The Tyranny of Titles

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You’ve written thousands of words for days, months and sometimes a decade, have put in your heart and soul into writing one and are now ready to give it the shape of a book.
The first exercise that you may therefore get involved in very seriously is giving a title to your book which not many people know, but is the first marketing exercise for your book.
Of course you would have started with some title in your mind and your publisher may have suggested a few more options but is this all sufficient to arrive at a sellable title for your book?
Nike, Gucci, Apple, Coke are some of the most powerful and popular brand names in the world and therefore brand pundits usually suggest keeping it short and simple. Selecting a title entails similar activities as a branding exercise but most of the times keeping it short doesn’t work in case of books.
Go through the current Indian bestseller lists and you find books like The Oath of Vayuputras, Life is What You Make It, Fifty Shades of Grey, Stay Hungry Stay Foolish etc topping the charts. Sometimes one may feel the longer a title, the higher up it is in the bestsellers list.
As in case of branding, selecting a title or name for your book is also what gives it an identity.
One of the guidelines in choosing a title or finding a name for your book is to not only bring out the essence of what’s inside but to also fit the voice and genre.
In case of fiction, titles can be long and can be quirky, intriguing, funny but in case of non fiction usually titles need to be direct, forthright and detailed.
Depending on the subject you are looking for, your bestseller list might show you What to Expect When You are Expecting, Men are from Mars Women are from Venus, Upside Down of Irrationality, Rich Dad Poor Dad and so on.
The most important guideline to keep in mind while choosing a title is to select a name that remains etched in the minds and hearts of the consumer in this case the reader.
Catch 22, The Alchemist, The Monk Who Sold his Ferrari, How to Win Friends and Influence People and similar titles may be on top of your mind in your reading lists.
These days a trend of long titles is becoming popular. The purpose here is not to follow a trend but to emphasize the importance of choosing a title for your book, correctly.
Long or short, a title should be able to communicate on its own without advertising and a lay man should be able to be fascinated with it as easily as a well read one.
The marketing tip:
Write down clearly what you want the title to do. Is it to tickle a reader’s funny bone or bring out any other intense emotions. Come up with a list of words and phrases accordingly.
Try focus group. Bring together or share a short note on the book with a closed set of people who love reading. These options could be added to your existing list.
Google AdWords can help you with the popularity of words and phrases. With everything going viral and ebooks picking up reader’s fancy this is one of the most important tools.
Lastly there is no harm in going through national and international bestseller lists to get some idea of what titles are working for books in similar genre. We all want to be original but would definitely like to take an informed decision about the one thing that prompts the end consumer in this case a reader to pick your book.
I truly believe that books are by the people, of the people and for the people therefore the title needs to strike a chord with the people. Do not be in a hurry in finalizing the title. Where you’ve given so much to writing one, giving some more time to choosing a title will help reaching out to many more readers. All the best.
Until the next book marketing update…
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12 thoughts on “The Tyranny of Titles”

  1. Hitting the nail with precision – “A title should be able to communicate on its own without advertising…”

    The only thing appeared misapplied is referring *readers* as consumers on couple of instances!

    An Apt Read 🙂

  2. Lipika Jee,

    Thank you for such a nice article. Gone are the days of bygone centuries when the novels had eponymous heroes/ heroines. Would not you like to tell your experiences when you forced authors for many months to find an apt title? I can hope that the next thing you will talk about the cover page design.

    Bhootnath

  3. But some titles in the market are really misleading. Title would be attractive; but the content would be totally different. Thanks for sharing valuable insights on this topic.

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