Which One Won? Avoiding bad self-help book titles

Be careful what you name your book. Bad self-help book titles can be a real turn-off for potential readers. You’ve got to get your title just right.

One author recently discovered this lesson while testing titles for a self-help book on PickFu. This author wisely asked 100 people who read at least one book a month for votes and opinions on these three potential titles.

The first title (Option A) reads, Our Stories: Transforming What Triggers Us Into Personal Triumphs.

In Option B, the author writes, Triggers to Triumphs: How We Can Become A Hero In Our Life Story.

And in Option C, it’s Reboot: How We Can Reprogram Our Internal Stories For Success.

Can you guess which one won?

And the winner is… Option C! With a score of 58 to B’s 42 and A’s mere 26, it’s clear readers favored Option C.

Here’s why.

People are triggered by the word trigger

It seems that people, especially white males in this poll, dislike the idea that someone would be triggered by, well, a trigger. So using that word in a title will nearly always receive backlash.

One young white male who makes $61- 100K a year said, “When I think of triggering, I think of people being offended by something. I didn’t think it fit for this title.”

Another white male who voted for Option C said, “I can’t stand the use of the word triggered in the context that it is being used.”

Yet another white male said, “I don’t like Option B because I think Triggers can be a loaded word today in the political sphere, so I would avoid it at least in the main title.”

A fourth white male said, “I dislike the word trigger as a concept and didn’t want to pick a title with that word.”

White Male #5 said, “I went with ‘Reboot’ because I’d never purchase any self-help book with some gobbledygook about ‘trigger alerts’ in the title. Just grow up!”

Well, then. Trigger is obviously a triggering word.

Of course, many people understand that triggers are real and valid words, images, or events that can reignite trauma. But because so many readers are offended by the word trigger, leaving it out of a title can be beneficial for book sales.

Reboot: a strong verb

For every person who couldn’t stand the word trigger, there were several who adored the word reboot simply because of its positive, motivational connotations.

An Asian male said, “[Option C] makes me want to think about rebooting myself and doing it right. That makes the best and most motivational title.”

A white female said, “I like Option C because of the use of ‘Reboot’; I feel like that is a really positive call to action. It’s not super passive but isn’t super intense either. It brings to mind new beginnings and bettering yourself.”

But then she added, “I don’t know how I feel about the reprogramming internal stories because it makes me think of lying to myself.”

This is a valid point to bring up: internal stories can’t always be reprogrammed into something good. The author may want to tweak the subtitle based on this one bit of feedback alone.

Key takeaways to avoid bad self-help book titles

If you’re hoping to reach a large audience, using a loaded word like trigger can turn some readers away, unfortunately.

On the other hand, strong verbs like reboot draw them in, providing optimism and a sense of purpose in moving through trauma.

Do you have a self-help book title you need to market test? Take it to PickFu today to see which one your target readers prefer!

Laura Ojeda Melchor

Laura Ojeda Melchor (she/her) is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Parents.com, Mom.com, Gardener’s Path, and of course, PickFu. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her debut middle-grade novel, Missing Okalee, was published in the fall of 2021 by Shadow Mountain Publishing.