The Title: Does it Tell People What Your Book is About? Does it Sell Your Book?

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Part One in a series on self-publishing vs. professional publishing

Authors often wonder how self-publishing differs from professional publishing, either by one of the big traditional houses or by a new independent publisher like Barlow. We believe there is a huge difference between the two, so in this series of blogs, we’ll look at the difference between the two types of publishing. We’ll look at what’s on the cover, how the book is edited, the distribution channels, and the all-important marketing. Along the way, you’ll find that a professionally published book begins with deep strategic thinking about every aspect of the project — from the core idea of the book to the marketing and promotion. Self-published authors often skip this step, but if they do, they may be disappointed with the results of all their hard work, especially if they hope to create a book that will be read by more than a handful of readers.

The Title

We all know that the cover sells a book, but before you even get to cover design, you need a title. It’s the driving force of a good cover, and it acts as a foundation, setting the right tone both visually and literally. So you have to consider this carefully: What are you going to call your book?

At Barlow, we spend a lot of time thinking about this. We work with our authors, editors and our marketing expert, Jennifer Murray, former vice-president of marketing at Penguin Canada, to create the title. Sometimes, after a dozen tries, it’s the author who hits gold: Leslie Strong came up with The YOU Factor as the title of her book, which helps women get unstuck by taking responsibility for their lives. Sometimes you inch into a title: Dr. Paul Garfinkel settled on A Life in Psychiatry after we went back and forth with dozens of potential names that might appeal to his core audience of mental health professionals. Rebecca Eckler’s title, The Mommy Mob, emerged from her manuscript, which was about the outrageous behavior of some of the mommy bloggers. There’s no single route to a good title, but all good titles share a couple of key features: They tell you what the book is about, and they make you want to read it. It seems obvious, but it’s hard to do.

Too Clever?

Many self-published authors unknowingly try to be too clever with their titles. They seize an inside joke or strain for effect. Or they try to be mysterious but just end up vague. The result is a title that just leaves the reader wondering or, worse still, that simply goes unnoticed. Unfortunately, none of these methods help to sell a book. How would you know, for instance, that Fog Lights is actually a very helpful book for business people? Could you guess that When Harry Met Sally is actually a much-needed book about divorce for older people? Just what is a book called U Is for Urine all about?

To write the title, you have to know what the book is about. You also need to ask a key question: Who is going to read your book? The answer can’t be “everyone.” A goods title aims at the intended audience. You have to understand your readers’ wants and needs. If your audience is women in their 60s who have just separated from their husbands, are they going to be in the mood for a book of jokes about divorce? Or, if the book is serious, why would you evoke one of the movie world’s most hilarious scenes on your cover?

Make no mistake: it’s very difficult to come up with a good title — especially one that is not already in the bookstores. Yet it is worth the considerable effort: If you’re selling in stores, readers will judge you on both your title and the cover art that works with it. The title is no less important if you plan to sell your book at speeches and seminars. It needs to catch the attention of your target audience and still be polished and professional. Read your title aloud: Would you be comfortable telling strangers that you have a great new book they should read with this title?

At Barlow, we address these questions long before the book goes into production. We work closely with our authors to answer these basic but important questions to create the right title—one that works both for them and their market.

Next week: Cover art