Your memoir’s subtitle will help you 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,
- read it when they get home,
- and recommend it to their friends.
A good subtitle explains—illuminates, sheds light on—a book’s title. It:
- tells potential readers how your book is different from others,
- hints at what readers will find within your memoir,
- expands the meaning of your title,
- and might allude to secrets within.
Brooke Warner writes, “The most popular trend in memoir right now is to identify your key theme or themes, and build a simple subtitle around that: A Memoir of Faith, A Memoir of Resilience, A Memoir of Love and Loss.” She says that type of subtitle works “because generally memoir readers are seeking out memoirs based on themes they’re drawn to, or exploring in their own lives.”
Don’t miss Brooke’s post, An Author’s Guide to Book Subtitles. In it she includes eight Key Takeaways for Book Subtitles.
Let’s experiment. Look at these titles without their subtitles:
The Perfect Storm
Kisses from Katie
Did those titles intrigue you? Make you want to buy them? Give you a good idea of what you’ll find inside the book? Probably not.
Now look at those same titles with their subtitles. Notice how much more they reveal about the memoirs’ contents:
Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith, by Michelle DeRusha
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance
The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea, by Sebastian Junger
Jackie's Girl: My Life with the Kennedy Family, by Kathy McKeon
Love, Africa: A Memoir of Romance, War, and Survival, by Jeffrey Gettleman
Are you pleasantly surprised at how well those subtitles work? They catch a potential reader's attention, offer a distinct identity for the memoir, and hint at what readers will find within the book.
The only subtitle that's too vague is Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption, by Katie David Majors. Readers will need to look at the back cover to learn that at age 19, Katie moved to Uganda and adopted 13 children.
Below you'll find tips for crafting a strong title and subtitle:
- Choose a title that’s easy to understand.
- Choose a title that’s easy to pronounce. Read your title aloud. If it’s clunky or if it’s hard to pronounce, revise it.
- Choose a title that’s easy to remember.
- Consider the benefits of a short, crisp title.
- Witty can be good, but only if it really works.
- Be concise—be sure every word needs to be there.
Don't miss Susan Kendrick's What Makes a Good Subtitle and How Long Should It Be? It's packed with helpful info.
Remember, if a traditional publishing house publishes your memoir, that company will probably have the final say on your title. On the other hand, if you self-publish, you'll choose your title.
Either way, work hard to create an excellent title.