Quantum asked how the wenches choose their titles and are they as important as the covers? (Quantum wins a book of mine and is still in the pot for the rest of the wenches, because it’s a fun question)
Whether we like it or not, book titles are important. Do you ever receive newsletters like Bookbub or EarlyBird advertising book sales? I’m picking through a recent one, and I apologize to any authors I might offend, but I pulled these titles off one sales sheet: Ballad of the Sad Café, The Revelation Room, Arkansas, Shadow of Ashland—what kind of books do you think these titles represent? Would you reach for any of them? I’d jump on Ballad of the Sad Café, and if I were bored or desperate, I might look into the Revelation Room, but the others, big yawn. THAT’s why titles are important—they persuade readers to snatch a book off the shelf and dive in.
Our weary brains have to process a lot of information every day. We’re constantly bombarded with ads, social media, newsletters, bookstore shelves, friend recommendations, the list of information sources is endless. For us to hear a message about a book, the title or cover has to jump out at us, hit us over the head, and shout Buy Me. So yeah, I’d say the title is almost as important as the cover.
A really good title tells us the book’s genre, excites interest, says “this is the kind of book you want to read.” What does Arkansas tell you? That it’s a history maybe? The cover isn’t any help. The publisher is relying on you to skip title and cover and read the blurb about “’sly, self-knowing, and hilarious’ novellas of escape and exile.” Yeah, I didn’t get that either.
So when a publisher titles a book, they’re looking at marketing. Speaking from a writer’s POV, I want to see an accurate portrayal of the story. The two do not always go hand in hand. When I’m working on a book, I tend to slap a title on it like The Viscount’s Dilemma. Or maybe just Lydia the Librarian. I’m simple-minded and like the obvious. I suspect most readers would look at my makeshift titles and think Regency Romance. They’d be wrong, although not by a whole lot. I do have a Regency sensibility, but I’m currently writing Victorian Romance with a paranormal twist. So my work-in-process titles don’t make the final cut. The book may be about a viscount and his problems, but the title has to appeal to readers who like Victorian romance and psychics. If they think it’s a sweet Regency, I’ve not only lost my intended audience, but I’ve disappointed a readership who expected a new Regency. Errors like that can kill an author’s sales.
So how do we settle on a title? Difficultly, very difficultly. When I was working with a traditional publisher, I’d set up lists of romantic adjectives and nouns that applied to my book and might appeal to my readers. I’d work through the list, sending my editor titles like “Blue Moon,” or “Romantic Nights,” and work my way through the list, “Blue Nights, Romantic Moon. . .” You get the picture. Eventually, I’d end up with Indigo Moon and voila, my editor would jump with joy. (Actually, I got that title on the first try, but that’s the only one ever.)
Now that I’m working with a cooperative of other authors, title hunting can become extremely. . . entertaining. We may all be professionals, but fantasy authors go for fantasy titles and The Magic Camera just won’t cut it in romance. And straight romance authors might want The Viscount’s Hot Dreams. Or we can lump it all together and go with Magical Hot Dreams. I’m the one who gets the final choice, and since I don’t write hot, any sexy titles are nixed. I have to be aware that while The Viscount’s Dilemma is exactly what the book is about, it won’t sell my book to readers who are waiting for my next Magical Malcolm book, but neither will hot dreams and magic cameras.
I still have lists of adjectives and nouns to jog my thought processes. Since the current books are part of the School of Magic series, I’d like to relate them to “school” while being romantic and give a hint of magic. Try that sometime. (Please, send me all titles you think might cover those requirements! I’m desperate. I still have three more books to go.) So I have lists of “school” words: teacher, academy, class, governess, and I have lists of “magic” words: illusion, enchantment, charm, and lists of “romantic” words: dreams, enticing, wicked. And then I have to pull them all together to fit the subject of the book. Uh huh, that’s happening.
But somehow I pulled together the first three books in the series: Lessons in Enchantment,
A Bewitching Governess, An Illusion of Love—so, yeah, I gave up the “school” connection on that third one. It didn’t help that the heroine is actually a photographer and not a teacher. Try working “photographer” into a romantic magical title! But “illusion” fits the magical category and “love” certainly says romance.
Before I reached those titles, however, I spent hours putting together ideas, showing them to the authors in my co-op, brainstorming ideas with other wenches, pounding my head against the desk. . . Titles may be partially creative, but left-brained marketing techniques are a substantial part of the whole, and that’s painful. I don’t naturally think like that. This is where traditional publishers have an advantage—they have trained marketing people and statistics on hand to say “Love” was a bestselling word in 3 out of 10 of their last titles, and “Illusion” fared well in 3 out of 5 of our paranormal series. . .
And yes, publishers have people on staff whose purpose is to come up with those titles you love to hate—and they haven’t even read the book. So I guess I do have some advantage. I at least know what the book is about. Otherwise I might just go to Amazon, find the top-selling titles in the genres I’m marketing, and start a new list of nouns and adjectives.
An Illusion of Love is up for pre-order and will be out on July 21st. I’m working on the three books that will be released next year. The temporary title I mentioned above, Lydia the Librarian, is one of next year’s books. Another is currently passing as The Earl’s Medallion. Neither of those titles will make the cut. If you were a marketing department that has never read the book, what words would you suggest that would fit my parameters—school related/ romance/ psychic/ Victorian?
Do you have any favorite title stories? Have you ever bought a book for the title? (I started a life-long love of Terry Pratchett when I snatched up Wyrd Sisters.)
And just in case you’re interested, one of my contemporary romances, Imperfect Rebel, will be free through July 22 at all retailers. It’s funny and sad and best of all, free. And it’s on its second title already—the first was Almost Perfect, which fit the book much better but didn’t work for the series.