When I’m working on a book, I like to think of things like the title, opening scene, overall plot etc. as a team of employees, each of whom has a specific job to do. At the revision stage, I evaluate each team member’s performance with one specific question in mind:
If [insert relevant name and task here] was an employee, would I give him a raise?
If the answer is ‘no’, then I’m giving the job to someone else.
“Okay,” I hear you say (in a very much Don’t make any sudden moves. He could crack at any moment! kind of way ). “I can see the logic of this analogy when it comes to something like the opening scene, but why bother with the title. Everyone knows it’s the cover that attracts a potential new reader, and unless I’m an established author already, I have little or no say in that.”
True, the cover has a big part to play, but is that really what the vast majority of your potential new readers see first? I don’t think so. I believe the title is the first (and possibly only) thing most of them ever see.
Imagine your novel came out a few months ago. It’s doing okay. The book stores have copies on the shelves and you can find it in quite a few libraries, but it’s not stocked at places like Target or Walmart.
Now, let's visualize a potential reader (we’ll call her Alice), strolling up and down the aisles at Barnes & Noble, looking for something to buy. Sure, a few books face outwards, but for most of them (yours included), only the spine is showing.
How many potential readers like Alice will walk past your book each month? Assuming it’s on sale in a lot of stores, I’d say thousands, perhaps tens of thousands.
That’s where Tommy Title comes in. As Alice scans the shelves, sub-consciously looking for a key word or unusual title which might mean a book’s worth pausing to take a look at, Tommy’s job is to leap out and attract her attention (in a good way). He’ll need to do a stellar job to make himself stand out from amongst all those other books, but he’d better, because otherwise it won’t matter how good the cover is, that potential reader will walk right on by.
I had a quick look through my collection. These are just some of the books I remember buying after the title leaped out at me: The Sword of Attila by Michael Curtis Ford; A Fine Night For Dying by Jack Higgins; Killing the Lawyers by Reginald Hill and The Good Guy* by Dean Koontz.
I put an * by The Good Guy because the spine had a picture of a post-it next to the title, containing the words “KILL ME INSTEAD”, which definitely caught my eye.
How about you?
What was the last book you read after the title alone piqued your interest?