Once upon a time your book sold through reviews, word of mouth, and the occasional impulse-buy. It was your book’s cover’s job to grab that passerby, and good designers knew how to do it. Your title had to be pithy, or interesting, or descriptive.
In a world where electronic sales are increasingly important, the words that compose your title need to do much more, and they need to do it while continuing to be pithy, or interesting, or descriptive.
The first step is to think about how you expect to attract readers. Will people be looking for your particular book? Will they be looking for a good book on a particular topic? Is your book about an event or a person? Will most of your sales be paper or ebook, and will they be through an online store like Amazon, or will they be from your web site? Do you expect to be carried in brick and mortar bookstores?
Let’s work through a couple of examples:
Nothing in Reserve: true stories, not war stories by Jack Lewis is a recent Litsam publication. Jack wanted a pithy title that suggests the story (retread veteran deploys to Iraq with the reserves), but that makes it clear the book is not war stories, though much of it is set in and around war. Ebook sales will be the primary revenue stream, so the title should contain terms the reader might search (war, reserve(s), stories).
As literary non-fiction, most readers will be looking for this book specifically, based on word of mouth or prior experience with Jack’s writing. With several authors named Jack Lewis, it was important the short-title be fairly unique in searches. We tested potential titles prior to selection by entering them in google and on Amazon’s book search. Our efforts were rewarded when within weeks the book Nothing in Reserve was the top result for “Nothing in Reserve” on Google and Amazon.
Our second example is not a Litsam title, but we know the author and he’s a great guy. Dave Preston works in a BMW motorcycle shop as an events coordinator, and comes into contact with many new and would-be riders. Dave’s written a primer for the rider-to-be with humour and wit. It’s an updated version of an earlier book with more content that aims to take the rider slightly further down the path, so he called it Motorcycle: 201. If you look at the book listings on Amazon another reason emerges: there are several books about motorcycling with the term 101 in them. By naming his book 201 he gained uniqueness. (On the other hand, he no longer appears at all for the potentially generic search 101.) Overall, probably good naming choices.
[Addendum: Dave tells us he also has a novel available as an e-book titled Mourning Ride: A Harrison Thomas mystery. The subtitle was chosen to encourage readers to look for future publications in the series.]
Finally we’ll consider another Litsam publication, The West is a Golden Paradise by Sean Brendan-Brown. This is a poetry book, so there is no expectation that customers will locate it based on content. They will either search for poetry (so categorizing correctly is important) or they will search for Sean Brendan-Brown. Fortunately Sean has a fairly unique name, and so his book naming was really quite open. His title was chosen based on traditional criteria such as evoking a feel for the poetry within, rather than based on search or SEO consideration.