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.