Here is a guest blog from my friend, neighbour and fellow writer, Virginia.
THE TUG OF A TERRIFIC TITLE
by Virginia King
The Great Gatsby has become a household name, especially after Baz Luhrmann’s recent movie version of the classic. It’s the published title of F Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, but this wasn’t his first title. As he wrote the book he called it Trimalchio in West Egg. We’ll never know if the final title contributed to the book’s critical success but lame or impenetrable titles surely help many great novels sink without trace.
Marketing expert Claudia Lane believes short titles resonate with a contemporary audience. “In a market where consumers are relentlessly exposed to millions of messages a day, you only have a nanosecond to attract them.” Hamlet, Sleuth, Catch 22, Tracks, Misery, Chocolat, Breath, Gone Girl, The Book Thief. They’re also easier to remember and share.
But many bestsellers have long, often quirky names. If you brainstorm a list, chances are it will include:
To Kill a Mockingbird, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, A Clockwork Orange, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, The Incredible Lightness of Being, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, John Dies at the End, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Unusual also equals memorable.
In Make a Killing on Kindle, Michael Alvear says an e-book’s title must be “clickable”. As readers browse the endless thumbnails, the title and cover image must make them stop and click. Then the description, reviews and sample pages take over. Alvear says many titles are waiting to be found, buried in the text of the book. As an example he sites the title of his first book – Men Are Pigs But We Love Bacon – which was discovered by his sister after she read a draft.
Publishers often change a book’s title for publication in a different market. Nicci French’s Complicit (first published in the UK) became The Other Side of the Door for the US market, irritating readers who thought they’d discovered another great read only to find they’d already read it. And Margo Lanagan’s speculative fiction novel Seahearts (first published in Australia), was changed to The Brides of Rollrock Island for an international audience. These decisions can frustrate authors but if publishers know their audience they can promote increased interest.
Titles can also lead to unforeseen problems with marketing. Len Fisher’s popular science book, Weighing the Soul, found its way into the spiritual shelves in some bookshops. Booksellers made a judgement from the title and not the blurb.
I’ve written my first novel after a career as a children’s author. Choosing the title for this psychological mystery, the first of a series, has been almost as difficult as writing the book. After months of brainstorming and nocturnal scribbling, I’m down to a shortlist of three. I invite you to give me your opinion at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/mysterytitlesurvey. The five best responses will receive free copies of each book in the series. Entries close April 30.
By the way, one of Len Fisher’s most successful books was called, How to Dunk a Doughnut.’ Bet this did well in the US! I spent ages agonizing over the title of my Thames book and then the publishers changed it at the last moment…Pauline
As always…if you want to leave a comment (other than your title selections for Virginia) scroll down to the comment box. Don’t forget to complete the anti-spam sum below it before pressing SUBMIT.