It’s well-known that a title can make an enormous difference in the sales of a nonfiction book. Subtitles also make a difference, and most authors spend considerable time crafting both. But surprisingly, for many authors this is as far as it goes. If you look at their chapter titles they are unimaginative and dull, and it’s obvious that very little thought has gone into them. There’s no doubt, however, that they also play an important role in the success of a book — not in attracting potential customers, but in keeping them reading once they have begun to read.
In practise, many of the same things that apply to titles and subtitles also apply to chapter titles. First of all, the chapter titles should reflect the promise that is made in the subtitle. Second, as in the case of the title and subtitle, the chapter titles should focus on benefits, or more specifically on needs and wants. Each chapter should, in fact, address a specific benefit, or a need or want, and outline how it can be achieved. You should, in fact, always be thinking of the basic human needs that relate to your book as you outline and write it. Some of the major ones are: money, security, good health, love , and self-improvement. Third, the more person-oriented you can make the title, the more likely it is to generate interest. For example, a title such as “Making More Money — Fast,” might be good, but even better is something like “How Jack Jones of Colorado Springs Doubled his Income in 30 Days.” People like to read about other people who are successful — it inspires them. Fourth, whenever possible use power action words such as: Control, Change, Improve, Motivate, Achieve, Launch, Produce, and Generate. They help grab the readers attention. And when you use them, make sure you give examples.
In any book the chapter titles will be closely tied together. Each will deal with some aspect of the overall topic of the book. Make sure all of them not only perk the interest of the reader, but fascinate him. In particular, make sure the reader will want read on after he has read the title of the chapter. A few suggestions are:
- Use the same words at the beginning of several chapters. End with different words (e.g. Make Sure That … Make Sure That …)
- Humorous titles help — but they should be directed to the point.
- Clever titles are great (e.g. How to Talk Back to a Statistic)
- Use alliteration whenever possible (e.g. “Develop a Memorable Memory,” Get Great Guts”).
- Shock the reader occasionally (e.g. Watch out!).
- Study other books similar to your for title ideas.
Spend time crafting your chapter titles. This should begin when you are outlining your book. Make sure you give each title considerable thought, and don’t settle on the first thing that comes into your mind.
Ask yourself the following questions as you look over your chapter titles:
- Do they signify benefits?
- Are they interesting — really interesting?
- Are they humorous or clever?
- Are they different and unique?
- Are they clear? Does their meaning come through immediately?
- Do they have a “hook’?
- Do they use power action words?
- Are they logical? Do they make sense? Are they reasonable?
- Are repeat words used occasionally from chapter to chapter?
- Has alliteration been use?
- Do they arouse curiosity?
- Are they likely to inspire the reader?
- Do they appeal to basic human needs?
- Are they positive and optimistic?
- Do they contain key words?
Combine great chapter titles with great titles and subtitles, then begin each chapter with a sparkling lead and you have a sure-fire winner.
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