WHAT’S IN A NAME? Novel and Story Titles That Sell!

You wrote THE novel of the decade. You know, the one that will change the way people see your chosen genre forever. Yep, that one.

You decided that you didn’t want anyone to take away from the power…the glory…the inimitable creative power within your writing, so you wisely self-published your masterpiece. You marketed on every social network, interviewed on internet and college radio stations and even purchased an ad in your local newspapers. There was nothing left to do but sit back and wait for your adoring fans to run to Amazon.com, BN.com and even your website to purchase it.

A year later, you had sold eleven books…to your mom; dad; three siblings; your cousin Lee-Lee; four of your friends and your co-worker, Bob.

What happened?

I would be willing to bet the answer lies in your title.

Choosing the right fiction title

  1. Less is More. Try to keep down the number of words in your title to a precise and evocative few.
  2. More can also be More. If it is impossible to be brief, try a deliberately long title, like Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Steampunk but Were Afraid to Ask.
  3. Don’t rely on the subtitle to explain what the book is really about. It is the title itself that people see first when they scan a catalog, do a Google search, or peruse the bookstore shelves. On the flip-side, if your title is highly evocative or provocative – yet related to the subject of your book, use it and elaborate in the subtitle.
  4. Research the title on Amazon or Google. You can’t copyright a title, therefore you’ll often notice there is more than one book with the same one. Avoid taking a title that’s been used too many times or already belongs to a famous book.
  5. Try out your title on a variety of people, including people with different tastes; people related to you and unrelated; people who are knowledgeable about your subject and people who are ignorant about it – be curious and open to the market.
  6. Welcome controversy. Imaro, the Conan Slayer is sure to drum up a lot of interest (of course, if your target audience are the millions of fans of Robert E. Howard’s Conan, this might not be the wisest choice of title).

Choosing the right  nonfiction book title

Choosing the right title for your book involves answering four simple questions. Your answers will take you a long way towards choosing a title that helps your book sell. You can also use these same questions in choosing titles for films, articles, blog posts, presentations and speeches.

Question 1: What is the change your market desires?

Change is at the root of nonfiction book success. Unlike fiction books, which are purchased for the readers’ pleasure, readers purchase nonfiction books because they want to experience change.
This change may be either solving a problem or achieving a goal. In either case, there is a purpose, or a change, that readers want to experience.

Question 2: How and when will change take place?

One of the best ways to sell a book is to choose a title that emphasizes how quickly your readers will be able to experience the desired change.

Lose 90 Pounds in 90 Days is a stronger title than Lose a Lot of Weight Fast because the former title is specific about the results (losing ninety pounds) and the time period (ninety days).

As an alternative to result or time period, you can stress the number of steps needed to solve a problem or achieve a goal. For example, Write a Winning Plot in 5 Easy Steps is a good alternative to Writing Winning Plots in 4 Hours or Less.

Question 3: How does this book differ from other books?

Your book’s uniqueness must be immediately obvious. The typical Barnes & Noble superstore contains well over 100,000 different titles. Amazon.com lists hundreds of thousands more.

There’s hardly any topic that hasn’t already been exhaustively written about in one form or another, so how will your book be different? What will make your novel stand out from the other books already on the market? Find your niche within the niche you are writing in and your book will stand out.

There are many martial arts books on the market. A few years ago, I decided to write a martial arts book. Fortunately for me, I happen to be proficient in indigenous African martial arts and there are only a handful of books on the subject on the market. Unlike the other authors, who are primarily academics, I am a lifelong practitioner of the African martial arts and immersed in traditional African culture, so I wrote from the standpoint of an insider, not as a casual (or not so casual) observer. This paid off, as my book, Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within is quite popular.

Question 4: How can I make my book’s title easy to remember?

Engage the reader’s curiosity or help them relate the title to an idea they relate to. If a prospective reader at your mall book signing forgets your book’s title between the time they first encounter it, and they take their restless child to the restroom, you will lose that important sale.

One of the best ways to make your book’s title memorable is to arouse the reader’s curiosity. This is the technique used by Richard Bolles’ mega bestseller, What Color Is Your Parachute?. At first glance, a parachute has little, or nothing, to do with finding work.

However, in this economy, wherein we can easily fall into abject poverty and homelessness, a parachute is precisely what we need! Every year, hundreds of thousands of readers purchase this book. How many copies do you think the same book would have sold if its title was, “How to Find A Job?”
Now, your masterpiece has that catchy title you need…or so it seems. Before you go publishing that little slice of heaven, there are a few steps you should take to ensure that you have the best title for your book.

1.      Brainstorm 100 appropriate titles

When you brainstorm titles, it is okay to make minor variations of the same title. For example, your novel is about a seafaring African prince and his motley crew of fellow adventurers. You come up with the name Changa for the character and you want his name in the title, as he will become an iconic figure in literature and you know it. You brainstorm some possible titles – Changa’s Big Score; Changa on the High Seas; Changa Sails the Sendibada; Changa’s Safari; and so on. Each one of these titles will likely have different search results under Google and other search engines on the internet. Save them all for the next step.

Try to avoid inappropriate titles. If your book is an erotic steampunk tale of young goats in love and you title it “Steam-Cooking for Kids,” you will have a lot of pissed off parents.

2.      Check Google’s keyword tool to see which titles have the most searches per month

On Google’s search engine, type “Google Keyword Tool.” The website you want will be the first one listed in the search results; or, you can go directly there via this link: https://adwords.google.com/o/Targeting/Explorer?__c=1000000000&__u=1000000000&ideaRequestType=KEYWORD_IDEAS.

On the website, cut and paste your list of titles into the top text box (marked “Find Keywords”). Confirm that you are a human and not a spambot and then click the submit button. The results will appear. Scroll down and examine the Global Monthly Searches column. A good title should read anywhere between 10,000 and 100,000 searches. Anything less than 10,000 searches may be too few.

Anything more than 100,000 searches will probably have too much competition.

What you want are phrases that have between 10,000 to 100,000 global searches. Make a note of those. You’ll use them for the next step: checking Google’s and Amazon’s search engines.

3.      Check Google’s and Amazon’s search engines to see which of the top titles have the least competition

Go to Google and type the first title from your list of titles in the search bar. Be sure to type the title in quotes. When the list of search results come up, count how many websites use that full title. If there are fewer than ten websites with your full title, that’s a good title. Now do the same with the rest of your potential titles.

Once you’re done with that, go to Amazon and in quotes type in your titles. Count how many books have the same title. Again, if there are fewer than ten, that’s a good title.

Now, out of all your potential titles, the one with the most global monthly searches, with a low amount of competition is your winner. Simple.

Try these all, some, or none of these methods and, please, share the knowledge with others if it helps you. Each one, teach one.

Until next time…Happy writing!

About Balogun

Balogun is the author of the bestselling Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within and screenwriter / producer / director of the films, A Single Link, Rite of Passage: Initiation and Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster. He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul and Steampunk in general, at https://chroniclesofharriet.com/. He is author of eight novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the Urban Science Fiction saga, Redeemer; the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika; a Fight Fiction, New Pulp novella, Fist of Afrika; the gritty, Urban Superhero series, A Single Link and Wrath of the Siafu; the two-fisted Dieselfunk tale, The Scythe and the “Choose-Your-Own-Destiny”-style Young Adult novel, The Keys. Balogun is also contributing co-editor of two anthologies: Ki: Khanga: The Anthology and Steamfunk. Finally, Balogun is the Director and Fight Choreographer of the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage, which he wrote based on the short story, Rite of Passage, by author Milton Davis and co-author of the award winning screenplay, Ngolo. You can reach him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Afrikan.Martial.Arts; on Twitter @Baba_Balogun and on Tumblr at www.tumblr.com/blog/blackspeculativefiction.

3 responses »

  1. Just finished reading a blog by Milton Davis which linked me to here. The articles are really interesting and I’ll share the thoughts with others. Thank you!

  2. […] WHAT’S IN A NAME? Novel and Story Titles That Sell! […]

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