HOOK THAT “KILLER” TITLE!
Anybody out there like to fish? I sure do! I know that once a fish takes your bait, it has two options: it can let the bait go, or bite too hard and catch the hook. But you might not know which it is, so if you want to make sure you catch that fish, you must give a tug on the line to set the hook in its mouth so it can’t get away. Then, you reel it in…
Did you know that’s what book titles are supposed to do? I didn’t. Never thought about it before. You’d think being a commercial art major in college, I’d have realized that, and yes, I wrote lots of headlines (titles for articles or advertisements–same principle) in some of my courses. I do understand the concept perfectly, however, I’ve never written a book myself, so I had no personal experience to pound that concept into my mind for this project. I have been out of school too many years…
For the last three years, I have been operating under the assumption that I would title my book WOMEN’S STUDIES – Defining Moments. Early this year, after I finished all the paintings for the book, I began the difficult task of editing, and learning how to put it all together. Part of that pertained to titling. Oh, easy! I had that already figured out! Until I read the educating part. Wish I could remember who’s book or blog I got this from, so I could refer you to it. I think I may have gotten it from Stephen King’s book, ON WRITING – A Memoir Of the Craft, (excellent book!) but I’m not sure. I can’t check because I returned it to my son and editor, to whom it belongs. So, I will lay out what a title is supposed to be, as much as I can recall, since I didn’t take notes.
First, I’ll go with what titles shouldn’t be. They shouldn’t be vague, or too long. They shouldn’t be confusing with similar titles out there. They shouldn’t be graphic or explicit so that you’d be embarrassed saying the title out loud to someone in a public place where you could be overhead. Especially since a great number of sales are the result of word-of-mouth recommendations. Most importantly, titles shouldn’t be boring. Well, I didn’t have to worry about the vulgar or too-long parts, but a simple Google search showed me that the key words, “studies” and “defining” covered literally thousands and thousands of book titles. Would you want to go through all those searching for one book? There are studies and defining moments of everything on earth, from science, history, the arts, athletics, politics, medicine, you name it! When I got down to the brass tacks, I also thought my title was uninteresting and vague. One of the things I learned was that non-fiction almost always needs a sub-title to bring clarity of what the book’s about if the main title doesn’t offer an explanation. My sub-title didn’t even do that! Thus, I knew right away I’d need to re-title my book, and use the WOMEN’S STUDIES title as a working title only. I referred to that in my March 15 blog, “The Art Of Making Art Into A Book”.
The second part of my education on titling examines what a title should be. The main title should be short. It should be memorable so it can be recalled and easily looked up or told to someone else. It should be interesting, standing apart from millions of other titles. It can be provocative, (not explicitly embarrassing). It helps a lot to have a “hook”. A successful title has these attributes.
How do you find that out? First, write a list of potential titles, maybe five or six. Do a poll among your family, friends , your Facebook followers or blog/ web site followers, to select the title and sub-title (if using one) they like best. This won’t be an accurate poll, because they know you personally or through online avenues, and already know what your book is about. They have preconceived notions, and similar backgrounds to yours. Your family and personal friends will buy the book no matter what the title is. Your followers may also, because you have been making them interested for months as you’ve talked about it. They want the content. But the thousands who are browsing in bookstores or online book sites know nothing about you or your book if you are an emerging, self-publishing author. This is where a non-biased poll comes into play. I put a poll up on PickFu (www.pickfu.com). For a small fee, they conduct instant polls on book titles, cover art, and about anything else you need. They send your poll question out to vetted respondents across the country. These people are like the browsers — they never heard of you or your book. They select what to them is the best title option you’ve presented, based on which one interests them enough to want to check a book out and see what it’s about. Then, they leave a comment explaining why they made their choices. Something has to grab them, to make them pick up or click on the book and at least open it to see what it is, rather than passing it by. It’s the first step to making that sale. If the title is ho-hum or offending, they won’t even bother to check, no matter how good your book is! That is the #1 job of a title, and it must be compelling enough to hook them into looking further. The title is the first advertisement most people will see about your book. If it’s memorable, intriguing, and the subject interests them, they will buy it and tell others, who can also remember it well enough to look it up in a store or online, and so on. I took my favorite title and another one that ranked very high among the respondents of my personal poll. I filtered it on PickFu to my target audience: women. 33 of the 50 women polled selected the title that was my favorite. The reasons? They were intrigued by the “hook” and wanted to know what the book was about. It tickled their curiosity. They felt the second option was boring. Just 17 chose the second option. Their comments ranged from “lofty”, “inspiring,” or “poetic.” They thought the first option was silly or risque. Their comments in favor of option #2 were nice, but it was clear from the numbers that this title wasn’t going to get the fish onto my hook.
Along with the poll results and comments came the demographics of the respondents: percentages of positive reactions for each option in the different age levels, income brackets, educational levels, and ethnicity. It was intensely interesting to me, and gave me a lot to think about. I believe it was one of the most valuable things I’ve done in this process, and I hope to run it again as I get closer to sending stuff off to the publisher.
Bottom line: if you are thinking about writing a book, no matter what the genre is, I urge you to take advantage of these polls. Many people don’t realize the importance of a title! They come up with a title they like, and believe the whole world will like it also. Trouble is, they are so close to their project, they can’t see how others might perceive it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve passed by books on the shelves or online because of boring titles. Usually, self-publishing houses have people on staff who will come up with titles, but according to my research, they often miss the mark as well. YOU are the creative one! Do your homework; come up with some titles you like, and some you might not like, but run the polls. Their results may surprise you! You have too much invested in your project to have it fail when it doesn’t have to. Your title is far too important to be weak. Take charge! Set the hook and reel in your sale!