One of the things people tell me often about my book Start is that they like the subtitle. If you haven’t seen it before, the subtitle is, “Punch fear in the face, escape average and do work that matters.”
How did we come up with it? How do you create your own subtitle for a non-fiction book you’re writing? How do you avoid the common mistakes that can hurt this process?
Here are 8 tips to writing a killer subtitle:
1. Never write a “rescue subtitle.”
The best subtitle will never be able to rescue a bad title. Never ask your subtitle to carry the burden of fixing or saving the title. Don’t be lazy. Subtitles are often easier to write than titles, but don’t skip dinner just to get to dessert. Add an amazing subtitle to an already amazing title.
2. Get the rhythm right.
Initially I wanted the subtitle for Start to be, “Escape average, do work that matters and punch fear in the face.” I felt like having the fear part last added some emphasis to the point. I was dead wrong. You know who fixed it? Dave Ramsey. He pointed out that the rhythm was backwards. He said that the first thing you have to do in life is punch fear, not the last thing. His simple switch changed the entire flow of the subtitle in a great way.
3. Speak to your audience.
Often your audience is trying to quickly scan your book and decide it’s not for them. In the subtitle you have a single moment to convince them that this is the best book in the airport for them to buy. Do that by directly speaking to their needs. For instance, I helped a friend with his subtitle for his business book by speaking to the profit his book would help companies increase. Previously we’d both missed the need to speak to that direct issue which businesses are interested in.
4. Flip it upside down if it helps.
If you look at the cover of Start, you will notice that the subtitle comes before title. We did this on purpose because we felt like “Start.” was the perfect punctuation to the promise of the subtitle. We even added a period to make that point clearer. A guy named Preston Cannon pointed this out and it was a great call on his part.
5. Don’t use a subtitle you don’t want to talk about.
If you ever get to do media about your book, one of the biggest things they will talk about is your subtitle. They will ask you direct questions like, “What do you mean by punch fear in the face?” Make sure you are comfortable with talking about those ideas or words for a long time.
6. Study other people.
You’re not the first person ever writing a subtitle. Research other people in your space and see how they did it. If you look at books by Chris Guillebeau, Tim Ferriss and Michael Hyatt, you can definitely see they influenced my subtitle.
7. Exhibit progression.
Depending on the type of book you write, it can be good to show a sense of progression in your subtitle. What’s the promise of where you will take me if I read this book? That’s why the subtitle of my book Quitter was, “Closing the gap between your day job & your dream job.” There was a clear sense of the before and after this book offered. A guy named Brent Cole came up with that subtitle.
8. Be willing to go without.
Although a subtitle usually amplifies a title, there will be some cases where you don’t need one. For my first book, that was the case. We spent weeks on it before realizing there wasn’t a need at all for one.
An 8-point list feels like it is woefully missing two points, but I didn’t want to fake two more points just to get to 10.
If you’re a writer, what tips would you add to this list about subtitles?