Selecting a Title

We all know that you can’t judge a book by its cover but people do it everyday which is why your cover is so important. For me, it’s too important to leave to cover generating software or some boilerplate template that publishers use.

On the same subject of judging a book, the title acts in the same way. This is why it is not a good idea to become too attached to your well thought out title. Here’s why: unless someone is in the store specifically looking for just your book your title will have to do all the selling. When a reader, or you, scans the shelves at Borders for something that might interest you, you first notice the title. If the book has been fronted on the shelf, you will notice the cover and title but most books are not displayed this way. If the title is intriguing enough to make you take the book off the shelf you will then look at the cover and either the back or inside jacket for the plot summary. If that keeps your interest you will read the first paragraph. And, if you continue to turn at least three pages, you will probably buy the book.

So let’s go back to what made you want to take the book off the self, the title. This is your front line on the marketing battlefield and it needs to reach out and grab the reader by the hand, shake their hand, slap them in the face, reset the time on their watch, and say, “read me.”

This is where my un-scientific market research comes into the picture. No matter how incredible I think my title is, I still put it up to a vote. I do this by sending all my friends in my email address book five to ten different titles that would fit with my manuscript and I tell them this:

Knowing nothing about the book, if you saw these titles on a shelf, which one would make you pick up the book to see what it is about?

Every time I have done this, the title that I thought would be judged as the most spectacular doesn’t even get a single vote. Usually, the most favorite title makes me ask the question, “Why did they like that one?” I used to follow up with more emails to find the rationale behind their decision but I have learned it doesn’t matter. For whatever reason, and they all have different reasons, they chose the title that interested them the most. This is all that matters. You want a title that will speak to your market.

This process is how one of my manuscripts changed from the title The Last Hunter to Ice Age Paradox. I think you might even agree that the latter is more interesting than the first.

So do not fall in love with your title, let it be a work in progress. Try to stay away from a title that will make more sense after you read the book, and don’t loose focus that the title is there to sell the book.


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