How to Pick a Bestselling Title by Guest @BarbaraDelinsky
Your novel is done and you’re ready to start hyping characters and plot on social media, which is the current marketing tool of choice, right?
Only in part. Social media is important. Same with building hype with blog endorsements. Before you get to those, though, you need a good title. Studies suggest that the average reader makes a book-buying decision in less than three minutes based largely title and cover. Okay, the recommendation of a friend (or Reese Witherspoon) helps, or, if you’ve published before and have a devoted following, they may snap up your book on the weight of your name alone. A gripping plot description on the book jacket helps, but only if the shopper actually opts to read this summary.
How to make that happen? How to get the reader to actually pick up your book and take a closer look?
The Title Is Crucial
It and the cover art are usually the first things the buyer sees. For this blog, I’ll focus on title.
But which is the right one? IMHO, the best ones are catchy. They flow. They’re not hard to pronounce. They’re easy to remember. Most important, they say something about the book and should speak to your target audience. Do you know who that target audience is? Of course, you do. Do you know other books this audience has loved? Of course, you do. These things should play a role in determining your title. But there are other things as well.
– e.g.., titles used by bestselling authors whose books are exactly like yours. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, said Oscar Wilde. This isn’t to say you take a bestselling title and change a single word, such as ‘a’ to ‘the’. But you can decide why that bestselling title works for you and try to emulate it.
Once you’ve chosen a title, do an Amazon search to make sure that the exact one wasn’t used last year, or, for that matter, on a book coming next fall. You can search Amazon for future books in a particular genre. This isn’t a bad idea to do.
Style Of Title Is Another Consideration
What’s hot? What’s not? It used to be that long titles were rarely used. I titled one of my books When Being Everything Wasn’t Enough, which I believe to this day is the very best title for this book. The plot is about a woman whose marriage is falling apart because her husband’s weak ego can’t accept that her business is a success while this fails, so he sues her for custody of the kids and big alimony. Well, my publisher believed that this title was too long. In the years since, long titles have arrived and are now commonly used, but back in 1997? Nope. The book was published as A Woman’s Place. I could live with this one, at least.
Not so Blood of the Rich. This title won’t ring a bell to any of you out there, because it never saw the light of day. But it was a no-brainer title for me. Not only did it fit the story, which included a murder mystery, hidden parentage, and a family saga, but at a time when I was struggling to be taken seriously by booksellers as a mainstream writer, it carried weight, I thought. My publisher thought differently. They retitled the book, Twilight Whispers. It sold well, but I’ve always felt that the title suggested a softer, sweeter book than the multi-themed book it is. If that was true, I did lose some sales.
Unfortunately, when it comes to title, the publisher does have the final say. As I said at the start, a title is a major marketing tool. I write; my publisher markets. And so the book I called The House My Mother Built became Blueprints. The book I called The Makeup Artist became Before And Again. Do I think these titles are better than mine? No. Do I think the books would have sold better with my titles? Yes. Do I wish I’d made a stronger argument for the better title? Yes!
I know my audience better than anyone else. I also know my book. That means, IMHO, that I should have more sway in choosing title and cover.
A Word About IMHO
I’ve used it twice here and may yet use it again, because the inclusion of ‘humble’ is important. A successful writer must be humble in dealing with those who sell her book. Insist on a title that the sales force hates and they will not aggressively sell your book.
A perfect example is my next book, the one I’ve just now finished writing. My audience is female and wants an intelligent escape from their own lives – a “beach book with substance,” as People Magazine once said of my books. My title has to appeal to that. My audience is also heavily commercial, meaning that while I see my books selling in Indies to the sophisticated reader, my publisher sells huge numbers of my books at places like Costco, Target, and Walmart, whose shoppers run the gamut from sophistication to not. Since publishing is about sales, I have to listen to my publisher.
To that end, I originally titled my current book Life With Memory, because this book is about memory – about how it may deteriorate or be repressed or never saved in the first place – about how different people may have different memories of the same event. But Life With Memory takes some pondering while the reader is considering a purchase, and that deters the impulse-buy factor.
My second choice is What I Remember. Readers like this one, they told me in a poll I ran on social media. BTW, if you want to use social media, running a poll with possible titles involves the reader in the book’s publication, which bodes well for sales. I wasn’t as wild about What I Remember as I am about A Week at the Shore, which is perfect for a vacation read coming out in June (2020) and lends itself to gorgeous cover art.
In the end, the publisher will choose. Stay tuned for that.
A Final Note Here
I’ve always worked with traditional publishers, but even if you’re working with a non-traditional one or self-publishing, the general premise of this blog is the same. Know your audience. Know your book. Know what the market wants most right now. Then go for it!
From a multimillion-selling master of women’s fiction, Before and Again is a story of the relationships we find ourselves in—mothers and daughters, spouses and siblings, true companions and fair-weather friends—and what kind of sacrifices we are or aren’t willing to make to sustain them through good times and bad.
Barbara’s latest, Before and Again, released in 2018.
The paperback version will be available this June.
Rachel Thompson is giving away one free consulting session (author branding or social media – writer’s choice) Value: $175.
Want to win this giveaway? Simply leave a comment WHY below!
All comments must be left prior to midnight on Friday, May 31st, 2019 in order to be eligible to win. Winners for the week announced on Saturday, June 1st.
Personal bios are really hard to write for those of us who make a living dramatizing bios for pretend people. Anything I write about me feels totally boring.
Bestselling author of BEFORE AND AGAIN. Brakes for squirrels, loves to read.
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