And How Important Is The Book Title Anyway!
When does “The End” not mean the end? The answer is, “When you are writing a book!” To paraphrase Churchill, “Never have so few words had so much influence over so many” The relief of writing the final page of your book blocks out the realisation that, even allowing for proof reading, editing, re-editing and publishing your still have to give it a name. In a few words it has to convey genre, content and, most importantly, it has to hook potential readers. For those who would staunchly defend the argument that “content rules” think again and please, carry on reading, I hope to change your mind!
How Important Is The Book Title?
Not so long ago I would have confidently answered this question by saying. “content rules” However, after researching the, “how, what and why” of book titles I was compelled to think again!. It seems a well crafted book title is more important than many, myself included, gave credit to. A book title can be the key that will translate the content into sales.
Enter E. Haldeman Julius. A book seller with an overwhelming desire to channel his marketing skills into making books accessible to everyone. To this end, he designed what would prove to be a research method which would produce surprising but unequivocal results. The method he used was simple. He printed thousands of books all with the same cover, price and content. The only difference between them, was the book title. He proved that by changing even one word in the book title he could boost book sales. If a book was not making sufficient sales he sent it to his “hospital” for a name change. Some examples of the success of his approach to book titles and sales have been recorded.
Art of Controversy sold zero while How To Argue Logically sold 30,000
The Mystery of the Iron Mask sold 11,000 copies. The Mystery of the Man in the Iron
Mask sold 30,000
Ten O’clock sold 2,000 but What Art Should Mean To You sold 9,000
His success as a publisher enabled him to fulfill his vision of printing books which were priced to be accessible to unskilled workers and scholars. From 1919-1979 he sold around 400 million “Little Blue Books” at only 5 cents each. He was described by an American newspaper as “the Henry Ford of literature”
“A good title is a work of genius“E. Haldeman Julius
The Building Blocks To Your Book Title
1. Back To Basic Research
The truth of the matter is, no matter how many hours are spent in generating a book title, a publisher may insist on changing it! That is not to say that those hours are a waste of time. If you take the view that the publisher is your first potential reader, those hours assume a much greater importance. If the book title does not engage the publisher the unread manuscript could end up in the “return to sender” pile.
The next decision relates to the genre of your work. Most readers have a preference for specific genres and publishers need to know the genre for promotional advertising . Should you ever hear yourself stumbling to describe the genre of your writing, it is time to re-evaluate the focus of your novel. “A romantic thriller with a humorous twist” is confusing for everyone which will only result in a confusing book title.
2. Brainstorming Never Fails
Any time we are faced with making a decision and the choices are overwhelming the best way to respond is to “brainstorm” possible solutions. Reducing the anxiety of making a decision frees up the creative center in the brain. Brainstorming was the process I used to arrive at my working book title, “Shadow Of An Early Settler”
- Voyage Of The Bold
- Journey To The New World
- The Early Settler
- Across The World
- Living On The Land
- Earth In His Soul
- Heart Of The Land
- Master Of His Land
- Living In The Past
- The Early Settler’s Legacy
- Early Settler Down Under
- New World Settler
- Shadow Of An Settler
- The Settler‘s Dream
- Found In The Past
- Voyage To A New Life
3. Eliminate The Obvious
The results of my brainstorm showed I had three foci viz; travel, land and history. As the process of eliminating titles supported the genre of my writing. I was confident that the title I chose reflected the genre of my writing.
4. Test Drive
In order to test drive a book title it has to be shared! For some, this may be the first time others have been brought into their private writing world. The only words of comfort I can offer is, “It has to happen sooner or later” A writer whose goal is to have a book published has to absorb and work with suggestions and criticisms.
For many would be authors the title of their book, even at the “work in progress” stage, is their baby and, as such, would not be discarded easily. Providing the test drive is carried out with an open mind, the end result will highlight the benefits of allowing others into your thinking process.
Book Titles: 1O Best Tricks Of The Trade
1. Alliteration: It is almost impossible to get through a whole day without being exposed to alliteration. Marketing guru’s, song writers, authors and classic philosophers use alliteration because it works.
Alliteration is often described as using “words that start with the same letter”. This can be true but not necessarily. The sound of the words can also produce alliteration. For example; Dahl’s, “James and the Giant Peach” is an alliterative book title whereas, “The Climate Is Changing” is not alliterative.
Using alliteration in a book title is pleasing to the ear in that it has an almost musical effect. This has the added advantage of making it easier to remember. It also explains why song lyrics are easy to remember if you sing the words.
2. Genre Specific:
The best way to describe a “genre specific” book title is to use a well known advertising jingle, “It does what it says on the tin” Research has shown that 60% of readers choose books by the genre. A title that makes it clear which genre it fits into saves a browser time and will focus their attention.
3. Character Recognition:
There are two instances when character recognition is used. The most obvious occurs when success has already been achieved, as in the case of the “Harry Potter” series. The second instance is the exact opposite! An unpublished writer may have already decided that an early a first novel will be followed by sequels. In this case using a main character in the book title will future proof for following publications.
4. Play On Words:
Manipulation of words can take many forms. “Eats Shoots and Leaves” springs to mind as one in which the place of a comma has the effect of forcing the reader to take a second look.
5. Intriguing Titles
Titles that intrigue are those that are thought provoking. If the response to a book title is, “I wonder what that’s about?” then it’s job is done. “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” has to be the perfect example
6. Humorous Book Titles
In the current climate of reduced live theatre many comedians have turned to writing. Other writers simply use humor as a way to share their stories. One of my favorites is, “Banjo, Boats and Butt Dialing”
7. Add A Subtitle
Unlike the book title, a subtitle does not have to hook the potential reader. The purpose of a book subtitle is to explain the themes of the story. It should not describe the plot, characters and resolution. If, “Shadow of An Early Settler” ever sees the light of day a subtitle could be, “19th Century Australia needed people. Thomas craved land, even if it was 12000 miles away” As a subtitle it needs work but it does cover the three themes of the narrative i.e. travel, land and history that was highlighted by the brainstorming activity. As with the title of a book, crafting a sub title is a well honed skill and my advice would be to gratefully accept the advice from the experts. Not only will they link the subtitle to your story, they will also include the all important keywords. The subtitle for “Sin in the Second City” has all the hallmarks of a winning subtitle. The theme of the narrative is made obvious, the setting is clear and the link to the title hints at a titillating subject. “Madams, Ministers, Playboys and the Battle For America’s Soul” What more could you want?
8. Use A Quote
It is true to say that there are more book titles out there which are actually quotes from other books that we realize. The Bible, Shakespeare, poets and the ancient classics have all had their words shared in a book title. A caveat to the benefits of using a quote from another source as a book title lies in the answer to how many of the books shown below do you recognize?
9. Avoid Confusion
There are are many ways a book title can confuse potential readers. It can be too long, use words that are difficult to pronounce or even use words you do not want to pronounce! However, book titles that deliberately mimic the title of another successful book will not only confuse the reader but may also alienate them.
10. Be Confrontational
Confrontation in book titles are obvious. That’s why they are used. Apart from gaining attention it also serves to alert the reader to potential confrontational material in the content. Being confrontational by choice sends a clear message. It immediately alerts the reader that this book offers content that is out of the ordinary. Beware of having a confrontational book title if it does not live up to expectations. Your reader will not be amused!
Can You Identify The Tips and Tricks Used In These Book Titles?
The Irony Of Book Titles
The sheer number and longevity of authors use of alliteration when composing their book titles, should convince any writer, that alliteration works. Haldeman clearly demonstrated that changing a book title would increase book sales. The irony is, once the author is attributed “the best selling author” tag he no longer has to concern himself with the title of his book. His name alone is enough!
Title Generating Tools
In a future post I will give a report on the various title generating tools. There have been a couple of new ones added to the list that I have yet to evaluate.
Writing Demands An Open Mind
“Do you have a working book title you would like to share? Please leave it in the comments below or, if you like feedback, there is always my Facebook Page”