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How to pick the perfect book title

It’s hard to overstate the importance of picking the right title for your book. It is the handful of words people will use to make a split second decision to click on your book or move on to the next.

However, when it comes time to actually make a decision, it’s really hard to figure out the right choice. How can you know that you’re picking the right title? How can you know one title is better than the others?

As I’ve worked with authors, I’m constantly surprised by the methods even top publishers use to make their decisions. It often starts with these two words: “I feel”.

“I feel like X will get people more interested than Y.”

“I feel like X embodies the ideas in the book better.”

“I feel like X will convert better.”

Here’s the problem: Your feelings are probably wrong.

You, your spouse, your friend, your editor and your readers are too close to the project and know too much about you. Anybody that has read your stuff before or is involved in getting your book out into the world is going to make biased decisions based on the fact that they are already familiar with your work.

This would be fine if you were only selling the book to existing fans, but you want this to be a title new people – people who have never heard of you before and don’t know your writing – will click on and buy.

Throw out feelings. Get some data.

The first thing we need to do is stop basing our decisions on everyone’s feelings. This will only steer as wrong. Instead, we need to get some data.

When it comes to book titles, this is the kind of data I’m looking for:

  1. Unbiased. It has to be from people that don’t know who you are. We need strangers.
  2. A/B split. People have to clearly choose one potential title over another.
  3. Numbers. We need more than five or ten people. We need to test titles to hundreds of people.

If we can get a large number of people that have never heard of you to make a split second decision between two different potential titles, then we’ll be able to see exactly what strangers will think when the title of your new book shows up on Amazon, Twitter or anywhere else.

But how can you possibly find these people and run these tests?

How to test and find the perfect book title

When I was trying to choose the title for what would become Your First 1000 Copies, I knew I was too close to the project. My favorite title was Relentlessly Helpful. When I asked a friend of mine if he liked it, he said “Tim, that’s a horrible title.”

I felt (there’s that evil word) like that title summed up the principle in the book nicely, however, as you’ll see shortly, my friend was right. It was a horrible title. But if I had stuck with my gut on the title of my book, I would have made a huge mistake.

Instead, here’s the process I took to pick the perfect title for my book. You can use the exact same method to find your perfect title and skip those wasted nights lying awake wondering if you made a huge mistake.

1. Get lots of suggestions

The first thing you need is a list of potential titles. I recommend at least six, but the more you get the better. Where do you get the titles?

  • Past Readers. People who already know your work. You can send them a short synopsis of the book and then get their input. This is a great time to use your own website, social media or email list.
  • Early Readers. Who read early drafts of the work? Get them to provide potential titles as well.

Here’s a few that were on my list of eight titles for testing:

  • Relentlessly Helpful
  • The Connected Author
  • Don’t Be An Asshole

Once I had the title set using this process, I also did it for sub-titles:

  • Winning in the New World of Book Marketing
  • The New How-to of Book Marketing
  • The Breakthrough Guide to Book Marketing

Once you have your list of at least six titles, you move on to step #2.

2. Create a bracket system

If you’ve ever been involved in the March Madness basketball championships, then you know what I’m talking about. If not, here’s what it looks like:

(Click here to download an empty PDF version to print)

Print that out and write in your titles on the first lines. We’re going to pit the titles against each other to find out which one is the best.

3. A/B split test the titles against each other

If you’re unsure of what A/B split testing is, here’s a simple explanation for our purposes: It’s a method for validating which title out of two options a person is most likely to be interested in.

The reason we’re only testing two titles at a time is this makes the choice simpler for the responders and is more likely to get a split-second decision.

The tool that I use for A/B split testing titles is PickFu. It’s a simple, affordable tool that is exactly what we need to test our titles. In fact, after I used the tool to test my own title, I reached out to the guys that built it and they were kind enough to provide a discount for my readers.

Use this link to get 50% off your first poll.

Once you are signed up, here’s how to use the tool:

  1. Set each poll question to “Which book would you buy?”. You want to keep it purposefully vague in order to get the most unbiased response.
  2. Do a new poll for each of your brackets. So pit TITLE #1 against TITLE #2 and then write down the result. Same for TITLE #3 against TITLE #4 and so on.

I promise, you’ll be surprised at the results. Remember that title Relentlessly Helpful that I loved so much? Here’s what happened.


Not only was the title I liked not the best, it ranked as one of the lowest. Same goes for the the sub-title I liked, The Breakthrough Guide to Book Marketing.

4. Use the title that wins

Trust the data. If hundreds of people keep picking the same title over and over, you know you’ve got a title that will catch people’s attention.

This is about selling books

Selling books is hard. You’ve put a lot of work into your latest manuscript, now it’s time to give it every chance to succeed. Picking a great title – one that will catch people interest and get them to click on your book – is an important part of your book marketing strategy.

Don’t pick a title based on your feelings. You’re too close to the project and will make an extremely biased decision. The only way to make a good decision is to get stranger’s split-second, un-biased feedback.

By using this approach, you’re leveraging the experimental mindset and ensuring you make the right choice for your book.

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  1. […] If you’ve published previous books, today’s instant polling may make you wonder about past decisions. For example: Which title is best, Merchants of Virtue (the title I chose for my 2011 book) or Merchants of a New America (the one I didn’t)? A poll four years ago would have told me. If this kind of polling sounds like it would work for you, click here to read Tim Grahl’s description of how A/B voting works. […]

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