By Karen Albright Lin
A catchy title has always been an important part of marketing a book. It’s no less true now that e-books are taking over the world. It ranks up there with cover art and your blurb. As your potential buyer scrolls across relevant titles, yours needs to grab their attention NOW!
Your title should reflect the genre and flavor of your book. If it’s snarky, let the title reflect cynicism and irreverence. If you write ironic, make that clear with your title. If your book is dry, rewrite the book.
Short, simple titles are easier to remember and tend to rank higher in sales. But a good long title is still far better than a crappy short title. That being said, I find lengthy, abstract titles irritating because I can’t remember them. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet starred in the surreal Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I tend to remember the “Spotless Mind” part of the title, but I have to look the movie up on IMDB whenever I want to refer to it properly. I’ll channel Eeyore here; if they’d asked me, and nobody did, I would have suggested they stick with “Spotless Mind". As is true with all elements of writing, from plot down to the structure of a sentence, the first thing that comes to mind is often not the best. Brainstorm and shoot a few ideas past your friends.
Some titles mean something different by the end of the movie. Some have double meanings, one figurative, one literal. Challenge yourself to find a title that works on several levels. An example is Sophie’s Choice. The title refers to the gut-wrenching choice forced upon her—which of her children to save—but also her choice to survive the Holocaust through an unsavory relationship with a Nazi. And it works for her present-day story, her choice to stay with an emotionally abusive man.
You can even make up a new word for your title. Butterology. We can guess what that book would be about. Since I love butter, I could get behind such a book. Lulu has a fun title scorer. Statisticians analyzed the titles of NY Times #1 bestsellers. Lulu’s algorithm judges your title based on how many words, what parts of speech, literal or figurative, whether it includes a name, etc. It will suggest to you what percentage chance your book has of being a bestseller. Of course, this is just for fun, but it will make you think about the importance of titles. Go to http://www.lulu.com/titlescorer/
Nonfiction is often easier. These titles tend to be straightforward. Two considerations are most important. Along with the promise of entertainment, a nonfiction title needs to suggest how the book will benefit the reader. Its subtitle usually qualifies the title’s promise. If I knew how to design hats, I might write Top it Off: The Lost Art of Designing Hats. Think catchy and clear.
It’s obvious for nonfiction. But with fiction, too, you’ll want to make it easily found with search engines, not only for online sales sites like amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com, but for general search engines like Google or Bing. Be sure the title contains the most obvious words your reader would use in a search. If you write bibliomysteries, consider having a subtitle that reads "A Bibliomystery by XXX". A fitting title is only one piece of Search Engine Optimization, but I’d argue that it’s the most important. If you decide to dig in deeper about how to get your book seen online, you can read one of the many tomes on SEO. On a quick search, the ones that caught my attention are those with “Secret” in their names. Apply their wisdom to your own title.
If you are going traditional, your publisher may insist on using a different title. Gripe into your pillow. Their publicity people have years of experience behind their suggestion and you would be wise to follow their lead. They could be appealing to an audience with more disposable income or making it more edgy to capture younger readers. They might have had a bad experience with a title that was a little too close to yours. They may need something that will complement the cover art they have in mind. That too may not be to your liking, but typically you don’t have much input on that. Allow the experts to help; they have every reason to do what is right for your book sales.
Browse through a brick and mortar or online bookstore and see which titles draw your attention and why. Remember the title you have in your head as you write may be an inspiration for your opus and the greatest marketing tool. It may also act as a placeholder, changing later. Find the best title you can and be open to discussion if asked to change it by those who have more experience than you. Most importantly, have fun with it!