How to Write a Better Title - a Recipe Book Case Study

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A good book title makes what's inside more appealing — and helps entice readers to buy. Getty Images

Writing an effective book title — one that entices as many readers as possible to the book — can be as complex as any other product naming task.

While it's enticing to think there's a book title generator tool out there that can automate the process, the truth is there's no substitute for knowing who the potential readers for the book. What value is the book providing the reader, and how do you communicate that value in just a few words of the title and subtitle?

(If you haven't already, read how to develop a great title) 

Here's an example of how a publishing team of editors and marketing folks turned a just-OK book title into a powerful title and subtitle combination that greatly expanded the potential market for the book.

Who is the market for the book? Does the title address them?

A book proposal came into a cookbook publisher with a title that relayed its subject matter: Kosher Vegetarian Cooking, by Gil Marks.

Now, this is a straightforward book title that certainly speaks to its market: people who
a. Don't eat meat (a good sized book market these days) and
b. Keep kosher (a much more limited market).

It was determined that it was easy to target the kosher and vegetarian cookbook buyers with the book, but it would be harder to expand the market reach with that title.

 Even a subtitle, say, "Great meatless dishes anyone can enjoy" wouldn't quite have the marketing oomph to overcome the average cookbook buyer's sense that "This book isn't for me."

The title that seems to call out specifically to kosher vegetarians would more than likely limit the sales of the cookbook.

Can the title broaden the readers who might also enjoy the book?

Therefore, the publishing staff dug deep into the text and the philosophies behind the book, brainstormed, and market researched the competition.

A quote from the Bible was pulled out of the text:

"A land of wheat and barley, of grape vines and fig trees and pomegranates; a land of olive trees and honey . . . you shall eat and be satisfied."?—Deut. 8:8-10

Wheat and barley sound a little too "whole grain cookbook"; "fig trees and pomegranates" the combination was perhaps a little too purely exotic to go wide — and pomegranates were were having "a foodie moment," which meant maybe it wasn't going to age well into the backlist. 

And the winning title is... 

After many meetings and much deliberation, the title was determined to be: Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World

Instead of limiting the book market, this evocative and lovely cookbook title brings to mind luscious ingredients. The subtitle provides an explanation and honors the cultural and religious heritage of the contents while it suggests the communal importance food and the promises of delicious recipes. Even the word "treasury" suggests value.



This tasty book title would bring the book to a much broader audience: people who use olive oil and like honey (ingredients of many Mediterranean cuisines, but with wide, popular usage that shows no signs of waning in the past couple of thousand years); the larger Jewish community that doesn't keep kosher; cookbook lovers of all kinds who are interested in recipe collections and world food history.

Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World went on to win a James Beard Foundation Cookbook Award and to become an IACP Cookbook Award finalist. Would Kosher Vegetarian Cooking have done the same?

A great title is one of the first marketing tools in the book publishing toolbox. Read about other critical facets of book promotion:

How a book jacket is developed.

An inside look into a book's packaging

If you're being published by a traditional publisher, a lot of people are involved in decisions of your book title, what the jacket looks like, the book's marketing and publicity and everything else about the book's development and publication.

Learn about the different people and departments involved in the publishing process:
The various departments in a book publisher
The editorial process from manuscript to production hand-off
The production process from copyediting to finished book or e-book