Friday, January 27, 2012

Don't let your title limit your book sales

In a recent posting in an online group for writers, writer/writing trainer/consultant Paul Lima said, "I will soon be publishing a book of short stories, Hockey Night On Ossington Avenue. A couple of people who actually like the title have suggested that I use a title of one of the other stories for the title of my book -- perhaps Rebel In The Back Seat, The Conquest of Kong, The Winter of Whisky. Why? They feel my title might (might, not will) limit my American exposure and sales... And it might. (Overall, I think it's fair to say we're more passionate about hockey in Canada than you are in the U.S. But I'm not going to change it. This is my labour of love, and I'll call it what I feel it should be called, and I'm OK with that...

I responded:

Unless all of the stories are hockey-related, PLEASE consider changing the title. I have absolutely no interest in hockey, and would probably never buy a book with "hockey" in the title, unless it was something like Hockey Sucks. (I watched one Hockey game -- when I visited a friend at Cornell in 1968. It was amusing, but I have never been motivated to see another skating-and-mayhem session.)

You certainly have the right to call your love child anything you want, but exercizing your right may limit your income -- and deprive potential readers of a pleasant experience.

A few years ago I published a mostly humorous memoir intended mostly for "the kids" I went to school with in the 1950s and 60s. The title was a quote from one of my nutty teachers, I Only Flunk My Brightest Students: Stories From School and Real Life. The title made sense only to others who suffered in the classroom of "Crasy Frehse" in New Haven. Any time I showed the book to strangers, I had to provide an explanation. That's no way to sell books.

Because of good reviews, I revised the book. I replaced and added some stories, and gave the book a new cover and title to appeal to more people: Stories I'd Tell My Children (But Maybe Not Until They're Adults).

As of the end of December, sales are over 1200, which is pretty amazing for a memoir by an unknown. My name is not Obama, Kennedy or Beyonce.

For your book, even tho you haven't asked me, I vote for The Conquest of Kong & other stories.

One good way to evaluate potential titles is to make a quickie cover and wrap it around a real book and hand it to people to see how they react when they hold it in their hands and verbalize the title.

I wish you luck (but a different title may make you luckier).

(Hockey sticks photo from I thank them.)



  1. Michael - I just had to reply. I conduct an informal book title focus group (with a bunch of Canadian writers over a several jugs of good ol' fashion Canadian beer) and, guess what? Even the hockey lovers in the group agreed - with you! They suggested I change the title, and change it I did. And the new book title, "Rebel in the Back Seat" has grown on me. So thank for the motivation to think about changing it.

  2. Paul, I'm glad to help. Sometimes we are so close to our projects that we can't see them clearly.