I love watching people buy books in bookstores. Some of them swoop in to buy a book that they’ve already decided to own. Others browse, looking for a book. Those are the ones I like to watch.
They pick a book from the shelf. Sometimes they check out the endorsements on the back or the copy on the jacket flaps. But almost every thoughtful buyer checks out the table of contents.
That’s why you should make your table of contents work for you. Chapter titles are the key.
Make your chapter titles descriptive. Use your readers’ common language to give an idea in the title about what the chapter covers.
Make your chapter title a promise. Tell your reader what he or she will get from reading the chapter.
Be straightforward, even blunt. This is not the time for cute or “creative” writing. Skip the literary allusions and any and all puns. If you must do something like that, make it a subtitle.
We can write the greatest of books, but readers will not purchase them, let alone read them, if we don’t take the time to tell the reader what’s in it for him or for her. That’s what the table of contents is for.