You can judge a book by its cover; in fact, I hope you do because we spend a lot of time honing the titles and cover designs for our books. With more and more people purchasing books online, it’s even important than ever to grab them with a good title or compelling cover.
In the online world of search engine optimization (SEO), a title needs to come up if a consumer is looking for a book on a certain subject. That’s why I’m such a stickler for non-fiction book titles (except perhaps, memoir) to say what the book is about.
In a recent meeting about titles for forthcoming books, I raised the point that a particular title didn’t tell you what was the book was about.
“Well, if you read the book,” someone said, “you’ll know why the author wants this title.” I countered, “With that title, I’m definitely not going to read the book.” We settled on keeping the title, but with a very descriptive subtitle that captures what might come up when someone searches that subject online.
Different genres have different conventions for titling. It’s okay to go for a snazzy title paired with a long, long subtitle on a sports or business book. (That seems to be the acceptable approach now, anyway.) Personally, I love it. A recent favorite of mine: Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination during the 1934 Tour of Japan. How could you resist a book like that? Apparently you can’t because it’s been a hot seller for us. Of course, some books don’t need a subtitle; the title says everything. I love 501 Baseball Books Fans Must Read before They Die. End of story.
Religious books are tough to title. You have to convey why the book is unique but remain respectful, while explaining what the book is about. I’m particularly proud of the title we came up with for —well, I don’t have to tell you what the book is about because the title and subtitle say it all: From Gods to God: How the Bible Debunked, Suppressed, or Changed Ancient Myths and Legends.
Fiction and literary memoir are a bit more challenging. We seldom change the title that the author submits; it would be like changing the title of a painting. Our memoirists, in particular, seem to be quite skilled at titles. For example: