A book title is similar to the cover of a book. It ideally provides a potential reader a summary of what the book is about and invites him/her to open the cover of the book and discover the secrets within. However not all titles are equal and sometimes a book title is just confusing or misleading. Recently I vended at the Esoteric Book Conference which occurs every year in Seattle. As you can imagine, I spent a fair amount of time browsing the other book vendors and looking at the titles can covers, and occasionally peeking inside to see if I really wanted to buy a book. Inevitably the books that I did buy were ones that had a title that was descriptive and helped me determine if I wanted to invest my money.
I also saw titles that were non-descriptive, and not just with other book vendors, but even some of the books we publish at Immanion Press. I realized that a bad title is a disservice. It is a disservice to the book, the author, the publisher, and most importantly the reader. My job as an editor isn’t just to help the writer refine the content of the book, but also make the best possible title for the book.
An author also needs to think about his/her title. I find that a lot of authors don’t put a lot of thought into a title. They pick something out that they like and they entertain this belief that their readers will somehow “get” the title. They try to be “clever” with the title, or make it humorous, and along the way they lose most of their market. The reason is simple. People aren’t buying your book to read your title. They are buying your book to read your content. Save the humor and cleverness for the book and recognize that your title is a description that gives people an idea of what the content will be about. Think of your title as a summary of your book.
My most recent book Magical Identity was originally titled Neuro-Space/Time Magic. I liked that title and thought it accurately described my book, and to a degree it did, as the book is a sequel to both Space/Time Magic and Inner Alchemy, but a friend pointed out that the main theme of the book, Identity, wasn’t anywhere in the title. She thought people might get confused when they didn’t read about neuroscience or space/time magic until five chapters into the book. She was absolutely right and I took her suggestion and went with Magical Identity, which describes the central theme of the book. But the main title isn’t always enough.
A subtitle can be just as important for your book, both in terms of summarizing the concepts, and in providing some useful search engine optimization terms of the web. I’m surprised at how many authors don’t create a subtitle for their book. It’s something I highly recommend, because even if it doesn’t show up on the cover, the value it provides for search engine optimization should be reason enough to develop a subtitle. With Magical Identity, I chose the following subtitle: An Exploration of Space/Time, Neuroscience, and Identity. As you can tell the subtitle hits on all the themes of the book and neatly provides the reader an idea of what the book will be about. Compare that to a subtitle I saw on another book: A book about stuff. That subtitle doesn’t mean anything and was used as a way of trying to be clever. All its really done is ensure that books don’t get sold.
So what’s the lesson here? Thoroughly vet your title and make sure it makes sense to your market. Remember that your audience needs to understand the title or they won’t pick up the book. And develop a subtitle that helps summarize the themes of your book. You’ll be much happier as a result and your title will help you book sell.