Making Survival First: Part 9 - Naming the Book
Book Titles are obviously important. They hook people in, tell the book’s story in a few short words, and help the book market itself.
A bad title can be disastrous. They fail to attract people, and can even repel them. Even good books can have terrible titles. In my opinion one example of a bad title is Non Violent Communication. It's a good book that lays out a useful frame for communicating. It’s an obvious title. It’s short and tells you what the book is about in a few words.
But to understand why it's a bad title you have to imagine yourself telling somebody about it.
You: Hey I think you’d really like this book.
Them: Oh yeah? What’s it called?
You: It’s called Non Violent Communication. It’s about…..
Them, thinking to themselves: ….is this person saying I communicate violently?
You: <explaining the book>
Them: <defensively stops listening to everything you say>
In effect, a bad title functions as a block to word of mouth referrals. I know I won’t bring up Non Violent Communication to somebody unless I really know them and trust they will take the recommendation well. Otherwise I just won’t bring it up, even if I think they’ll benefit from it. I don’t want to spark a combative conversation.
Nassim Taleb, on the other hand, is my favorite book title picker. His titles are short, compelling, imaginative, and manage to tell the entire story of the book in a few words.
Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
Skin in The Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life
Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets
Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder
I didn't figure out my book's title until I was almost done with it - around 3 and a half years after starting. This is normal. A title is one of the last things to think about. Since the title describes what’s inside the book, you probably won't know what the title is until there's something inside the book to describe.
Since you're reading this you already know my book’s title - Survival First: The Rebel Entrepreneur's Guide to Risk, Riches and Immortality. It's worth working backwards to describe how I got there.
I had a lot of titles I had in mind when I was writing the book. The first was Airplane Mode Entrepreneur. I scrapped this when Risk became the book's main character. Next I toyed around with Disaster Proof Entrepreneur for a while. Eventually this felt too corny and business influencer-y.
Landmines and Goldmine. popped in my head while I was driving. It was cool wordplay and described the book's main themes. But I didn't like how I felt when I told people that name. It was too long, vague, and required too much follow up explanation. Death and Tacos cute, but was also too vague.
The first AHA moment came when I was describing the book to a friend.
Me: ....writing this book totally changed the way I think about everything. I now see everything through a survival first lens.
Survival First! Boom! That's it!
It was short, punchy, simple, memorable, and captured the book's essence. I had a book title, but still needed the sub title. This was trickier. The sub-title, while not as important as the main title, is a critical part of the process. The right sub title makes you want to undress the book and dive in.
After some braining I had this in mind: Survival First - A Radical Guide to Survival, Risk and Riches for the Modern Entrepreneur. It seemed close...but didn’t feel quite there. My first revision was the word A. I didn't want have A book, I wanted to have THE book - so I made that switch. I needed professional help to get further.
I had the right guy to help me - Chas Hoppe. As Scribe former Book Title guy he was the perfect guy to talk to. I texted him a few ideas and he returns a full Google Doc with feedback. The subtitle was too wordy. Radical and modern are overused. Survival was used twice. He switched things up and gave me a new template to work with.
Survival First: The [Adjective] Entrepreneur’s Guide to [Noun], Risk, and Riches
I had to find two words to plug in. First was between Rebel and Renegade. I liked these words since they connect to a deep part of my audience’s identity. An Instagram poll to my entrepreneur friends came back with a 50/50 split. I went with Rebel because it was shorter, punchier, and just felt better. Then there was one last word.
I used ChatGPT like a thesaurus to find a word to take place of the redundant survival. Words like resilience, adaptable, endurance and existence popped up. They made thematic sense, but were bland.
Until one popped up - Immortality.
It grabbed me and punched me in the face. I imagined the Immortals from the movie 300. The word is badass, over the top, and a pinch ridiculous - just like the book. More importantly, I felt it. I got these warm fuzzy feelings in my soul. I tried it out.
Survival First: The Rebel Entrepreneur’s Guide to Immortality, Risk, and Riches.
Chas pointed out what is now obvious to me. I wanted the last word to be the punchiest. So I rearranged it.
Survival First: The Rebel Entrepreneur’s Guide to Risk, Riches and Immortality.
My eyes bulged. My gut glowed. My skin goosebumped. I knew it was the one the moment I said it.
I tried it out on people with some pizzaz.
Friend: What's your book title?
Me: Survival First! The Rebel Entrepreneurs Guide to....Risk...Riches....and IMMORTALITY.
Friend: OOOOOOO I LIKE THAT
This has been the reaction every time. Once I got here I couldn't imagine the title being anything else.
Jump on the FKN book launch train already.