In Your Corner: Doing the Subtitle … Right


Subtitles are tricky things, aren’t they?

No, we’re not talking about the ones at the bottom of that Netflix show you’ve been binge-watching lately (though we totally get it). We’re talking about book subtitles, those handy descriptive phrases which come after the colon in a book’s title on the front page. They often hint at a book’s content in terms of subject or theme or atmosphere, but each author approaches the subtitle differently. For example, you have the original fancy-pants subtitle, invented pretty much around the same time as the novel and the bound book. A classic example is pretty much anything scientific from the 19th Century, such as Revue D’Histoire Des Sciences: Et De Leurs Applications ….


More current examples might include:

  1. Tangled In Life: A Lainey Kelso Mystery, by Mary Meckler (in which the subtitle clarifies the book’s genre as well as indicating that it is part of a series);
  2. Wednesdays With Jerry: A teacher, a student, and lessons to bring about the greatest of life’s stories, by Eane Huff (in which the subtitle sketches out some basic content points as well as placing the book as an inspiration memoir);
  3. Turnings: Love In A Time of War, by Chloe Canterbury (in which the subtitle sets the tone and names the stakes of the book);
  4. When KIWIs Flew: The Diary of a Mad Airline Entrepreneur, by Bob Iverson (ditto, only in this case the subtitle also hints at the book’s style and atmosphere too–light, wild, and intensely funny); and
  5. BULLYING: Applying Handwriting Analysis to Detect Potential Danger Signs and Effects, by David J. DeWitt, CGA (in which the subtitle takes a very serious approach to describing the book’s field of study, as is appropriate for a book which will keep company with peer-reviewed journals, textbooks, and medical handbooks).

As you can see, subtitles perform a variety of different functions–some of them more specifically coded for a particular genre than others, as in the case of strictly descriptive subtitles in the research-driven nonfiction area and more emotive subtitles in the case of fiction. (This would hold true for poetry, too.) Subtitles may not be the first thing potential readers see when they first pick up a copy of your book, but they’re an important follow-up punch to a well-crafted cover, and serve as a bridge between your title and the blurbs and descriptions which readers will find on your back cover. They often make a difference in whether a shopper will commit to buying your book on a deeply instinctual level!

There are, of course, some instances in which a subtitle is not necessary: when the author is a celebrity (and has widespread name recognition, like Kim Kardashian) or famous within a specific field and the book is addressed to people in that field (such as a book written by a famous doctor for doctors), and when a book is a straight-up literary fiction novel. Of course, these authors may still choose to take advantage of the benefits of a subtitle! (We won’t hold it against them.)

A good subtitle is succinct, to-the-point and crystal clear. Subtitles are not the zone for hazy atmospheric inferences and poetic rambles! A strong one will duplicate nothing in the regular title, but will instead expound upon what may be found between covers. The best subtitles provide a digital boost, too, in that they’re a playground for keywords which will better enable readers to find your book (and buy it, of course). Keyword-enriched subtitles make your book marketable, and this is not a benefit to be ignored!

And a side note:

Your book’s title is not protected by copyright, so neither is your subtitle. Its role must be to capture the interest of your audience and to make your book stand out among its peers on a crowded bookshelf, so it’s well worth taking a gander through some of your local libraries and bookstores to see what titles are already trending. You want yours to resonate with current trends–but also to strike a note of contrast, to set your book apart.

My recommendation? Don’t come up with your subtitle until after your book is complete. And if you feel insecure about the direction your title and subtitle are headed, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re here for you! And we love being your sounding board.

You are not alone. ♣︎


ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

NaNoWriMo – 6 Month Check-in

It has been six months since NaNoWriMo. Yes, six months! Time really does fly. As you probably know, I spent a great deal of time back in November sharing about my experience with the NaNoWriMo challenge. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but when I hit the 50,000 word mark, I saved the working document and haven’t looked back…not once!  For me, the six month mark is a chance to reflect on my project and set goals to refine and further improve my manuscript.

If you’re in the same boat, here a few things you should ask yourself as you reflect on your NaNoWriMo project:

How is the book coming along?

Since the challenge ended, what have you done with your manuscript? Have you continued working on it? Is it sitting in a (virtual) drawer somewhere collecting dust? Now would be a great time to open it back up and finish your manuscript. With six months passed, you can look at the manuscript with fresh eyes and bring new life to the project.

Is your manuscript done?

You may have finished writing the manuscript, but is the project truly finished? Maybe you still need to edit. Maybe you need to come up with a great title. Maybe all you have left to do is publish and market your book. Now is a great time to set new goals for your project so you’re ready in six more months to start a new novel all over again.

Are you ready to publish your novel?

If your manuscript is complete, now may be a great time to look into publishing options. Research self publishing companies. Talk to other authors. Figure out your goals and choose an option that is best for you.

Are you ready to market your book?

Even if your book isn’t yet published, it is never too early to begin marketing your book. You can share the news with family and friends. Set up social media sites. Talk to your local press. Begin making a marketing plan now, and you will have a much easier time promoting your book once it is complete.

I’d love to know, what have you done since NaNoWriMo?

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at

Are Titles Copyrighted?

I always tell authors to research their titles before choosing one to make sure there are no other books with the same title. Many authors want to know if titles are copyrighted. Titles are not subject to copyright the same way longer works are. However, titles can be trademarked. This is common for books in a series.

Although you could probably legally use a title that has been used by someone else, it is not recommended. When people search your title, you want them to only find your book. Take the time to come up with a unique, memorable title. It will help you sell your book.

ABOUT WENDY STETINA: Wendy Stetina is a sales and marketing professional with over 30 years experience in the printing and publishing industry. Wendy works as the Director of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable customer service reps and publishing consultants; and together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process in order to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction, or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Wendy Stetina can put you on the right path.

Is Your Ineffective Book Title Costing You Sales?

Today’s post is by publishing industry expert, Cheri Breeding.

Did you know that a strong book title can many times translate to more sales for the author? Or that a weak (or ineffective) title can many times mean lackluster sales?

Not only do readers judge a book by its cover, but they also find books based on their title. For instance, if you’ve written a book about the battles of the Civil War, you surely want readers to find you using the term “civil war” or “civil war battles”. If your title is not reflective of the subject, you can miss out on readers. The title Love Lost, for example, would not be one I would click to if I’m looking for information about the war. Your title, while catchy and creative, just cost you a sale.

You should consider ALL of the following when choosing a book title:

  • How catchy is it (will people remember it)?
  • Is it unique/original (search bookstores for other books with the same title)?
  • Does it include the keywords/phrases you want to be found for?

Remember your title doesn’t have to stand alone. A strong subtitle can help a title that may not be descriptive enough alone. Referring to the example above, Love Lost: Short Love Stories of the Civil War is much more descriptive and would encourage a reader searching for “Civil War battles” to at least take a peek (provided you have an attention-grabbing cover).

While a subtitle is not required, you can see that many times it can make the difference by adding a few additional keywords, etc. that are related to the title.

DISCUSSION: What tips do you have for authors choosing a book title?

Since 2005 Cheri Breeding has been working as the Director of Production for Outskirts Press. In that time, she has been an instrumental component of every aspect of the Production Department, performing the roles of an Author Representative, Book Designer, Customer Service Representative, Title Production Supervisor, Production Manager and, Director of Production. She brings all that experience and knowledge, along with an unparalleled customer-service focus, to help self-publishing authors reach high-quality book publication more efficiently, professionally, and affordably.