how to write book titles that sell SEO tips for creating a nonfiction book title
We’ve all heard it: Don’t judge a book by its cover.

But why is that such a popular warning?

Probably because we do judge things (and people) based on appearances—if a book has an eyecatching cover, you’ll probably pick it up to learn more.

But if the book’s cover looks like a drunk chipmunk painted it, you’ll probably pass it by…even though reading it might change your life forever!

Titles act the same way. If a title doesn’t hook you immediately, you’re not going to click to learn more or pick it up, much less buy it.

But with the right title, you can make a great first impression that leads to more sales! Here’s how to write book titles that sell using the insights of SEO.

How to Write Book Titles Using SEO

book titles that sell

Titles are a reader’s first point of contact with your book. So it’s pretty much impossible to overstate how important picking the right title is.

According to research conducted by author, blogger, and former publisher Michael Hyatt, consumers tend to look at the features of a book in the following order:

  1. Title
  2. Cover
  3. Back cover blurb
  4. The text on the flaps (if your book is a hardcover)
  5. Table of contents
  6. First few paragraphs of the book’s content
  7. Price

Notice that the name of the author is not on the list, although it could be a factor if the writer is a well-known celebrity or authority in that niche.

Why does this matter?

Imagine that you have a problem, or a compelling interest, and go online to Amazon or another site to find ideas and solutions to your problem.

What do you type into the search bar?

It’s usually the final result that you want to achieve. For example, “how to write a romance novel,” or “how to lose 10 pounds in 10 days.”

Amazon will then display a list of books based on the relevance of their titles and subtitles to the search criteria that you have given.

Not the author. Not the price. The title and subtitle.

How do readers select books from the list?

As our eyes scan down the screen, we’re subconsiously reading the title and subtitle of each book, aligning the words to the cover art and the other books on the list displayed before making the decision to click on a particular book to find out more.

The whole process happens in less than a second, but in that time, we’ve assessed how relevant each book is to our needs, and whether it’s worth our time and money.

Less than a second. That’s how long any author has to help a browser discover their book!

And it all starts with crafting a title and subtitle for your book that you know will appeal to your ideal readers—the people who need the information or solution that your book provides.

Essential Elements of an Attention-Grabbing Book Title

The hard fact is—and some authors may wince at this one—you have to look at your book title as a sales pitch.

Your book may provide the perfect solution to a challenge that your ideal readers are facing, but they don’t know that it exists.

It’s your job to help readers to discover your book so that they can benefit from all of the hard work you’ve put into it.

A good title tells what the book is about. A great title tells what the end destination is. A truly superb title is one that tells the end destination and also appeals to core human desires.”

— Buck Flogging at Archangel Ink

Let’s take a look at these key elements.

Does the subject matter appeal to core human needs?

These can be very crudely defined as:

  • happiness
  • wealth
  • health and beauty

If your book helps your ideal reader to make more money, look better, or be happier, then it has a better chance of success than a textbook on an obscure topic, no matter how fascinating that topic might be.

Who is your ideal reader?

Why would someone want to buy this book? If you have carried out effective market research, then you have a very clear understanding of who the ideal audience for your book is, and the challenges that they are struggling with.

How will this book help them?

You should have already validated that there is a market for this book, and that your ideal reader needs this information and is willing to pay for it. What does the book do for them? What problem does it solve? What need does it fill?

What makes your book unique?

What is your book about and why should a prospective reader care?

You have to be able to convice a reader that your book is going to deliver on a particular promise, which could be anything from providing technical information about medicine or computer coding, right through to a compilation of rude party jokes or a selection of inspirational paintings in a meditation journal.

No matter what your topic, your title has to jump out and compel a reader to click on the cover to find out more. It has to give them enough information to know that it’s relevant to their interests, but do so in a way that’s intriguing—that makes them want to know more.

How to Write the Ideal Title for Your Nonfiction Book

Step #1: Use your book outline to develop keywords

What is the main idea or transformation that you are trying to get across in this book?

Write down 20 to 50 words and phrases that describe your idea and experiment with putting them together in a fun and interesting way. A thesaurus can be useful if you want to express a word in a fresh way, but the words and expression have to be easy to understand and pronounce.

Step #2: Research the keywords readers are using 

A keyword can be a word or a phrase; it just has to be relevant to your topic and easy to search for.

For example, “how to write a novel,” “how to become more productive,” and “how to grow fresh herbs” are all search terms that a reader could type into Amazon or other online bookstores when looking for information they need.

A wide range of software tools are available to help with finding keywords, but the three free tools that I use to research relevant keywords are Google Keyword Planner, YouTube, and Amazon predictive search.

Google Keyword Planner

This tool was created to support Google advertisers, but it’s an extremely useful free tool for any author who wants to survey the language readers are using and how popular a particular search term is.

You will need to create an account to use this free tool.

Type in a specific phrase or word from the list you have brainstormed from Step 1 and compare what search terms readers are using (keyword ideas) and how many searches for a specific word or phrase are made every month (search volume).

You can find Google Keywords Planner and support on how to use the system here:

Using Search Volume Results from the Keyword Planner

So for example, if you were writing a book on productivity, you could try the following combinations of keywords: Procrastination, Motivation, and Mindset.

The following screenshots show the first page of the search results.

keyword planner result for Procrastination     keyword planner result for motivation     keyword planner result for Mindset

The total number of searches is the combined figure for the accumulated searches for all of the linked search terms and suggested keyword ideas in the tables.

In all three cases, the accumulated average monthly searches for all ideas linked to the search term was 1 million to 10 million.

Procrastination: 100,000 to 1 million monthly searches in the USA

Motivation: 100,000 to 1 million monthly searches in the USA

Mindset: 10,000 to 100,000 monthly searches in the USA—but you can see from the screenshot that the total number of searches for the topics that include mindset, such as success, motivation, coaching, etc., add up to 1 million to 10 million monthly searches.

Clearly, these numbers will vary from day to day and country to country, but the USA is the largest marketplace, and these search volume figures are a good indication of the relative popularity of a topic.


Simply type the subject matter of your book into the search bar and see what comes up. It’s useful to filter the search results by the number of views so that you can see the relative popularity next to the names of the videos.

Amazon AutoPopulate Search Tool

When you start typing into the search bar on the Amazon bookstore or Kindle store, Amazon automatically starts to suggest a drop-down list of words, phrases and book titles linked to your search. Just start typing something in and you’ll get a list of handy suggestions you can use to see what others have searched for.

To explore the full range of keywords, type in your keyword and then start to type the first letter of a new word, using only a letter of the alphabet, starting with “a” and working through the alphabet to “z”.

For example, “how to be more productive,” then “a.” See what turns up and base your keywords on that.

At the end of this step, you should have a list of at least 10 keywords and keyword phrases that you can use to create the title and subtitle of your book.

Remember, you can use all of these keywords in the metadata for your book on the online publishing platform—you don’t need to discard any. Using keyword optimization can help in your marketing once you’ve chosen your title and put your book up for sale.

Step #3: Find your power words

Power words are inspirational, forceful, action-driven words that will catch the attention of someone browsing online.

They include words such as Breakthrough, Secret, Easy, Transform, Power, Discover, and Life.

Every nonfiction niche has its own set of power words that appeal to readers of that specific niche. These are constantly changing and being updated to reflect the latest development in that niche.

So how do you find the best power words for you?

  • Research the top 100 bestselling titles in the Amazon category or subcategory where you want your book to be shelved.
  • Write down a list of the most commonly used nouns, verbs, and adjectives from the titles of these bestsellers. Can you see any trends?
  • Write down a list of at least 20 relevant power words that you could use with your book,

Step #4: Start with the subtitle

Your title is short, catchy, and memorable. Your subtitle expands on that to help drive home the point of your book. It should explain what the book is about and incorporate your keywords and keyword phrases in a natural way.

Basically, the subtitle is your main marketing message. It should:

  • Explain what the book is about in more detail.
  • Make it clear who the book is for.
  • State the end results or benefit that the book will deliver. Ideally, the subtitle should break those benefits into easy-to-read phrases.
  • Make an emotional connection with the reader.
  • Include the major keywords or keyword phrases that a reader might use to search for this kind of book.

This is where it pays to take the time to review in detail all of the information that you’ve collected so far.

Brainstorm at least 20 possible subtitles; keep going until you can’t think of any more possible combinations that would describe your work.

Read the words out loud. Then experiment with as many ideas for your subtitle that you can come up until you have three options for your subtitle that really sing, using combinations of words and phrases from your keyword list and your power word list.

Put these three options next to the top 20 books in your catgeory or subcategory in Amazon and ask yourself if you would select your book based on its subtitle alone.

At this point, it can be very difficult to be objective, so you might want to ask for feedback from other authors or social media groups on which of the three options works best, or simply put your list aside for a day or two before coming back to select the best option.

Step #5: Create your main title hook

The title for your book is usually a short, catchy word or appealing phrase that instantly appeals to your ideal audience and is easy to read and understand at first glance.

Essentially, your main title is the sales pitch for your book.

In many cases, a reader will only glance at your book cover as they scan down the thumbnail images for a category—they often won’t read the subtitle, which is in a smaller font, unless the main title really catches their eye. So it pays to spend time creating a powerful title.

Ideally, the title should include a combination of one or more power words, keywords, and ordinary language, all of which has to build into a hook that will reach out and grab a reader, inviting them to find out more.

How does this work in practice?

Let’s take a look at a couple of published books and evaluate how their titles measure against the criteria we’ve worked through in these five steps.

Example 1

You are a Badass by Jen Sincero

YOU ARE A BADASS. How to stop doubting your greatness and start living an awesome life, by Jen Sincero.

Main title hook

“You Are a Badass”

This type of bold statement makes the reader curious. You can be a badass in any context, or in life in general. What is this book talking about?


  • Who is the book for?
    • In this example, this book should attract people who have been held back in their life because of self-doubt.
  • What is the book about?
    • How to stop psychological self-doubt.
  • What is the main benefit or end result for the reader?
    • Breaking through self-imposed barriers to “start living an awesome life.”
  • Does this book help your reader make money, be more attractive/healthy, or be happier?
    • Be happier and make more money.
  • Are there any keyword phrases in the subtitle? 
    • How to stop doubting. How to live an awesome life.

Example 2

The 8-Minute Writing Habit by Monical Leonelle

The 8-Minute Writing Habit: Create a Consistent Writing Habit that Works with Your Busy Lifestyle, by Monica Leonelle

Main title hook

The 8-Minute Writing Habit

This would make any writer curious. Why eight minutes? Why not five or fifteen or an hour?


  • Who is the book for?
    • Writers with a busy lifestyle.
  • What is the book about?
    • How to create a consistent writing habit.
  • What is the main benefit or end result for the reader?
    • They will develop the habit of writing in eight-minute bursts, which fits into a busy life.
  • Does this book help your reader make money, be more attractive/healthy, or be happier?
    • Make more money by increasing output.
  • Are there any keyword phrases in the subtitle?
    • Create a writing habit. Habits.

Example 3

Career Change by Joanna Penn

Career Change: Stop hating your job, discover what your really want to do with your life, and start DOING it, by Joanna Penn

Main title hook

Career Change

This would make any reader curious and spur them to ask questions. How can I change my career? Where would I even start? Is this a good idea for me?


  • Who is the book for?
    • People who hate their job and want to change careers.
  • What is the book about?
    • How to change your career path.
  • What is the main benefit or end result for the reader?
    • A step-by-step guide to making a career change.
  • Does this book help your reader make money, be more attractive/healthy, or be happier?
    • It helps them be happier and maybe make more money.
  • Are there any keyword phrases in the subtitle?
    • Each of the three phrases is a separate keyword phrase.

Do-It-Yourself Success

Traditional publishing houses have dedicated teams of editors and marketing specialists who discuss and evaluate hundreds of options for book titles before deciding on the optimum title and subtitle for each publication.

But you don’t need to pursue a traditional publishing deal to craft catchy titles that help you sell books and achieve your writing goals. Independently published authors can now use free tools and technology to learn how to write book titles will attract the ideal audience for that work.

Have you had success using keywords in your book titles? Have you ever changed a title to use more targeted language and seen your sales improve?

Harness the power of SEO and keywords to take your titles to the next level.

If you’re ready to start using SEO and keywords to help you succeed as an author, check out these helpful articles for more information: