My guest today is Marshall Karp, an award winning former advertising executive, a playwright, a screenwriter, and a novelist. He has also written, produced, and executive produced TV shows for all the major networks. Karp tells us what makes a good title:
That’s my first thought. Why? Because your title is not just words. It’s a major design element on your cover – often even more than the illustration. And given the space limitations, the designer can do a lot more with one, two, or three words, than with ten. Also, picture your cover reduced to a thumbnail on Amazon. Too many words become unreadable. That said, I think my title HOW TO EARN MILLIONS, LOSE WEIGHT, AND DEVELOP KILLER ABS WITHOUT WORKING, DIETING OR EXERCISING would sell a ton. I just have to write the book.
I think it helps if your title makes prospective buyers wonder what that book might actually be about. My first title, THE RABBIT FACTORY, is probably my best. It just seemed to grab people. And the chalk outline of a six-foot rabbit on the cover added to the mystery. Note: a year before publication another author used the same title. I was crushed, but my publisher told me that titles are copyrighted, and there are lots of duplicate titles. THE RABBIT FACTORY, he said, was too good to change. He was right. The title definitely helped sell the book, both to the trade and to readers.
3. Not generic.
My second book, BLOODTHIRSTY, is about murder by exsanguination. I was so excited when I came up with a title that described the plot in one word that I never thought twice about it. In hindsight, I should have. Blood is a little — make that a lot — overused. But the designer loved having a word that was loaded with visual possibilities.
4. It’s a title. It’s not the book.
The title does not have to communicate what the book is about. It has to make the reader want to buy the book to find out what the book is about. Sorry if that sounds like I’m talking down to you, but it’s a basic fact that I was late in learning, and still have trouble dealing with.
5. If you’re lucky, the title will keep on changing.
English is not the universal language. So while THE RABBIT FACTORY is called THE RABBIT FACTORY in the UK and literally translated to IL MISTERO DEL CONIGLIO SCOMPARSO in Italy, it’s CARTOON in France, and in Dutch it’s loosely translated as FATAL ATTRACTION.
My latest book is about a group of cop wives who are getting murdered. They also have a house flipping business together, and my US publisher is very happy with the title FLIPPING OUT. But my UK publisher said the Flipping part wouldn’t resonate. I got in touch with my inner Agatha Christie and reluctantly offered up THE DEAD WIVES CLUB. They loved it.
But months before either book was ready for market there was a lot of confusion among readers, booksellers, and reviewers. Even when I tried to make it perfectly clear on my website that it was the same book, going by two different titles, people kept asking me how two different books could have the same synopsis?
Finally, my UK publisher agreed, and now, FLIPPING OUT is called FLIPPING OUT in the US and the UK.
6. The Airport Test.
Titles are very personal and intensely subjective. It’s hard for an author to subtract his or her own investment in a title when making the final decision. So try putting your prospective title to this test.
Narrow down your titles to a small handful. Then find someone whose opinion you value and say this: You’re in an airport. You have 30 seconds to buy a book. If you saw this title, does it (a) intrigue you to want to learn more, or does it (b) just grab you?
You want a title where the respondent says (b). Because the best thing a title can do is grab a reader in a way that makes her want to grab the book.
Review of Flipping Out
Conversation With Marshall Karp, Author of Flipping Out
How To Do a Blog Tour by Marshall Karp