I frequently receive proposals for an “untitled” book. For me, that’s always a red flag. If you don’t have a title and subtitle for your book, you’ve missed your first opportunity to tell me what the book is about. (And it makes me wonder if YOU know what your book is about.) It’s almost like being introduced to someone at a party and saying, “What’s my name? Oh, my name isn’t important.” Your potential new friend will think, “What a weirdo,” and talk to someone else!
That is not to say that any old title is good. Your title, ideally, should encapsulate the thesis of the book. (Remember my previous post on “an sit, quid sit, quale sit”?) It needs to be memorable; it needs to be concise; your title should shoot for the dramatic, and avoid the melodramatic. If possible, the title should coin a new phrase. “The Purpose Driven Life” is a good example. People who haven’t even read the book immediately understand the concept.
The subtitle should be the “helper” for the title. Tim Kimmel’s book, “Little House on the Freeway,” a take-off on “Little House on the Prairie,” seems to indicate something about a fast-paced life, but is it a critique of contemporary society? Today’s urban housing issues? The subtitle solves the mystery: “Help for the Hurried Home.” And that’s another thing about a title: it should spark curiosity along with revealing the thesis of the book.
One thing to avoid, generally, is rhyming, especially if your book is about a serious topic. I was working on a subtitle for a book, and came up with “Finding a Restful Life amid Stressful Strife.” Memorable, maybe, but a bit too cutesy. Alliteration can work, but don’t overdo it. Would you really want to read a book entitled, “The Apostle Paul’s Prayerful Pattern for Perfect Peace”?
Focus on the thesis! The goal is something memorable, and memorable for the right reason, which tells the reader the book in a nutshell.