Having Trouble Choosing a Subtitle? Ask Mary Deal for Advice

Choosing a Subtitle

by

Mary Deal

Sometimes you can conjure what you think is the best title ever for your book. No one has used that title and there is nothing close to it in all of literature. Then, after a while, you begin to wonder if your great title covers all that your book entails. You search for a new title but always return to the one you first chose. It is that good!

So you begin to wonder if you should also use a subtitle. Subtitles used to be seen as a way to enhance a weak title. However, at the writing of this article, the consensus is that if you want to utilize a great chance to tell more about your book, use a subtitle. Keep in mind, however, that some titles will never need a subtitle.

What subtitle would you add to Gone with the Wind or The Old Man and the Sea?

Peruse book selling sites and notice any recent books that have no subtitles. Notice those that do use subtitles. You will get a “feel” for when to use and when not to use.

Usually a title will tell the overall feeling or story without giving away any exact details. Using a subtitle allows you to hint at more of the detail.

Subtitles must be as short as possible. I have seen books with eight to ten words in the title alone, and then a subtitle with the same number or more words is added. This represents not only a misuse of a subtitle but shows an overall title not well thought out.

Your subtitle should give the strongest clue as to what the story is about. If you choose a subtitle because your title is not necessarily weak but is broad inclusively, then your subtitle will draw the reader in. Think of it. The title is unique and catches the reader’s attention. Then the subtitle tells more of what they can inspect of the prose. I use prose here because nonfiction, even books like cookbooks, sometimes has subtitles.

The reader will need to learn something about the book from the subtitle. Never use a subtitle with the intention of keeping the reader’s eyes glued to your cover. It doesn’t work that way. Every word must offer the reader something to learn about the book. A lackluster subtitle leaves the potential book buyer with a ho-hum feeling.

Your title can be anything from plain and simple to quirky. Whatever it represents will be enhanced and enticing through the subtitle.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre.

About Mike Angley

Mike Angley is the award-winning author of the Child Finder Trilogy. He retired as a Colonel from the Air Force in 2007 following a 25-year career as a Special Agent with the Office of Special Investigations (OSI). He held 13 different assignments throughout the world, among which were five tours as a Commander of various units, to include two Air Force Squadrons and a Wing. He is a seasoned criminal investigator and a counterintelligence and counterterrorism specialist. In his last assignment, he was Commander of OSI Region 8 with responsibility for all of Air Force Space Command. He’s fond of saying, “If it entered or exited Earth’s atmosphere, I had a dog in the fight!”
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