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Other Factors

This lesson is a part of an audio course Brainstorming a Better Book Title by Marcia Yudkin

According to some people who advise authors on book titles, selecting promising keywords to combine in your title is the most important factor in your success with a book. I disagree. Including keywords can be helpful in getting your book in front of those searching for something like it, particularly for nonfiction, but it is not the be-all and end-all when it comes to titles.

Why? Let's go back to the topic of local eating. In the previous lesson, I cited four books that all used the word "locavore" in the title. What's fascinating, though, is that if you plunk "locavore" into the search box on Amazon, relevant books come up that do not have the exact word "locavore" in the title. And when you type "locavore books" into the Google search box, what comes up first is a reading list posted on Goodreads that includes numerous books that likewise do not have "locavore" in the title.

Search engines are smarter than they used to be. And they don't rule the roost.

Likewise, whether or not there is a domain available corresponding to your book title belongs very far down your list of criteria, if it belongs there at all. Most people buy books not from authors' websites but from online bookstores or real-world ones, and a URL is completely irrelevant there. Furthermore, unless you intend on being a one-book wonder, your author's website would normally relate to your name or the name of your book series, not just the title of a particular book.

Watch out for any promises or claims that your title may appear to make, as these can get you into the bad graces of your book buyers, not to mention troubles with the law. Suppose, for example, that you title your cookbook Easy Souffl├ęs. Are you sure that they're easy? One person's idea of easy is another person's concept of incredibly complicated. If only a Cordon Bleu graduate would find your techniques easy, you are going to receive reader complaints and poor reviews.

Be especially careful with health claims. If you created a title like The Rheumatoid Arthritis Cure, you would open yourself to stringent legal scrutiny, and you'd probably be safer with a title like Overcome Rheumatoid Arthritis or RA: Natural Relief.

Remember that many words have negative or tricky connotations or double meanings. I have a problem with violent slang that people use to be cool, such as Killer Facebook Ads. Maybe in the circles you run in, folks have forgotten what "killer" actually means, but in other circles, they have not. Unless you're deliberately hoping to cause offense, please also think carefully about whether your title candidates might have any unwanted meanings or provoke protests because of ethnicity, gender, religion, disability, or some other kind of slur.

Avoid including non-standard characters in your title, such as # or @ or %. People won't be sure how to pronounce them, and they can cause all kinds of hiccups in the publishing and selling process. Just try saying out loud the title of Roger Parker's book on titles, which starts with a hashtag, to someone who isn't on social media, for example. And how do you alphabetize it? What happens when someone's inventory system doesn't accept special characters as part of a book title?

Because I have a popular book whose title begins with a number, I've noticed that numerals and the word form of the number don't necessarily get cross-referenced. All of my book covers for three editions present 6 Steps to Free Publicity as starting with the numeral "6." Currently, if someone types Six Steps to Free Publicity with the word "six," "s-i-x," into the search box on Amazon or Google, my book comes up, but that wasn't always the case, and it's not always the case in other databases. Nonstandard characters trigger way more glitches than that.

Last, examine your title closely to see if you can tighten it up by cutting any extra little words. For example, Winning Ways: Four Secrets for Getting Great Results by Working Well with People has an overly long subtitle. I would condense the subtitle to either Get Great Results by Working Well with People or Four Secrets for Working Well with People.

In the next lesson, I give you fascinating before and after book titles to learn from.

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Marcia Yudkin