Editorial and I have a running argument about titles, especially titles for nonfiction, informational, and issue books. As I much as I love a funny, quirky book title, the title has to tell the consumer what the book is…really, it just does. Trust me.
There are two main concerns: 1) will a search engine bring the book to the top? and 2) will the consumer in the store/library know the book is for them by looking at the cover?
Search engines (Google, Yahoo!, Bing, etc.) and online retailers (name your favorite) respond to searches by looking at the title field first, then the subtitle, then description and key words. Ideally, you would have your topic or key selling point in all of these fields.
For example, if a consumer wants a book about dragons and your title doesn’t have “Dragon” in it, she may never to see your book on the list. This seems even more true if the book is about peanut allergies or diabetes or bullying.
Editorial and I sometimes compromise with a catchy title and what they call a boring subtitle. But the truth is, when you don’t name your book well, it can get lost — especially once it’s in the backlist.
We have a number of issue books that have been in print for a decade or more. I believe they continue to sell well — despite newer competition — because when a parent types in “kids diabetes book” they get Even Little Kids Get Diabetes (published in 1994) in the top few items.
Using the same example, if the title for this book were Johnny and the Sugar Monster, a parent couldn’t tell from the cover (or the spine for that matter) that the book directly address diabetes in young children.
A recent example of the subtitle compromise worked. Out next month is The Wooden Sword: A Jewish Folktale from Afghanistan. Without the subtitle, you need to read the book description to even know it’s a folktale, let alone Jewish and Afghani.
Thanks to the subtitle, in the first month or so when only the data was available — not the book or even the catalog — I received requests for review copies from several major Jewish organizations. They have search engine alerts looking for Jewish children’s books — they don’t want to miss any. We had buzz even before the marketing began — because of a subtitle in the data feed. (Note: Part of the compromise was to have the subtitle on the title page but not the cover.)
Of course, this is not as much an issue with novels, but it’s still true that the title and what’s on the cover communicates information to the consumer. Perhaps we can talk more about that another time.
Editorial will express their opinions tomorrow on the blog. In the meantime, authors — I encourage you to suggest titles that are both fun and informative. Those are always the best!