by Doug Lewars (originally posted on ryanlanz.com)
You most certainly can judge a book by its cover and most of us do on a regular basis. We may not judge very well but we most assuredly do it. Think how often you’ve walked through a library or bookstore without any particular book in mind and selected one purely because the cover caught your attention. The artwork is likely the number one factor in catching a prospective reader’s eye but the title is important too.
For example ‘A Critical Analysis into the Factors Affecting Global Grain Prices’ sounds like it is targeted towards a very small and specialized audience even if it happened to be found on a fiction shelf and had a pretty cover. Even the curiosity factor as to why a book so titled would be fiction is probably not enough to get very many individuals to take a second look. Very likely it would remain on the shelf.
Ideally titles should say something about the contents, or at least the genre. A very long title will, of necessity, be too small to catch the eye. On the other hand, one-word titles, while eye-catching, may not provide sufficient information to entice a reader to look further.
Titles may not be copy written. It is perfectly acceptable to entitle your treatise on home decorating as ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ but those individuals who pick it up by mistake are bound to be disappointed and those for whom it was targeted will likely avoid it like the plague. Personally I attempt to choose unique titles. To do this, I select one I like, go to Goodreads, search on it, hope not to find it and then use it. Sometimes I’m tempted to cheat if I’ve come up with one I particularly like only to discover someone else has taken it, but in general, I’d rather a search engine find my book and none other.
One method of obtaining ideas is to select any book at random, open it anywhere, jab a finger onto a paragraph and look at the words. So for example, by doing just that I came up with ‘disguise his tracks’. By itself that doesn’t quite work, but a slight variation, ‘Tracks in Disguise’ might serve as the title for a mystery novel. In addition, it suggests the idea of tracking, or hunting, thereby implying something is hidden or gone missing. Therefore I might change it to ‘Without a Trace’. I like that but a search on Goodreads finds a number of books so titled already. Modifying it to ‘Without the Slightest Trace’ provides a unique title that would work well in a mystery genre.
As noted, any book will work although it’s often easier to obtain useful snippets from a book taken from the same genre. Still, in the above example, I used a non-fiction book from which to obtain my selection so it isn’t essential. Admittedly, you may need to try a number of phrases before one seems suitable or provides a seed for something different, but the random selection of words will eventually point you in the right direction.
Consider the following titles taken from six Toronto Public Library staff recommendations: ‘Happiness’, ‘Mrs. Fletcher’, ‘Half-Blood Blues’, ‘First Prize Pies’, ‘Tigers in Red Weather’, and ‘Stunning Braids’. ‘Half-Blood Blues’ suggests a story about one or more Metis individuals who are having difficulty coping. “First Prize Pies’ sounds like a cookbook and ‘Stunning Braids’ may be related to hair dressing. The others are pretty vague. Checking more closely I find that only the cookbook and hairdressing are correct. So of six titles, only two provide much indication as to whether I should take a closer look.
Cover art plays a significant role and I’ll discuss that in a later post; however, the objective of the title is to make the reader sufficiently curious to draw him or her to the blurb. It’s the blurb that will eventually close the deal. Title, art and blurb are the cornerstones of attracting readers and if any one of them doesn’t work the book will probably remain on the shelf.