Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Discoverability...picking the right title

In my continuing series on discoverability I turn now to titles. I was reading a great post by Kevin McLaughlin where he lays out 6 things you need (You can read the full article on his site - which is worth a read but as they say in the Princess Bride...."I'll sum up".

  1. You must have a great cover.
  2. You must have a great blurb.
  3. You must have an outstanding sample.
  4. You must have a good price.
  5. You must have a compelling book.
  6. You must write other books.
He makes the very astute observation that when someone first comes across you:

"That’s all you have for advertising – just your cover and title."

Many people put a lot time an effort, as they should, into creating a great cover - but do you put just as much time into thinking about the title?

Most authors come up with their book’s titles very early in the writing process with no thought about marketing. It could even be, that at the time they were planning on publishing it through a big house and figured they would take care of that (and they will). But if you are self-published, or have a publisher willing to work with you on title then you should be thinking about this.

When I come up with a title the first thing on my mind is: Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which basically means how likely is it to find your title using Google. For instance, one of Michael’s early books had a working title of “Wizards” but I would never release a book with that title. It is much too broad and would be nearly impossible to get dominance. If you type Wizards into Google right now there are 83,900,000 results. We selected the titles for Michael’s books very carefully. For instance if you Google Nyphron Rising, it returns 7,400 links and while I’ve not gone through all of them, I did looked through the first 10 pages (100 entries) and each one was related to Michael’s third book. This title has great SEO. Even if all you remembered was the Nyphron part you still get all entries related to Nyphron Rising.

The other issue with title selection has to do with what it conjures in people’s mind. I’m currently helping a new author with his thriller book. It is a about a female CIA agent who is after a criminal who starts off with a simple crime and escalates the stakes with each one. At each crime scene a card is left behind saying, “This was my xx crime, the next one will be bigger.” Taped to the card is a stick of gum (the first crime was stealing that pack of gum). The author’s title is, The Bubble Gum Thief. I really don't like this title...it conjures (for me) a kid's book featuring Scooby Doo or Encyclopedia Brown Boy Detective. So I would definitely re-title this before release.

If your book is in a series there are other things to consider. Can you tie them together in some way? When Orbit told us they would release Michael's six-book Riyria Revelations series as a trilogy the obvious question was - what do you call them? Michael took a step back and asked himself what was at the core of each. The first two books both revolve around stealing a sword. The second two books around a newly formed empire, and the last two about the lost heir of a forgotten time. To tie these together he decided to make each one be three words with "of" in the middle. Hence was born:

  • Theft of Swords
  • Rise of Empire
  • Heir of Novron
He proposed it to Orbit and they loved it and ran with it.

But what about the title of the series? How can you leverage this? Ridan inherited a few series (signed authors that were previously published) and their titles did little to nothing to enhance the series. Leslie Ann's Moore's Griffin's Daughter Trilogy is simply the name of the first book with Trilogy tacked on the end. Similarly Marshall Thomas's Soldier of the Legion Series is, once again the first book in with Series tagged on. Ugh! What were the previous publishers thinking of?

Again, looking to Michael's books his are entitled The Riyria Revelations. There are several things going on here. First "Revelations" is used to indicate that there are secrets and mysteries that will be revealed through the course of the books. And Riyria is the name used by the two main protagonists to refer to them as a single unit (Riyria is elvish for "two"). Riyria is also SEO friendly (75,300 - and again all relating to Michael's books).

Here's a big secret about B&N's search engine - it's pretty primitive. Selecting of categories doesn't help you out very much as it works primarily on titles. So...when posting your nook titles be sure to add a short descriptive phrase. For instance, if you search for: Military Science Fiction in B&N you get:
  • #1 - The Forever War
  • #3 - Solder of the Legion
  • #4 - March of the Legion
  • #5 - Cross of the Legion
  • #6 - Secret of the Legion
  • #7 - Slave of the Legion
Magic? Nope - I've just added, "a military science fiction adventure" to the title of each book. BTW - this is a "loophole" that B&N may plug at some point but for now it's worth using. But let's say they won't allow such "tagging" int the title in the future? Well if your series was named, "The Path Finder Epic" then you will still be found when someone types in that they are looking for Epic Fantasy.

Title choice is just one of a myriad of issues that has to be thought of from a “publishers” standpoint and not a “writers.” So if you don’t start out by changing your mindset early you’ll make a ton of small mistakes along the line that will all add up in the long run.

The morale of this story is use every tool available to you. Think of ways you can maximize every aspect related to your book. It is strategic thinking such as this that will help you get ahead of the pack.

60 comments:

Chris said...

The Bubblegum Thief... by Nora Wrigley

One killer, one gum shoe ... one sticky situation!

Chong Go Sunim said...

I couldn't agree more about the importance of good covers and titles. After several years of watching people at the Frankfurt bookfair, I can tell you with confidence that a book has about half a second to attract someone's attention.

If it does that, they'll focus on it for one or two more seconds. If they still like it, they may pick it up and glance at the blurb. If the blurb is good, they'll open the book and take a look at the contents. Then they'll give it 3-4 seconds to see if they like it. It really does take a quality cover, title, blurb, and layout to get people to the point of even considering the contents.

(The page layout is something that I think has been largely sacrificed lately, especially with ebooks, but a good layout can really make a huge difference in how easily the text draws you in.)

Congratulations, by the way, on signing Joe Haldeman! My jaw dropped when I saw that "The Forever War" was now one of your books. And it has a great cover!

Caledonia Lass said...

Well, that is how I usually buy a book, by looking at the title. If it doesn't catch my attention, sometimes I will flip to the back and read the blurb. But writing my own stuff, I am finding it difficult to come up with a good title. I hate when the title has nothing to do with the book.

Anonymous said...

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M.E. said...

Brilliant advice about picking a title with SEO in mind - I did not realize what a role this played in a book's online visibility. Thanks for sharing, Robin!

Webbiegrrl Writer said...

I've been wanting to write a Monday Marketing post on my own blog on precisely this subject so your article this past week showed up just in time to spark my thinking. I'll be linking to it, unquestionably!

@Chris, OMG, you crack me up!! Are you sure Nora Wrigley's not related to Nora Roberts because sticky situations and gummy shoes (or gummy bears, I always get them confused) are a Nora Roberts forte. She DOES come up in the search results on pretty much any and all books ever searched. Since she has more than 300 titles in print and over 300 million copies sold, it'd be kind of hard NOT to run into her books in search results remotely related to gum, thieves, Nora and killers. Except it'll be her "as" J.D. Robb ;-)

Robin Sullivan said...

@Chris - that is great!!

@Chong - You are so right - and thanks bout J. Haldeman - yeah my jaw dropped when I got that one for sure. And I'm glad you like the cover - we did up 3 or 4 of them - and this was my favorite. As always Michael was the artist.

@ME - marketing people live and die by SEO. I always start by thinking there first.

@Webbiegirrl - glad it was timely for you.

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