When I help authors, I often start with a brainstorm to identify a great title and subtitle. But perversely, my brain recently coughed up some titles unconnected to actual book projects.
Since there are no books yet, I offer them to you. Steal my title and write the book. All I ask is that you mention me in the acknowledgments.
Rules for titles
For this exercise, I imposed the same rules as I do with titles of actual books.
- The title must be short and intriguing.
- The title must not be the title of another popular or recent book in the same category. (The easiest way to check this is searching the title in quotes in the book category on Amazon.com.)
- The title must relate to the content.
Since the books didn’t exist, I reinterpreted rule 3 as “The hypothetical content should relate to the title.”
I also imposed the usual rules for subtitles:
- The subtitle must be short (20 words or less).
- The subtitle must relate the title to the content.
Six great book titles
Here’s what my brain surfaced. I invented the subtitles and descriptions to match the titles.
Failure: What you Can Learn from History’s — and Your Own — Biggest Disasters
Schadenfreude is natural: we all love to learn about others’ failures. But when it comes to our own, we look away. We’d rather hear success stories — but there is far more to learn from failure than from success, and it is far more common. In Failure, you’ll read the eight main reasons things go wrong, and why, as humans, even when we know those reasons, we still fall into the same failing patterns.
Beyond Perfection: Triumph over Your Perfectionist Impulses and Be Happier, Calmer, and Better in the Long Run
Are you a perfectionist? The plain truth is that, ironic as it seems, perfectionism is actually the main obstacle to quality: it gets in the way of your ability to see the bigger picture and focus on what matters. Once you understand the psychology of perfectionism, you can become its master rather than its slave. Follow the exercises in this book and you’ll learn to finish projects in half the time, focus on impact rather than meaningless details, and build quality processes that generate great results without the need to stay up all night.
Crypto Crooks: The Amoral Tech Whizzes Whose Ponzi Scheme Swallowed a Trillion Dollars
The greater fool theory of investing posits that you don’t have to create an investment that’s worth something — just one that creates more and more people foolish enough to believe in it. The technology of blockchain has no moral valence. But the tech bros that used it and the greater fool theory to build a thousand cryptocurrencies and a million NFTs — non-fungible tokens — didn’t really care whether they were doing good or not. They just wanted to see how many fools they could get to bid up the price and make them rich. Now that it has all come crashing down, this book picks apart the wreckage to see what actually happened, with revealing portraits of the people who built the crypto pyramid, brick by brick.
Three True Outcomes
Three True Outcomes: The Story Behind the Hitting Philosophy that Turned Baseball from Beautiful to Boring
Strikeouts. Walks. Home Runs. Increasingly, every at-bat in major league baseball leads to one of these three true outcomes. In the 2010s and 2020s, hitting coaches armed with data, complex metrics, and ironclad logic trained more and more players to swing for the fences. The players who could adjust thrived; the rest, skilled or not, washed out. Read the thrilling inside story of how data geeks ruined the most elegant of games, hijacked the careers of the most talented athletes, and robbed fans of the beauty and drama that once characterized the national pastime.
Culture Schism: How Cynical Political Operatives Manipulated Americans into Hating Each Other
Americans agree on almost everything. We want fewer abortions, more investment in infrastructure, fairer taxes, restrictions on military-style rifles, and support for the elderly and most vulnerable among us. We want government out of our private lives and corporations subject to rational controls. And yet, if you look at politics, it would seem that America is made of two tribes that see each other as mortal enemies. This is the story of how, in their raw quest for power, partisan media, cynical consultants, and social networks ruined the social fabric that united Americans — and how the same forces now threaten the foundations of the nation itself.
Ego: Why Every Success Includes the Seeds of its Own Failure
Ego drives entrepreneurs to pivot endlessly in search of success, motivates millionaires to become billionaires, propels athletes from the ghetto to the arena and artists from the sweaty workshop to the toxic world of “influencers.” Ego made America what it is today. And yet, ego cannot succeed in the end, because it is never satisfied. It cannot fill the void of emotion that makes us depressed or supply the love we truly need. In this book, you’ll learn to identify the force of ego within you, to domesticate it and exploit it, and to become the master of your most ferocious desires on the path to true fulfillment.
Reflections on titles
What can you learn from this?
Keep your ears and mind attuned for unique phrases that resonate. Don’t assume that there’s a book with that phrase as a title — and even if there is, unless that book has dominated the discussion in your industry, it may still be available to you.
One-word titles are great, but they’re not the only possibility. Look for alliteration, phrases that seem out of place in the industry, and words that fit together in odd ways.
Let the title do the work of being memorable, and the subtitle do the work of explaining.
And sometimes, the title comes first, and the book later.
Go ahead, try me
The number of people with a good book title in them is far greater than the number who can write that book.
So I challenge you.
Propose a title in the comments. If I like it, I’ll write a subtitle and description to fit. (And if I don’t like it, I’ll explain why.) And don’t propose titles of books that are already popular — those meanings are taken.
I look forward to seeing what you come up with.
23 responses to “Six great book titles: yours for the taking”
I’m curious about what you would have done with my new one Project Management in the Hybrid Workplace. I opted not to go with a proper subtitle for a bunch of reasons.
Sorry, not doing your book that’s already published! I was looking for more high-concept titles . . .
Hi Josh – Appreciate your generous offer. I have a working subtitle/descriptive, which was actually my working title until I read your post today. I learned it is more of a descriptive. So, my new working title is “Parsha Snapshots”. This is a first book attempt. Thanks much.
Parsha Snapshots: Modern Morsels of Daily Torah Wisdom
Every day, we read the Torah. And every day, its wisdom is available to us. While there are many religious commentaries on the Torah, this is the only one that combines the wisdom of the unnameable and ancient with modern experience. You’ll see how one bar mitavah revealed the modern relevance of Jeremiah, how Eve’s experience restored the faith of a young woman who had lost all hope, and how the promised land of Moses relates to a young family’s success with GoFundMe in a medical emergency. Dip into a few parsha snapshots and you’ll emerge feeling refreshed, energized, and ready to bring flashes of new wisdom to a modern world sorely in need of it.
“Out For Blood”
Out for Blood: The True Story of Monoclonal Antibodies and the Politics of the Fetus
When politics intersects with medicine, the results are always fraught with conflict. That’s what happened when it became clear that a key antibody for the treatment of conditions from cancer to diabetes to stroke was present in large quantities in the blood of fetuses. The lifesaving research could happen only so long as women having abortions, miscarriages, and other early pregnancy terminations would be willing to contribute tissue for experimental purposes. This far-reaching story would draw ardent feminists and rock-ribbed conservatives into a conflict that could determine the future of millions of families and children — including their own. You’ll be privy to the secret back-alley rendezvous with coolers full of fetal remains — the scandals that undermined a promising young senator’s campaign — and the researchers who chained themselves to the gates of the abortion clinics, all in the name of cures and morality.
[To be clear, this is all completely made up.]
Outrageous Claims! User experiences in the application of [a novel health technology intervention]
I have to pass on this for personal reasons. Please don’t ask.
“More Sleep, More Water”
More Sleep, More Water: The Truth about Hydration and the Prostate
As men age, they become increasingly subject to two common medical conditions: interrupted sleep and prostate enlargement. The nightly trips to the bathroom multiply, and a common self-cure is to stop drinking at night. But as this groundbreaking research shows, that’s exactly the wrong answer. More water dilutes the toxins that exacerbate enlarged prostates, making the inevitable trips not only just as frequent, but more disruptive. Men who read this book will learn how to manage their fluid intake — including what to drink and when — to better manage their medical conditions and get more rest from their time in bed, and more energy from their time awake.
[Again, completely made up and probably not what you expected. But that’s what you get.]
looks like somebody just gave me a new chapter. Maybe I’ll call it “the WOBS Effect”
Here are a few I have kicking around that don’t work for my needs: Pageview Pushups, Stuck Pixel, Soul Soufflé, Tissue Issues (great for a memoir about Ehlers Danlos Syndrome), A Man Named Cliché
A Man Named Cliche — A Hackneyed Memoir
He was born Alain Francois Cliche in 1927. And the course of his life was foreordained. His parents spared the rod and spoiled the child, leaving him to fight an uphill battle to survive World War II. As a young adult, he became known as France’s worst literary critic, literally judging every book by its cover. Despite a contentious relationship with his wife, nee Jeanine Metaphore, he never went to bed angry — but never woke up without a slap and a tickle. He was early to bed and early to rise, but sickly, poor, and completely lacking in wisdom. In the end, he committed suicide at age 43, trapped by a tragic unwillingness to find any more creative way to deal with his problems.
Also for consideration: a permabanned phrase from a copywriting friend: “Innovative Solutions”
Sorry, I can’t write a description for a terrible phrase like that!
Heat Check: Documenting the Earth’s Transformation into Hell
Vast portions of the globe are becoming unlivable due to climate change. The Sahara is growing. Mexico is baking. India is melting. And unless we reverse our use of fossil fuels, we’re in for the mother of all heat-checks — a feverish withdrawal from many inhabited regions of the world. This book carefully examines the metrics climate scientists use and predicts the number of square miles of land rendered uninhabitable due to each incremental increase in global temperatures. The prediction: masses of equatorial and tropical lands are about to become barren deserts. Climate refugees will stream into developed, temperate countries. And formerly frigid zones, from Canada to Scandinavia to Russia, will become prime real estate and farmland. If you want to know where climate change is taking the world, take a sobering heat check with this shocking and well-researched book.
Thinning the Herd. I had actually thought of this as more of the title of a reality show than a book, but have at it!
Thinning the Herd: the Fraught Eugenic Future of America
Unlike most developed countries, America’s life expectancy is going down. The combination of drug addiction, depression, and spotty and poorly accessible health care is a threat to anyone middle-aged or older. COVID has accelerated the trend by killing off so many elders. Add this to the rise of the millennials and you’ll spot the signs of a generational shift — the extinction of many of the most experienced members of society and the dominance of the young. Among developed countries, only in the U.S. is the herd thinning along generational lines. And we’ll soon find out if putting a new generation in the driver’s seat is smart move, or another step in the decline of a nation that has cast off the value of experience and knowledge of an entire generation.
Died of Natural Causes: How America itself killed the Great American Experiment
No Eagles for the President
I don’t have any titles to offer, but am looking forward to reading some of your suggested books if anyone writes them!
What a great offer. Thank you. Book title or a non-fiction book that’s the antidote for the Sunday Scaries: Oh, For Success’ Sake