Saturday, October 22, 2016

How Important is a Title? # 10/23/16 Round Rhobin

Topic: How important is a title? What attracts you to a certain title, and how do you determine what to title your book? 

Thank you Rhobin for another excellent topic!

I believe the  title of your book is–by far–the most important book marketing decision you’ll make.

 There’s little good guidance out there on the right way to think about titling your book. The few blogs that address this decision offer advice that is:

Trite – “Go with your gut!”
Superficial – “Browse bookstores for ideas!”
Actively harmful information – “Don’t spend too much time on it.”
They’re all wrong.

Just like companies spend millions on naming new products, and blogs spend hours testing different titles for their posts, you should spend serious time and energy finding the right book title.

This is a very important decision, one you need to think about and get right to ensure your book has the best possible chance of success.

Debbie Macomber, New York Times Bestselling Author, has spoken a number of times at The Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers meetings (I am a long time member).  When Debbie was writing serial romances for Harlequin/Silhouette she came up with her book titles by reading the names of race horses in the Sunday Newspaper.

Janet Daily, 1944 - 2013, began her writing career also writing for Harlequin Romance.  She set each one of her novels in an U.S.A. state.  Each title was often the state's motto.

Why Do Book Titles Matter?

The title is the first piece of information someone gets about your book, and it often forms the reader’s judgment about your book.

Let’s be clear about this: A good title won’t make your book do well. But a bad title will almost certainly prevent it from doing well.

Based on loads of empirical research and our decades of experience in the book business, we have a pretty clear picture of what happens in the mind of a potential reader when evaluating a book. They consider these pieces of information about a book, in this order (assuming they come across it randomly in a bookstore or browsing on the internet):

The title of the book
The cover of the book
The back cover copy (the book description copy, if it’s online)
The flap copy (or the reviews, if it’s online)
The author bio (depending on where it is)
The book text itself (or they use the “see inside” function to read a few paragraphs)
The price

The title is the first thing the reader sees or hears about your book–even before the cover in most cases–and getting your title right is possibly the most important single book marketing decision you’ll make (even though most people don’t think about it as marketing).

The 5 Attributes Of Good Book Titles

A good title should have all of these attributes:

Attention Grabbing
Informative (gives idea of what book is about)
Easy to say
Not embarrassing or problematic for someone to say aloud to their friends
Attention Grabbing

This should be pretty obvious. There are a million things pulling on people’s attention, and you need a title that stands out. A bad title is one that’s boring, or seems boring.

There are many ways to grab attention; you can be provocative, controversial, exciting, you can make a promise, etc. The point is your title should make people stop and pay attention to it.

Remember, a book title is not only the first thing a reader hears about your book, it’s the one piece of information that a reader has that leads them back to the book itself. If your book is recommended to them by a friend, and they can’t remember the title, then they can’t go find it in a bookstore or on Amazon.

A good test is to ask yourself this question:

If you were to tell someone the title of your book at a party, would they have to ask what it’s about?
If so, that’s probably a bad title.

Also, don’t out-think yourself on your title.

By using a word or phrase that is either not immediately understandable by your desired audience, or doesn’t convey the point of the book, you are putting a huge obstacle in front of your success.

Easy To Say

 Tongue twisters and hard to say phrases reduce the likelihood that people will engage the book or say it out loud to other people.

This is a concept called cognitive fluency–to make it simple, it means that people are more likely to remember and respond favorably to words and phrases they can immediately understand and pronounce. We don’t want to go too far into the psychological explanations here, but the point is this: Don’t try to be too sophisticated at the risk of becoming obscure. It will only hurt your book.

Step 2: Brainstorm

This step is simple.

Spend at least a few days writing down every single title idea you can think of.

Telling someone to brainstorm is like telling someone to “be creative,” meaning that it’s not an easy thing to describe. That being said, we will will list every possible way we know of to find a good book title, complete with examples (remember, these techniques are not just for your main title, they will be the basis for your subtitles as well).

Use clever or noteworthy phrases from the book: This is very common in fiction, and can work well with novels. It also works well with non-fiction books, where the concept of the book can be summed up quickly or with one phrase.


The Black Swan
Lecturing Birds On Flying
I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell
Use both short and long phrases: We usually start with a really long title and work our way down to much shorter phrases. The goal is to have the main title be as short as possible–no more than 5 words (genre fiction varies)–and have the subtitle offer the context and put in important keywords.

Use relevant keywords: For non-fiction especially, searchability matters. You want to make sure that when someone searches for the subject or topic of your book, it will come up on Google and Amazon.

If you are unsure of this, go look on Amazon and see how often subtitles and titles are use additional keywords to attract more search engine traffic.


The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons In Personal Change
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Use Amazon/Goodreads/Wikipedia for inspiration:

Wikipedia’s list of the best-selling books of all time
Goodreads list of best book titles
Amazon’s current best-selling books

Try Random Title Generators: I’m not going to tell you these are great ways to find book titles. But sometimes people get desperate, and this is something you could try if you ran out of other options:

Finally: Make Sure The Title Is Not Already Popular

No, you cannot copyright titles. Technically, you can call your book “To Kill A Mockingbird” or “Lord Of The Rings” or even “The Lion,The Witch, and the Wardrobe.”

That being said, copying a popular book’s makes it VERY hard for your book to stand out, and pretty much guarantees a lot of negative reviews from people who are not getting the book they expected to get.

Happy Reading & Writing,
Please visit the writers who are participating in this month's Round Rhobin!


Marci Baun
A.J. Maguire
Victoria Chatham
Skye Taylor
Judith Copek 
Helena Fairfax
Heather Haven
Dr. Bob Rich 
Margaret Fieland
Rachael Kosinski
Rhobin Courtright


Rhobin said...

Wow, Connie! Very thorough but succinct advice. I now know some of my titles were not well thought out. For me, a thought provoking post.

Skyewriter said...

I learned the hard way to always make sure there aren't a dozen other books out there by the same title. Very thought provoking blog. I'm always stopped dead when I post a blog and I have to till in the title line - I wrote the blog and I'm ready to post, but I never think to spend time on the title before logging in and then I'm like....What now? I'll spend more time in the future - thanks for the hint.

Marci Baun said...

This is really an excellent bit of advice, Connie. I think people also need to take into consideration the genre they write in and what type of title appeals to that demographic. I've been struggling with the title for my latest WIP. You've given me some food for thought. Thank you.

Bob Rich said...

Connie, this is a very impressive bit of scholarly work. Thank you.

This sentence stood out for me:

"A good title won’t make your book do well. But a bad title will almost certainly prevent it from doing well."

Rachael Kosinski said...

Connie, I've seen a few other authors on this Round Robin stressing other writers to Google their titles before committing to them in case there's another book with the same title, too. I never thought of this and will be doing it in the future. So thank you!

Victoria Chatham said...

What an excellent piece on titles Connie. Thank you.

JudyinBoston said...

You have given this a lot of analytical thought, and it shows. Excellent article on titles. Have you thought of sending it to a writing magazine? I think you should.