The Art and Science of Subtitles

If titles are hard to write, subtitles can be even harder. They are the meat of the title by telling the reader exactly what your book is about. While titles are short and creative, subtitles are longer and more literal. For example, the Amplify book The Age of Intent by P.V. Kannan has a title that is bold, attractive, and attention-grabbing. But what is the book actually about? You don’t know until its subtitle: Using Artificial Intelligence to Deliver a Superior Customer Experience. Now it becomes clear it’s a book about artificial intelligence and companies’ use of AI.

Subtitles establish a contact between the author and the reader. As an author, you’re promising a reader (or potential reader) that if they invest in you, they will increase their knowledge about a given subject matter, and by doing so, they will be better informed and will be able to achieve takeaways that will interest or benefit them. The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, for example, offers three things to the reader: a better work schedule, freedom of movement, and wealth. Subtitles are nothing short of a promise, so crafting a good subtitle is crucial for your book’s success.

Tips for a Good Subtitle

  1. Speak directly to your target market
Differentiate your book by revealing its niche or specialty in the book marketplace. Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! by Robert Kiyosaki uses its subtitle to pinpoint its reader. Someone who is poor or middle class and wants to learn about the rich people’s financial philosophy is going to pick up his book. Remember, in order to speak to your target market, you have to have a clear understanding of who that is.

  1. Keep Google and Amazon in mind
Thinking of the keywords and web searches readers will use to find your book and including those in your subtitle will maximize discoverability (a process called Search Engine Optimization, or SEO). Comparison titles can also be instructive in how to target your audience. Keep Amazon genres and subgenres in mind, too. For instance, Game Changer: The Story of Pictionary and How I Turned a Simple Idea into the Bestselling Board Game in the World
  1. by Rob Angel fits into the Amazon subgenres “Board Games,” “Entrepreneurship,” and “Actor & Entertainer Biographies.” His subtitle addresses each of those categories to increase hits.

  1. Escalate in value
If your subtitle is going to say something like “How to Turn Unreasonable Expectations Into Lasting Relationships” (as does the subtitle for Marketing to the Entitled Consumer by Nick Worth and Dave Frankland), make sure it escalates in value. You want to start with something less valuable that the reader wants to lose—“unreasonable expectations”—and end with gaining something attractive—“lasting relationships”. Ensure you’re tapping into the reader’s desire to achieve something great.

  1. Pay attention to rhythm
A no-brainer, but critical. Subtitles should complement their titles. The famous title Freakonomics slides right into A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. Read your title and subtitle out loud together. Does it roll off the tongue? It should—if not, get back to the drawing board.

Whatever you choose for your subtitle, remember a good subtitle markets your book and enters into a contract with the reader. Craft them thoughtfully and they can yield great returns.

As the CEO at
Amplify Publishing and Mascot Books, Naren Aryal is a recognized publishing industry expert. Naren advises authors, thought leaders, and various organizations on the opportunities and challenges that exist in the evolving publishing world. He’s guided the company’s growth from a single children’s book in 2003 to becoming one of the fastest growing and most respected hybrid publishing companies in the world. Today, Mascot Books publishes hundreds of books a year across all genres, and Amplify Publishing is a leading nonfiction imprint specializing in “big ideas” from some of the most reputable names in business and politics. 

Naren frequently speaks at publishing and business events about the importance of developing compelling content and a robust author platform. He is also the author of
How to Sell a Crapload of Books: 10 Secrets of a Killer Author Marketing Platform.

Prior to entering the world of books, Naren worked as a lawyer, advising technology companies in the Washington, D.C. area. He holds a B.S. in Finance from Virginia Tech and Juris Doctor from University of Denver.

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Promotion in a Pandemic?

The comparisons to life in the aftermath of September 11 to the current (and ever-evolving) challenges we face with the coronavirus COVID-19 are unavoidable. One of the post-9/11 moments etched in millions of American’s minds is the episode of Saturday Night Live that aired on September 29, 2001.

Surrounded by Ground Zero first responders, then-Mayor Rudy Guiliani opened the show, with Paul Simon performing “The Boxer.” At the end of this unprecedented cold open, show-runner Lorne Michaels asked Guiliani a simple question: “Can we be funny?” 

Guiliani’s reply: “Why start now?”

In times of extreme uncertainty, it’s only natural to ask yourself if now is the right time to resume, especially when it comes to book promotion. The key is authenticity. Does your expertise lend itself to the situation at hand? Could it provide solutions? Or a path to much-needed distraction? 

Last week, we gave an inside look into how Melissa Agnes, crisis management expert and author of Crisis Readyturned on a dime to put her expertise to work. Our other Amplify authors are on the same path, leveraging their thought leadership and further rooting their platform and positioning.

BigSpeak Speakers Bureau compiled a list of top webinar and keynote speakers featuring Invisible Solutions author Stephen Shapiro. “Provocative innovation evangelist Stephen Shapiro knows all about creating high-performing teams that can think outside the box and tackle challenges that seem impossible. For organizations that fear falling behind in rapidly shifting situations, Stephen is an obvious choice. He’s available for pre-recorded keynotes, live keynotes and webinars.” As small businesses to global corporations shift to remote work, Stephen’s approach was made for this. 

NBA Life Optimization Coach David Nurse, who’s debut book Pivot & Go will be out this summer, has worked with over 100 NBA players with personal and professional development on and off the court. Recognizing the sudden halt in all sports, from the pro’s on down, David’s offering one-on-one Skype/FaceTime coaching sessions for high school and youth sports coaches.

And not only was P.V. Kannan, author of The Age of Intent, featured in an MIT Sloan Management Review webinar on the future of artificial intelligence, his presentation is now available on demand for free, allowing users access to the content anytime. A working parent now juggling remote work and childcare, for example, has the flexibility to engage with P.V.’s expertise on their time, increasing eyeballs and, likely, book sales.

Our answer? Start now.

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How to Deal with Crippling Self-Doubt: Advice for Authors

By Josh Bernoff

This post originally appeared on, an excellent resource for writers, editors, and marketers written by bestselling author Josh Bernoff.  View the original post in its entirety here and follow Josh on Twitter (@jbernoff), Facebook (@bernoffwobs), and LinkedIn for more wisdom on writing, editing, publishing, and business news.

Every nonfiction author feels it. That moment when you think “I can’t do this. I am not an author. I am helpless. I can’t move forward.”

That’s crippling self-doubt. It’s so common, it deserves an acronym. CSD.

Do you suffer from CSD?

Please have hope. ’m here to help.

First, here’s what doesn’t help

This is not a cheery post.

I’m not going to pay you on the shoulder and say “You got this. You can do it.”

Your friends may do that. It doesn’t help. Because the thing about CSD is: it is crippling, and it’s justified.

You feel CSD because you are not making progress. You feel it because you don’t know what to do. You feel it because the tasks ahead of you fill you with dread.

(Sorry, I know that’s depressing, but what the heck, you’re already depressed.)

Your well-meaning friends don’t understand. You don’t need cheering up. You need help.

If you want, go out drinking with them. You might enjoy that. Sure, your writing problems will still be there in the morning, but your mood might be lighter. (If you follow this strategy repeatedly, you might have a different problem.)

Here’s the thing about CSD. You might be right.

You might not have the stamina to be a writer.

You might not want it enough.

You might not really have anything to say.

If you read those words and agree, then I’ve solved your problem. Give up on writing. Do something else.

But if you read those words and object — “I really want this! And I certainly have something to say!” — then you are a writer. You’re just stuck right now.

Let’s take on one more objection. Do you have the talent?

Each of us writers, at some point, asks “Do I have the talent to do this?”

That’s a dumb question, mate. Because talent isn’t a prerequisite.

You write by typing words. If you you can do that, you can be a writer.

If the words are the wrong words, in the wrong order, in the wrong structure, then you need an editor. The editor will help you sort out what’s wrong. You’ll address their suggestions. And then it will be better.

Talent doesn’t enter into it. Talent just means you know how to take your experience and apply it to make writing that sounds better.

How do you get experience? By writing. So stop worrying about talent. It’s not something you can address (except by writing more).

So what should you do?

The biggest challenge in writing is that people start with writing. The biggest challenge is that people start with writing.

There are 20 different tasks you need to do before you start to write. If you skip some, then your writing will suck. You’ll feel CSD. And it won’t help.

Your CSD makes you feel you can’t write. So what should you do?

Don’t write.

Do one of these tasks (all of which you can do easily, even with CSD):

  • Talk about your book or chapter with some friends. Get some perspective.
  • Write a speech and build a set of slides about your book or chapter.
  • Draw a diagram on a whiteboard. Get some friends to help.
  • Do research. Do lots of research. Find articles about what you’re writing about. Clip useful bits out of those articles and put them in a bin — a big word or Google Docs file, or into Scrivener of Evernote if you use those.
  • Find people to interview. Email them or send a Linked In message or contact their PR staff. Get them on the phone and learn their stories.
  • Take a walk. Think about your chapter without sitting in front of a keyboard.
  • Rearrange the stuff in your bin of research into an order that roughly seems like a story.
  • Write two pages based on the stuff in bin. Write two more. You can do two pages, can’t you?
  • Write a terrible draft, filled with repetition and poor turns of phrase and fragments and passive voice. Experience CSD. Don’t show the shitty draft to anyone. But eat a cookie or however you reward yourself for completing something.
  • A few days later, read the terrible draft in the cold light of day and figure out what might make it better. Then revise it. Turning something into something better is possible, even with CSD.

Every one of those tasks are work that writers do. They don’t worry about whether they’re suffering CSD. They just do them.

Carpenters don’t have CSD, they just identify the tools and supplies they need, acquire them, and get to work.

Chefs don’t have CSD, they just assemble the ingredients, prepare them, and only then start cooking.

Writers have CSD, but they don’t need to. Do those other tasks for a while, assemble your content, write a shitty draft, and then make it better. Rinse and repeat.

Eventually, the crippling self doubt will recede and you’ll be working. And next time you’ll be able to do more without so much worrying.

If this works, let me know. I’d love to hear about it.

Josh bernoff author photoJosh Bernoff has been a professional writer since 1982 and co-authored the bestselling book, Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies (HBR Press, 2008), a groundbreaking book on social media that’s sold 150,000 copies worldwide. Josh is most recently the author of Writing Without Bullshit: Boost Your Career by Saying What You Mean (HarperBusiness, 2016) and has co-authored two other business books.

Josh was an analyst, senior vice president, and frequent public speaker at the renowned research and consulting firm Forrester Research for twenty years, following fourteen years as an executive in Boston-area startup companies. He has edited four books and works frequently with authors on book ideas and book proposals. His daily blog on writing,, has generated two million views in just over two years.

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Traditional, Hybrid, and Self-Publishing: Pros, Cons, and Choosing Your Path

By Naren Aryal

Last week, I presented to a group of authors at the National Writers Union in New York City and had a great conversation with a group of motivated writers about the ever-changing market and the various publishing paths available to content creators. I’ve given this presentation many times and love giving it, so I thought it would be appropriate to share parts of my presentation here on the Amplify blog.

At a high-level, there are three paths to publishing: traditional publishing, self-publishing, and where we reside at Amplify—hybrid publishing. This post provides a brief overview of each path, including the pros and cons of each approach.

Traditional Publishing

Up until the early 2000s, traditional publishing was virtually the only way to get your book into the market. This approach requires securing a literary agent who shops your manuscript to large publishing houses, typically in New York. If your manuscript is sold to a large publishing house, congratulations—you’ve beaten the odds!

Agents and large houses generally look for authors offering (a) compelling content, (b) massive author marketing platforms, and (c) a track record of selling books. I’ve met plenty of authors that have amazing content, but just don’t have the requisite platform or sales track record to be a good candidate for a traditional deal.

Traditionally published books typically have high production quality (editorial, cover and interior design, premium book printing) and have access to large distribution channels. For authors, the upside of this model is the publisher bears all the up-front production costs—the publishing house assumes the financial risk. Some (not all) authors also collect advances against future royalties.

Potential downsides that come with traditional publishing include loss of creative control and intellectual property rights (including ancillary rights, like merchandising, film, etc.), an agonizingly long time to market (18-24 months on average), and smaller royalty percentages on sales (which may be offset by an advance, meaning you don’t collect any royalties until the house recoups its investment in your content).

Regarding marketing, there seems to be a misconception that all traditionally published authors enjoy overwhelming levels of marketing support. This is true if you’re an A lister that’s authored a book with runaway bestseller potential. For rank and file authors, however, meaningful marketing support only kicks in if sales meet or exceed projections. Authors have to be fully-engaged in book-related marketing efforts—and this is true regardless of the pathway to publishing.

I have simple advice for authors considering this route: if you get a solid traditional publishing deal with a reasonable advance (and this definition differs from project-to-project and author-to-author)—take it!


Many of the elements that make self-publishing attractive to some are exactly what makes other authors refuse to consider it. First, the barrier to entry is low (or non-existent, depending on the platform). You can become a published author today by simply uploading your content onto to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform—you and everyone else that fancies themselves an author—placing you among the masses clambering to stand out and get their content noticed.

On the flip side, you’ll have complete editorial control and will have final say concerning your book’s physical specifications, including its cover and interior design—a great thing if you know what you’re doing, but something that can easily become overwhelming. If you have no experience producing a book, you could end up with a book that’s riddled with typos and has a cover that “looks self-published,” a criticism you hear often in the publishing industry. If you do go the self-publishing route, and you’re intending your book to have an audience beyond your friends and family, invest in hiring an experienced editor and designer—it will be money well spent.

Distribution can be a challenge for self-published books, and even more so for self-published print-on-demand titles. Retailers work almost exclusively with their preferred distributors, such as Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and a few others that service specific account types—grocery stores, warehouse clubs, airport vendors, big box retailers, museum gift shops, hospitals, museums, gift stores, etc. Procuring inventory from these channels allows them to get inventory per industry terms, namely standard wholesale discounts, full returnability rights, lengthy payment periods, shipping and freight agreements, chargebacks to publishers, and any number of other terms, most of which are highly favorable for distributors and retailers, but not so much for authors and publishers. Most retailers won’t even consider POD and self-published titles for their shelves.

Self-publishing also places all the responsibility for the marketing and promotion of the book squarely on the author. While all authors should engage in marketing their book, self-published authors have a heavier burden. There are plenty of resources online, but it can be difficult to know what’s worth the investment, making increasing awareness of your book a challenge.

Hybrid Publishing

So what is hybrid publishing? Up until February 2018, there really wasn’t a universal answer. That’s when the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) attempted to clear-up lingering confusion by issuing their Hybrid Publisher Criteria, which is definitely worth a read.

The high-level takeaway is that a true hybrid publisher maintains the highest industry and ethical standards and produces books that are on par with traditional houses. Hybrid publishers have a vetting process for content, provide access to meaningful distribution channels, and offer book marketing services. In other words, there’s a commitment to creating high-quality books and emphasis on helping get those books into readers’ hands through distribution and marketing. Other benefits include speed-to-market (the average timeline is about half that of traditional—sometimes even less), creative control, and ownership of all intellectual property rights.

Unlike traditional publishing, there are production-related costs, and therefore the financial risk falls largely on the author.  To make up for these up-front expenses, the author often receives a much higher royalty rate per sale than traditionally published authors. At Amplify, we pay our authors 85% of sales, and provide distribution and marketing services designed to maximize visibility and sales potential.

Every writer’s publishing goals are unique and there are benefits and disadvantages to each pathway to publication. I encourage you to investigate each opportunity available to you before deciding which path to choose. Do your research. Ask questions. Compare your options and then confidently pursue the publishing path that’s right for you.

Naren Aryal is the co-founder and publisher of Mascot Books and Amplify Publishing. After starting his career as a Washington lawyer, Naren launched Mascot Books in 2003 with the publication of his first book. As an author himself (How to Sell a Crapload of Books: 10 Secrets of a Killer Author Marketing Platform), Naren appreciates the opportunities and challenges facing storytellers. As a publisher, he’s well-versed in the market factors that determine a project’s ultimate level of success. Naren’s more than fifteen years of publishing experience have made him an expert in the editorial, production, distribution, and marketing arenas. He’s passionate about staying up-to-date on industry technology and trends and is a respected commentator on anything publishing-related.

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