through that voyeuristic lens. So don’t be afraid to embrace the word. Many readers will respond to a title that feels honest while sensational.

Choice/Choose68,347 /9,376
Titles like Choose to Lose empower your potential readers while daring them to pick up your book. The combination can be like kryptonite to a reader who already has an interest in what you’re writing about, and you’ll spark the interest of many others—perhaps they should they be thinking about making that same choice.

Start/Start-Up: 48,093 / 335,574
The word “start” implies a challenge and excitement about something new. It’s also malleable to whatever idea you’re trying to market. Two recently popular books, The Start-Up of You and Lean Startup, used the word to sell completely different concepts, and it worked for both.

Ever since The Happiness Project and Dan Gilbert’s Stumbling Upon Happiness it’s doesn’t get more ideal from a self-help perspective in using this popular term that suggests our eternal quest for ever-elusive joys of life, beginning with simple pleasures. THP was also smart in capitalizing on another trend of the moment, the idea of year-long, life-changing experiments, or projects.

Trendy Categories:

Did you know that religion has more search results than humanity, culture, and psychology combined?

Religion: 957,319
Humanity: 141,918
Culture: 321,784
Psychology: 472,980
Friendship: 54,778
Love: 368,693

One more thing:

Make a statement with your title by spinning a well-known expression. With the title In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, author Jean Shepherd takes a phrase his audience can contextualize and then hints at a book full of analysis, criticism, and humor. It also states a partial thesis, sparking the curiosity of potential readers.

When you’re brainstorming your book’s title, think about the central purpose of your book, and remember that the right word can make all the difference.

This article was originally posted on April 10, 2012 by Lucinda Blumenfeld with Anna Eames and Alexandra Tillotson.

Rajeev Peshawaria

In a sea of leadership guides, this new offering rises to the top with its gripping insights that will inspire reflection and action in leaders and managers at all levels…Peshawaria's book ought to become required reading for all business people--from students to executives. — Publishers Weekly Starred Review