Thursday, September 24, 2015

Your memoir needs an outstanding subtitle

Have you noticed that we seldom find a subtitle on a novel? It seems that subtitles belong to the realm of non-fiction—and what a gift someone gave us when he or she invented subtitles. (A subtitle follows a title, and the two are separated by a colon.)

Your memoir’s subtitle can help accomplish your title’s goals, which are to:  
  • establish a distinct identity for your memoir,
  • catch potential readers’ attention,
  • entice them to buy your book,
  • and read it when they get home,
  • and recommend it to their friends.

A subtitle explainsilluminates, sheds light on—a book’s title.

A good subtitle elaborates on a title and:
  • tells potential readers how your book is different from all others,
  • hints at what a reader will find within the book,
  • expands, explains, and entices,
  • and might allude to secrets within.

Look at these titles without their subtitles:

What Remains

A Long Way Gone
Thin Places

Thirteen Days

Falling Awake

Did they intrigue you and make you want to buy them? Do you have a good idea what they’re about? Probably not.

Now look at them with their subtitles, below, and notice how much more they reveal the book’s contents:

Thin Places: A Memoir, by Mary DeMuth

Review the goals of a title (bulleted above). Do the subtitles help accomplish those goals? I say yes. How about you?

How long or short should a subtitle be? Mary DeMuth’s subtitle is two words, “A Memoir.” Mary Lou Sanelli’s is a whopping 16 words long. I’m not aware of “rules” for how long or short a good subtitle should be, but avoid unnecessary wordiness.

Here are tips for crafting a strong title/subtitle: 
  • Choose an easy-to-understand title.
  • Choose an easy-to-pronounce title.
  • Choose an easy-to-remember title.
  • Consider the benefits of a short, crisp title.
  • Witty can be good—if it really works.
  • Even if your title isn’t short, be concise: Make sure every word needs to be there.
  • Beta readers (or others who have helped with your manuscript) might suggest titles. Brainstorm with them.
  • Read your title aloud. How does it sound? (See last Thursday’s blog post on the art part of crafting titles.)
  • Choose a title that feels just right to you—because it will stick with you for a long time!

Take a few minutes to read Susan Kendrick’s blog post, “What Makes a Good Subtitle and How Long Should it Be?” It’s packed with helpful info.

Keep in mind that if a traditional publishing house will publish your memoir, a lot of people there will have a say in your memoir’s title.

On the other hand, if you self-publish, or if you make only a few copies at the office supply store for family and friends, you get to choose your title.

Either way, work hard to create an excellent title.

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