IVP - Andy Unedited - The Ideal Book Title

March 2, 2009

The Ideal Book Title

What's the ideal nonfiction book title? In my mind it has two elements.

The best titles clearly communicate the topic of their book. The title doesn't have to tell you everything, just something--and of course, the more central or core to the content of the book, the better. When I previously wrote about bad titling strategies, I gave examples of book titles that do just that.

My friend Jon commented that the very best titles state the thesis of the book. And he is probably right. But that is hard to do, and particularly hard to do in a creative way. More on that in a minute. For now, however, he's right, in that it's important to know what you are aiming for.

We've done a lot of successful books with straight-on content-laden titles that (1) don't tell you everything about the book. (2) don't even tell you the main thesis of the book and (3) aren't creative (or very creative). But, by gum, they work. For example:

Knowing God
Discipleship Essentials
Hearing God
Know Why You Believe
Darwin on Trial
Basic Christianity
Spiritual Disciplines Handbook

What about creativity? That can be great. As I've said earlier, though, unless the author is a superstar, it is almost always a bad idea to go with a purely creative title for a nonfiction book. So if you have two titles and one is purely evocative but contentless, while the other is full of content but dull, choose the dull title.

Content and Creativity
But what if you can have both? Then grab 'em with both hands. Here are some that worked for us:

To Forgive Is Human. This works on so many levels. It's got the content: forgiveness. It's got the creativity: a twist on an old saw. Even better, if people think of the adage, they get the added dimension that this book includes a spiritual dimension.

Too Busy Not to Pray. Again the content is clear but it goes in a surprising direction, with a nod to Martin Luther who first made a similar comment.

Colossians Remixed. You're seeing a pattern here, aren't you? It's clearly about one of Paul's New Testament letters, but you know it's not going to be one of your father's commentaries.

Jesus with Dirty Feet. With a title like this you'd expect a down-to-earth, slightly off-beat and unexpected look at Jesus. Bingo.

Have we ever titled a book creatively that also stated the thesis clearly the way my friend Jon wants? Well, I can think of one. It worked because the thesis itself is a creative image. And, of course, it was our all-time bestseller.

Want to know what it is? Go here.

Posted by Andy Le Peau at March 2, 2009 8:24 AM Bookmark and Share


I am a Chaplain for a army unit in Kentucky and I am looking for a booklet on scripture comfort, strength, ... for a unit of about 100 Men & Women.
Your help will be a blessing.

Comment by: Ken Jones at March 28, 2009 3:18 PM

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Get to Know IVP

book cover"Some publishers tell you what to believe. Other publishers tell you what you already believe. But InterVarsity Press helps you believe," says J. I. Packer. Andy Le Peau and Linda Doll describe how this came to be a hallmark of InterVarsity Press in Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength, an anecdotal history spanning the sixty years from the founding of IVP in 1947 to the present day.