Trying to sell a book with an uninteresting title is like trying to sell a homely pre-owned car—the buyer is probably going to browse right over the rusted ‘99 Saturn to check out the pristinely waxed Honda parked next door. Although the interior looks great, and the gas tank is full, the Saturn’s dullness holds no ground against the Armor-All tires of its competitor.
Your book’s title serves as the deal breaker for your target consumers. Take a lesson from the used-car analogy and don’t let a dull or overused phrase ruin a book’s selling potential. A title should attract the intended audience, communicate the promise of the book, and differentiate the book in the market. Pick a title with purpose! Here we’ll discuss how to make that purpose come to life with brainstorming techniques, essential titling elements, and some no-no’s to avoid when narrowing down your title.
If your having trouble getting those creative juices flowing, it’s time to spice up your brainstorming session with a few key ingredients:
Summarize the core message and promise of your book: The title should detail the book’s fundamental message and give a clear picture of the author’s narrative style.
Market differentiation: It is of utmost importance to do your research. Study market trends within the genre and decipher what makes your book unique. How is this book relatable, who will it appeal to, and why?
Reflect sales goals: Create a mission statement for the audience you are trying to reach. What are your sales goals? For example, “Retail appeal for inspirational business readers, sold at point of sale or given as gifts.” Analyze how your offer will be useful to the audience buying your book. This brainstorming tip will help keep you focused on appropriate language to incorporate into your title.
Your title needs essence. Give it a soul with these pointers:
Be original: Avoid overused phrases and strive to be one of a kind. We’re all tired of seeing The 7 Habits of So and So and How To Do This and That.
Be intriguing to your audience: Entice your target consumer with clever narrative skills. Use interesting turns of phrases, play on words, alliteration, and other techniques to bring creativity into your title. Witty examples include Tongue Fu, Snakes in Suits, and The Myth of War.
Be pithy: A title that is concise and eloquent in its expression will foreshadow its meaningful content.
Here are some no no’s to avoid in your title:
Lengthy words: Long words are distracting in a cover design, while short words allow for larger typeface and a clearer message.
Jargon: There is a time and a place for colloquialisms, and that should not be in the title of your book. Steer clear of buzzwords.
Made-up words: What would you do if you saw Griftopia written on the cover of anything but a fantasy novel? Probably, walk away. On top of often sounding hokey, word mash-ups make a book difficult to search for in inventory systems.
Negativity: The negativity strategy works in politics and for Dr. Laura, but unless your book’s content is intentionally provocative, not everyone likes a confrontational message. Something like Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free is appropriate for the subject matter, but otherwise keep your title’s language on a more positive note. You’re selling a solution, not the problem.
Copycat syndrome: Avoid legal troubles—check, check, and check again for trademark or copyright issues. Stay original.
We all judge a book by its title, so choose wisely! Although the selection process may take time, be patient, do your research, and give your book the name it deserves.
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If you don't give your book a good name, it will get teased on the playground, and grow up to resent you because of it. A title is how people know and remember a book, much as they know and remember a person. At Greenleaf, work on a book's cover design does not begin until the title is set. The title is the beginning, the introduction, the opening statement, and it sets the tone for the reader. So make it good.
But also make it useful. You have more leeway with a novel, but for non-fiction especially, the title must set a reader's expectations. Momma's Big Book of Classic Sewing Patterns does this pretty well, whereas Sew Be It is (arguably) wittier, but a reader would probably have to read the back of the book before knowing exactly how the book related to his or her favorite hobby. Warm Meals for "Chili" Days . . . and Nights! is both direct and (arguably) witty.
Pay attention to the interaction between title and subtitle. If your book has a punchy, one-word title, your subtitle needs to be long enough to provide clear explanation (Ka-BOOM!: 13 Strategies for Explosive Revenue Growth in the Mining Industry). Conversely, if you have a longer title, you don't necessarily need a long subtitle (The Only Guide to Revenue Growth You'll Ever Need: 13 Successful Strategies).
If you're having difficulty deciding on a title, tell people about your book in your own words, and describe what you want your readers to come away with. Sometimes that will shake loose some important key words or phrases, and you can build from there. If all else fails . . . just go for it.
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A book’s title is important. It’s a crucial summary of the essence of the content inside, and one of the key ways a book pitches itself to browsers when it’s all alone on the bookstore shelf. Get the title wrong and a book is crippled from the outset. And there are all sorts of mistakes to be made in titling: genre-inappropriate titles, overly clever titles that don’t reflect what the book’s about, titles with strange formatting or cute intentional misspellings that make the book not show up in online search results.
If you’re trying to title your book and getting frustrated, you’re in good company. For instance, George Orwell almost called his dystopian masterpiece The Last Man in Europe instead of 1984. Bo-ring. And Moby-Dick was named after a real-life whale named “Mocha Dick.” It’s a good think Melville changed it up—can you imagine the cleverly named Starbucks menu items? (Starbucks got its name in part from Captain Ahab’s first mate in the novel.)
Those two title tidbits came from a website we recently came across called, quite appropriately, How Books Got Their Titles. Author Gary Dexter gives anecdotes and insights into well-known titles and how they were derived. Some—like Married Love as the title of a sex manual that very well could have been accused of obscenity upon its 1918 release—artfully spin the book’s presentation to appeal to its target audience while accurately representing the content inside. Read through these and perhaps you’ll gain a little inspiration for your own titling endeavor.
Dexter’s full-length book on the topic is called Why Not Catch-21?
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Tip #1: Tweak Cover Design Conventions—But Don't Discard Them Entirely
Business books don’t look like self-help books don’t look like fiction. This may seem obvious to some, but it is a common problem I see when we're evaluating new books for publication or distribution. When consumers want to buy a business book, for example, they expect certain imagery, fonts, colors, and layout styles, whether they realize it or not. The best-selling business books often use large, simple fonts and bright colors to keep the focus on the title (like this or this).
If your book cover or layout doesn’t make sense for its genre, it could hurt your sales.
That means that it might be a better idea not to make the cover of a book about investing neon pink with pictures of your dog, no matter what your artistic sensibilities are. Now that’s not to discourage innovation—there is always a new and better way to do things. The mold can be broken, but for new authors this can pose a risk (although sometimes ugly covers work). Whatever the case, choosing a genre-appropriate cover will signal credibility and familiarity to customers, which can translate into more sales.
A quick way to get some ideas is to go to Amazon or your local bookstore to check out titles similar to yours that are selling well. Notice the styling of other books, what imagery they use, and what that conveys to you as the reader. If you like what you see, figure out a way to adapt those principles to your cause. A book can stand out to buyers by employing creative cover art and a well-thought-out interior while staying within the bounds of the genre.
Katie Steigman reviews Greenleaf’s submissions for market viability and helps determine what books to take on as projects at GBG. She reads everything—the good, the bad, the ugly, and all genres from personal finance to cookbooks.
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Naming your baby can be a hard thing to do. Parents argue for months about what to call their newborn; some parents want to continue a tradition and name the child after themselves, others simply want to know what three names will sound best together shouted across a busy toy store. The analogy of book to baby is common, and naming that book can be just as difficult as naming the baby. So unless you want your book to get shoved into lockers and beaten up on the playground every day, here are some important titling rules.
- Rule #1: Go beyond basic. You could call your book about accounting for small businesses Accounting for Small Businesses, or you could show a little flair. Give it a hook. Try it out as a question, a command, or statement. For instance, the above book sounds (a little) better as Balance Your Books in 15 Minutes: A Guide for Small Businesses. Say something interesting and you’ll stand out from the crowd.
- Rule #2: Don't let it get too long. You have exactly eight seconds to grab a reader’s attention, and if your title is too confusing or cluttered, they will immediately move on. Boil your book down to a few words or phrases that sum up its contents. Say just enough to pull the reader in, and then stop.
- Rule #3: Make sure your title truly reflects the content of your book. If your title is Fishing in the Mountains, and it’s really all about getting good car insurance, you’re (obviously) going to attract the wrong kind of people. And all those people wondering how to buy car insurance will be forever left in the dark.
- Rule #4: Visualize the title on your ideal cover. The title will be a big component of the book’s exterior design, and your set of words needs to look good up in front. Mentally place your title on a proposed cover and see if it fits. Come up with a few fonts it would look good in. And finally:
- Rule #5: Draw inspiration from successful titles in your genre. Just like any parent, you want to believe that your book is smarter, faster, prettier, and cooler than all the other books, but it doesn’t hurt to see what’s worked for other top sellers in your category. At the same time, you don’t want your title to be a pale reflection of past hits; aim for a genre-appropriate title with a twist.
So when you’re ready to give your book a name, just think of how your own name has influenced your development, how it sums up the ineffable essence of you. Do your book a favor and grace it with a great name that will help it sell; don’t let your little baby get picked on by other, bigger books by giving it a title that’s the literary equivalent of “Norbert.”
Think you've already got a great one picked out? Put it to the test with Lulu's clever but scientifically dubious Title Scorer challenge.