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The Business of Choosing a Book Title

March 25, 2014

I began working on my third novel last fall and did not have a title. A few weeks ago I came up with one I thought was perfect: “The Secret Keepers.”

It was at once explanatory and mysterious: Were the keepers secret, or was there a secret a group of people were keeping? It took me six months to come up with the title, and when I did I was so dizzy with joy that I had to lie down.

And then I did a Google search. There were at least four other books with that title. Immediately I abandoned my decision and am now thinking again what to call it.

I don’t want give my book a title that already exists. That confuses the reading public and is known as “marketing clutter,” a term describing the similar choices consumers have to wade through when they make a purchase decision.

And like it or not, fellow scriveners, choosing a book title is as much marketing as it is creative writing. Ever hear of a novel called Trimalchio in West Egg? Of course not. It was published as The Great Gatsby. F. Scott Fitzerald’s publisher, Mawell Perkins, had to talk him out of it because the title would be hard to pronounce. That’s not good for sales.

How well would a book called The Lost Generation have sold? Hard to tell, but when Ernest Hemingway changed it to The Sun Also Rises it seemed to do OK.

I read any number of blogs about book marketing, and the percentage of time an idie author should spend writing vs. the time spent marketing varies from one blogger to the next. Is it 70 percent writing and 30 percent marketing, or a 50-50 proposition. There doesn’t seem to be a real answer. I’m convinced, having written two novels, that I should spend 100 percent of my time writing a novel and 5,000 percent of my time marketing the damned book.

The title is just as important a marketing tool as the content of the novel. If the content, which is essentially a product, is something consumers want, a title is the brand name of the product consumers see first, and which will entice them to want the product in the first place. A bad one scares them away to competitors in your genre.

Those are the hard facts of being a creative person, not only as a writer but also as a musician, artist, film maker, etc. Sitting in front of a keyboard and writing Petrarchan sonnets that only your loved ones will read is one thing. For a professional writer, commerce is another.


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