Buying A Book Based On Its Title, Not Its Cover
Posted on March 9, 2015
I remember my father taking me to see a horror comedy back in 1986 titled House. It was a fun little film, only we arrived at the theater and dad remarked “What’s next? A movie called Doorknob?” Okay, snarky as it may have been, he may have had a point. The same might be said about books. As a reader, I notice titles and a title will interest me if I don’t know who the author is. As a writer, I task myself with coming up with a title that will hopefully make someone look twice.
Established household name authors probably don’t have to worry about the title thing as much because we’re buying their name and the promise of the story being worth reading, not necessarily the title. For the majority of us, though, the title helps catch the attention of potential readers. We hope it’ll make them say “Wow! This looks good!” I remember thinking this when picking out my first G.A. Hauser novel, which turned out to be ‘The Vampire and the Man-Eater’. Incidentally, I used to poke fun at G.A. because it seemed no matter what title she came up with—and I’d come up with a fake one for her, like ‘Lube This Baseball Bat and Put It Up My Bum Until I Orgasm’—SOMEONE will inevitably ask her “What’s it about?” Really?
I notice a great many posts on Facebook about upcoming or ‘just released’ titles that are just…well, a bit bland. Rather than piss a bunch of people off by using any of those as examples, I instead went on to Amazon and looked at titles on Best Seller lists not related to anything GLBT. There’s ‘Younger’ (that’s descriptive…not so much), ‘Total Control’ (not a biography about Martha Davis and The Motels), ‘Departure’ (apparently someone’s going somewhere), ‘Sustain’ (that suggests courtroom drama, doesn’t it? Yet there’s not courtroom in the description), ‘The Deal’, ‘The Hurricane’, ‘The Club’… Even most Steven Segal movies had three words in the title.
Now, to be fair, some titles that are short can develop excellent word-of-mouth without necessarily giving away too much about the story, at least at first glance. J.P. Barnaby’s ‘Aaron’ comes to mind. It may not seem like the most descriptive title at first glance, but read the book—as many people have—and there’s no other title that would capture the essence of it. And longer titles? Another of J.P. Barnaby’s that makes people look twice is ‘Painting Fire on the Air’. THAT is a cool title. Kiernan Kelly’s ‘Homesteads and Horseradish’ easily caught my attention as did Wade Kelly’s ‘My Roommate’s A Jock? Well Crap!’ See? Catchy. Rick Reed’s ‘Sluggo Snares A Vampire’ is going to make someone look twice. Even ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, which I have no desire to read, is a decent title.
Series have a little more leeway because the shorter titles are generally part of much longer ones given the series name. For instance, Dorien Grey has his Dick Hardesty and Elliott Smith mysteries, so readers know exactly what they’re getting with these and I can say I’ve certainly never been disappointed with any of the ones I’ve read.
This isn’t to say we all have to be Steve Martin. How many of our publishers would kill us if we suggested our latest be titled ‘The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits of Very Organized People. Make That Ten’? I took a quick look through Amazon’s Gay & Lesbian Best Seller’s List and here are a few that would make me click on them (not taking into consideration who the author is); ‘The Language of Hoofbeats’ (it just sounds romantic), ‘Hunted Down by His Alpha’ (I can guess what it’s about), ‘Paine’s Pleasure’ (I love titles that play with words!), ‘City Slicker at the Horny Goat Ranch’ (here’s another poor author who probably gets asked “What’s it about?”), and ‘The Truth as He Knows It’ (also a decent indication of what it will potentially be about considering the genre).
I hear many authors talking about how sales are down. Piracy certainly plays a part in this as do the budgets of readers. Then there are other factors, too. Someone recently complained that $7.99 for an e-book anthology was too much. I looked at it and figured out it amounted to around a dollar per story, which, in my opinion, was pretty good considering the length of the book. Perhaps one way to combat low sales—even if by a little—or wind up on a Wish List would be to put a little more thought into our titles. ‘The Walk’ bores me, but ‘Married to the Bad Boy’ kinda says “Hey, look at this!”
So, here’s the fun part. Readers, what do you look for in a title or do you just not look at titles at all, but rather the author? Authors, what’s your process for coming up with a title? Do you try to come up with something you feel is catchy or just go by instinct? And, of course, for readers and authors, any feelings agreeing or disagreeing with the post?
Kristoffer Gair (who formerly wrote under the pseudonym Kage Alan) is the Detroit-based author of Honor Unbound, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To My Sexual Orientation, Andy Stevenson Vs. The Lord Of The Loins, Gaylias: Operation Thunderspell, several short stories featured in anthologies (to be combined in a forthcoming book), the recently re-published novella Falling Awake, its sequel, Falling Awake II: Revenant and Falling Awake III: Requiem.
7 Responses to “Buying A Book Based On Its Title, Not Its Cover”
Dorien Grey says:
March 9, 2015 at 8:47 am
As-always interesting subject, Kris…and thank you for the mention. I agree with you on the importance of titles, and that they are not always easy to come up with. Right, too, about series where the fact that the book is part of a series (“A Dick Hardesty Mystery”) is a help providing the prospective reader has any idea of what the series is about. So even with that help, the title still has to grab. (All the Dick Hardesty titles have three words, the first one always “The”.)
As I say, a fun topic that sparks thought.
March 9, 2015 at 2:07 pm
You’re right in that titles aren’t always easy to come up with. I figure, though, that if I come up with an 80-100k manuscript, surely I can come up with a couple of interesting words for the cover. I wish they’d the same thing with some recent films that have come out. I have zero idea what the heck most of them are these days. Ugh.
Patricia Logan says:
March 9, 2015 at 11:48 am
I have to admit, “Trick” probably sold more copies than “The Cowboy Queen” but that was possibly because “Trick” was the first of a series. That said, I have had many people tell me, they bought “The Cowboy Queen” only for the title and found that they liked me after reading it. My favorite search on Amazon when looking for my books must be “Silver Bullets” though. Did you know Amazon sells a hundred silver butt plugs and some of them vibrate? Well, now you do!
I like this post because it makes a lot of sense. Coming up with titles has never been difficult for me but that said, I really do need to work on improving them. I have 35 books on Amazon, at least half of them with boring titles. I really need to work on that. 🙂
March 9, 2015 at 2:10 pm
I wonder sometimes if that’s why I have a propensity for longer titles. The shortest one is the one coming out in May’s anthology. But even then, I’m playing with words, so it works (at least in my mind, lol). I’m just amazed when glancing at book titles are many of them are soooooo general and often don’t suggest at some of the brilliant storytelling that’s inside their covers.
March 9, 2015 at 2:28 pm
Butt Babes In Boyland – that title certainly made me perk up! 🙂
I agree with your post. A great title and a good blurb is what matters to me – covers, not so much.
Kiernan Kelly says:
March 9, 2015 at 2:48 pm
Thanks for the mention, Kris! *hugs*
I’ve always believed titles should be short and catchy, something that yanks the reader’s eye (not literally, because that would be creepy and, no doubt, painful), and keeps the reader’s imagination on a short leash. The Butthology books are good examples. Butt Pirates in Space, Butt Ninjas from Hell, Butt Babes in Boyland, and Butt Riders on the Range — they have a common element (Butts), and easily relate the theme of the anthologies (humor) to the audience.
Katherine Trick says:
March 10, 2015 at 8:07 am
Good cover art and an interesting title are what make me pick up a book by an author I’ve never read before. Yours never fail to entice a reader, for sure.