4 Simple Rules to Write a Great Headline for Your Book

The first sentence of your book description is – by far – the most important sentence of your book description.

Headline in the attention economy

Because it is a headline. Of course, you are familiar with headlines. They are everywhere – in traditional newspapers, in online magazines and the post titles make the blog posts’ headlines.

It is an issue of the utmost importance to keep firmly in your mind that the first sentence of your book description is its headline.

In one of the business books I read – E-myth or Built to Sell, I don’t recall – an author quoted a study from the ancient history (read: before Internet) about newspapers advertisement. 80% of readers had read only the headlines of those ads.

And it is true about each kind of written content! When you land on a blog for the first time you don’t start from reading the first post on the site carefully.
You scan the posts’ titles and decide which one seems relevant… or you are gone.

Readers use the heuristic qualities of human brain to decide if something is worth reading or not. They read only the beginning of the post/ article/ book description and decide to stay or to go away.

Economy, stupid!

You might not study the economy, but fortunately for you I studied it. I will make you aware in which stage of the economy we live and why it is important to authors.

There were different economy stages throughout eons. The first one was the hunter-gatherer economy. It moved gradually into agricultural, production, mass production, distribution, and information economy.

Nowadays we live in the attention economy era. It doesn’t mean that hunting, mass production or information don’t work anymore. Plenty of people and business make their living with those past eras models.

The attention economy means that the prerequisite of getting traction is now attention.

In the past you could have a superior knowledge and beat the crap out of the competition having the same product. You could produce the same utensils as your competitor, but if you used mass production methods while he used a manufacturing process, you could beat the crap out of him.

The same rule now works with attention.

Other authors may have books as good as yours, but if they have the attention of readers, they will sell more copies. Period.

A Headline in the Attention Economy

The headline is your attention grabber. You may have the best book in the world, but if no one buys it, it could’ve been the worst botch in the world as well.
You may have an amazing book description, but if no one (or only 1 person in 200) cares to stop and read it, it will do little good for your book.

The function of the headline is to grab the attention of a would-be reader so he stops to read the rest of the description or scan the book’s page further for clues if he wants it or not.

The times we live in made headlines even more important. When it decided 80% of the success in the previous economy stage, now it decides about 98% of the success. You need great headlines for your books. So, make them great.

Here Is How:

There are some universal rules of writing good headlines. I’m an amateur copywriter, I dabble with this only because I ended up owning a book advertising business. However, I am able to help my customers because I follow those universal rules.

Rule #0
Any headline is better than no headline.

I studied hundreds and hundreds of book pages. I’ve seen it all. And all too often I saw the beginning of a description starting right away.

In copywriting the headline is also called a hook – something that hooks a reader, makes him stop and read more. Starting with your description right away is like a glass door. The reader’s mind has nothing to hook up to. It streams down and slips away. There is no stopping point.

Anything – even testimonials from readers, praises from magazines or bragging about rewards – is better than starting with your description right away. In the case of nonfiction I’ve quite often seen descriptions starting with a question or a string of questions. Well, all those things are suboptimal, but they are better than nothing.

A long rambling headline is better than no headline. Most readers will probably die of boredom before they will reach the end of the second line, but it may hook a few people. No headline will hook no one.

Case Study

When I started Resurrecting Books I had to teach authors what to do to improve their book pages. I noticed I didn’t follow my own advice with one of my books.
I wrote 99 Perseverance Success Stories with Jeannie Ingraham and let her write the description. It’s always a pain in the butt for me. Her book description had no headline.

I added one and our sales jumped by 15% overnight.

Rule #1
Make it short

According to Coschedule’s Headline Analyzer, the ideal length of a headline is 6 words and 55 characters.
Of course, it’s not always easy to fit your hook into just six words. Sometimes a great headline is shorter than that (rarely; I’ve just browsed through a dozen of nonfiction bestsellers and none had a headline shorter than six words).

We live in an era of distraction. If you don’t put your main thought concisely a reader will get distracted before reaching the end of the sentence.

But Michal… my book is special…

Blah, blah, blah. Repeat my exercise. Browse bestseller lists. Everybody has an excuse, or they are simply ignorant. Make your headline short and you will win over your competition. Don’t use many words. Be precise. Be different in a way that works today.

Rule #2
Fill it with emotions.

Empower Your Life Despite All of Your Problems

is a better headline than

Make Your Life Decent Despite All of Your Hurdles

And this is the headline of a how-to nonfiction book. It’s even more important to fill your hook with emotions in case of fiction. The words you use must contain some emotional charge.

Facts, numbers, arguments and benefits have their place in your description, but the headline is not the place for them. People buy because of emotions, not because they make rational decisions.

More importantly – they stop right in their tracks because of emotions, not because of logic. Stopping them right in tracks is the main function of your headline.

Coschedule provides a list of Power and Emotional words to use in your headlines. There are some word-keys that carry more weight than other words. “Empower” and “problems” from the instanced headline are two words from those lists.

Have you ever tried to stop a person during rush hours in a middle of big city? This is what trying to stop a browser on Amazon with your book is like.
The headline must be decisive (short) and must speak to their emotions. Otherwise you just get “No time” mumbled and a browser is gone.

Rule #3
Keep it relevant.

Of course, it’s not enough to fill your headline with emotions. It needs to make sense. It’s not enough to write:

Awesome Gore Problems Decapitated Thrilling Yay!

There are a few degrees of relevance.

a) A headline needs to be coherent.

The above gibberish is not coherent at all despite being full of emotional and power words. The headline must actually mean something.

Yeah, I know, it’s beyond basic. Still, some folks need to have everything spelled out in capital letters.

b) It must be relevant to the book

Headlines which entice curiosity make great hooks. People stop dead in their tracks interested what the book is about. But it’s not enough. You need to deliver after you hooked them.

Curiosity is better for fiction, but you cannot overdo it. Don’t promise a tender romance, when your book is a bloody thriller with just a pinch of romance.

In case of nonfiction you’d better be deadly precise what your book is about. State a problem that your book solves or promise a solution it delivers. Nothing more. Nothing less.

c) It must be relevant for the reader

“Hey Amazing Everybody Read My Greatest Book!” makes a decent headline according to the headline analyzer. But it is not about your readers’ needs. It’s about your needs.

When writing the headline think hard: What do my readers want? What they are interested in? What gets their attention?

Yes, your headline is a clickbait, but it is so much more. It’s your book’s credo. It is the whole book condensed into one sentence.

So, if your readers like comedy, make the headline humorous. If they want a thrill, make it ominous. If they want more control and power over their lives promise them empowerment despite all of their problems. Make it personal for them.

Your headline may make or break your book. Don’t skip working hard on it. Spend a lot of time chiseling it out.

Ponder your readers’ wants (not needs!). Brainstorm 20 versions of the headline. Run them through the headline analyzer. Improve the last few remaining versions.

Make it short. Fill it with emotions. Make it relevant.

Dedicate 80% of writing the description to this process and remaining 20% to writing the rest of it.

Make your headline shine. This is the prerequisite of success in the attention economy.

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