Wrestling with Titles and Subtitles
(Or, When Creatives Need to Wear their Marketing Hats)
While crafting the perfect title for your book may seem like a creative effort, authors also need to exert their business skills before making a final decision.
I thought we had hashed out the title many months ago. We even bought the domain name for it. Since then, I have been revving up the marketing machine and doing a ton of reading because it’s been so long since I actively promoted a book. A lot of the information I’m finding is about search terms, specifically for use on Amazon. A book’s title and subtitle contribute to search marketing. Hence, the re-thinking. If you are an author working on your book title, here are some things to keep in mind:
Play nicely with Amazon.
For most authors, Amazon is the biggest marketplace, so following their rules is unavoidable. It’s not worth trying to buck the system because your book is just a single drop in their ocean of products. Your single drop, however, needs to really sparkle in that ocean so readers might notice it.
Amazon provides places to use keywords and categories when you are setting up your book in Kindle Direct Publishing. Take this task seriously! The whole point is that your book should be easy to find for the people who truly want it. Use the categories and keywords that factually describe your book even if you might get more eyeballs with some less suitable phrase. Bait-and-switch tactics make prospective readers unhappy. You don’t want unhappy readers. Amazon doesn’t want unhappy readers. So don’t try being tricky or too creative.
Weigh your options.
In my day job, we use tools and data to choose search terms rather than relying on past experience, even though we’re pretty darned experienced at this point. You may already have a good idea of what words to use but do the research as well. You may be surprised by the difference between how you think and how your readers think.
In the U.S., book traders like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and others use the Book Industry Standards and Communications (or BISAC) to classify books. Browse the BISAC subject headings and drill down to see exactly where your book belongs.
Play around on Amazon, too. Look up books that are similar to yours and see where they are classified. You may discover a category or two that you never thought of. Also, try looking for your book as if it were already published. What words would you type into Amazon’s search box? What books are displayed with that search?
In addition to choosing the right categories, brainstorm other keywords that are related to your book such as “first love” or “New England seacoast” or “female astronaut.” Check Amazon’s search results for those, too.
Consider your title and subtitle.
The goal of marketing is to deliver the right answer to a user’s search question. The title and subtitle of your book can help make the answer “more right.” If your book is about teenagers on another planet overthrowing an evil emperor and the title is “Banana Pie,” folks are bound to be confused. “Banana Pie” might be a clever name for the planet or the hero or some other major element of your story, but as a title, it sounds more like a cookbook than a dystopian sci-fi thriller.
But you don’t want to turn your title into a bunch of nonsensical keywords, either. It ticks off Amazon and turns off readers. The goal here is to find a perfect balance between intriguingly creative and keyword rich. Just do that and you’re golden!
And that’s why I’m still wrestling with title and subtitle at this late date.
I looked at books like mine and I searched Amazon using a variety of possible terms. I studied and followed all the Best Practices written up on KDP’s “Make Your Book More Discoverable” page. But I’m still not confident about what the title and subtitle should be.
This book is factual research about fictional novels which makes it “Literary Criticism.” But it’s specifically for Agatha Christie fans so a reference to her and a category like “Cozy Mystery” seems more appropriate. What I don’t want to be is a “Companion Book” because that’s a dead-end category on Amazon’s website, marketing-wise.
As the first of a series, it’s important to ensure the title is both catchy and has a consistency that can be continued with each new entry. In addition to keywords that will help the books get found in Amazon, the series should have a common identifier as well as a specific title for each book that clearly states what the reader is getting. Think “Harry Potter and the Next Book in this Series.”
I know, I know! It doesn’t seem fair that after a writer has opened a vein and bled onto a manuscript that now they must take care of all these little marketing tasks, too. But whether you write to make friends or to make money, you still need to get your work in front of readers. Think through your book’s title and subtitle with your business hat pulled on tightly.
Photo by furkanfdemir