Monday, February 21, 2011

Judging a Book By its Cover Info: Does a Title Sell the Book?

by Augusta Scattergood

This go-around’s topic is Advice to New Authors About How to Market a Book.

I’ll be reading these posts very carefully. That new author looking for advice would be me.

When my book comes out in one year, I’ll have memorized fellow middle-grade novelist Kerry Madden’s helpful post on the topic. (Thanks, Kerry, and I already have my bag of props ready!) And I’ll scour the internet, pick my writer friends’ brains, listen to my publisher’s publicity people—anything that helps my book get into the hand of young readers.

In the meantime, I’m working hard to make it the best written book I could possibly imagine. Many edits. Much research. But there’s one more thing I think I can do, very early on, to make my book stand out among the hundreds of debut novels hitting the shelves next year.

Although I suspect I’ll have minimal control over my book’s cover, I do have some say about the title. Right now. Since my editor didn’t love my working title—and true confessions, neither did I— we’re working on something new.

Sadly, I Stink at Titles.

I know a lot of tricks for choosing them, but I need much inspiration and lots of help from my friends. 

In fact, I’ve compiled a list of Ways to Choose Titles. The problem is, especially with kids or Young Adult books, these suggestions can become dated very fast.

But here are a few timeless, or perhaps timely, ideas for mulling over your book’s moniker. My abbreviated list:

1.     Ask a question
2.     Create a mood
3.     Combine opposites
4.     Pay attention to the sounds
5.     Tease your audience
6.     Put Google to work for you (Google movie quotes, top ten book lists, Best sellers, etc. Then play around with combinations.)

As I mull over my upcoming middle-grade novel's title, I’m thinking:

Does a preposition in the title help? Moon Over Manifest just won the Newbery Award. Can’t argue with that. 
How about using a character’s name? A dog’s name? As tricky as this title is, nobody ever forgets Because of Winn-Dixie.

I spent most of my library career at schools filled with excited readers. They traded favorite titles like the coolest silly bandz. Sometimes the exact words of a title eluded them, but if a student loved a book, she talked about it to her friends, spreading the word. And if the title was a zinger, they never forgot it, or the book. Nobody ever stumbled over Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade or Judy Blume’s Blubber. Kids loved asking for The Candymakers and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. And why not? Great, appealing, kid-like titles.

Then again, one of my favorite recent books was When You Reach Me. And I cannot for the life of me be sure that’s the exact title. It just does not stick in my brain the way How to Steal a Dog does. And I’ve read When You Reach Me at least three times.

Consider poor Stieg Larsson. Ha. Not poor in the least. But also not so great at title-picking. As reported in a just-translated memoir by Kurdo Baksi, Stieg Larsson, My Friend, his working titles were the feeble The Witch Who Dreamt of a Can of Petrol and Matches and The Exploding Castle in the Air...

Ugh. Give me Girl With The Dragon Tattoo over those dogs of titles anytime.

And speaking of Dog Titles- Here’s a website that offers a different take on choosing titles.

I suspect book jacket art has more sway with purchasers, as do personal recommendations, love of the author, general chatter about a book-- not to mention glowing reviews. At least that’s my feeling about how kids (their parents and their librarians) choose books.

And, still,  I’m wondering, how much does a title influence a book’s sales? Do you gravitate toward a book because of the cover and particularly the title? What are your worst titles ever?  Your best?

Because I sure would like to nail this title thing. And I sure do stink at finding a great one.


Augusta Scattergood’s first middle grade novel, 
historical fiction set in 1964 Mississippi, 
will be published by Scholastic in Spring, 2012. 
It is, as yet, untitled.


Anna Michaels said...

I enjoyed your post, Augusta. The title of my debut novel - The Tender Mercy of Roses - sprang naturally from the content. Throughout the story, roses were not only a connection to the past but also a source of comfort and mercy to the characters. I hope that helps!

Karen Harrington said...

Terrific post and congrats on your upcoming book!

Interesting topic today as I just read a news report wherein the top WORST book titles have been shortlisted. (see story here - Apparently, these titles are now selling like hotcakes.

Augusta Scattergood said...

Karen, Thanks for that link- Some very lame titles there.

And Anna, your title has a nice flow and relevance to the book- all good! I hope I can do as well with mine.

Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

Great post, Augusta, and titles can often be a great, big headache! SO hard to find just the right one because I agree that it can help or hurt a book. My editor at Scholastic and I went the rounds for several weeks over the title to my upcoming October book: CIRCLE OF SECRETS. There's a ghost in the story and we kept going back and forth in emails over the pros and cons of using the word "ghost" in the title. We opted not to and hope "Secrets" is just as good. But ya never know! I do believe that the cover is more important - and often buzz is even MORE important. Look at the book, The Help. Boring title, so-so cover - yet bestseller lists! Because it was good and compelling and got lots of word-of-mouth.

Augusta Scattergood said...

You are so right, Kimberley- on all points!
(and I love Circle of Secrets)