Choosing the Right Book Title

Digital Book World just had a good article about “Book Blurb as a Salesperson.” … alesperson

To which I added this comment about the importance of selecting just the right title.

Blurbs are great, but don’t neglect the title. Book retailer search engines pay a lot of attention to the words in a book’s title. Spend time getting it just right. For instance, one of my recent books is:

My Nights with Leukemia: Caring for Children with Cancer

Notice that it includes all three words that matter most: children, cancer and leukemia. On Amazon, that’s enough to make it the #2 hit when searching for “children leukemia.” The “My Nights” in the title makes clear that it’s a personal account of what it’s like to care for children with leukemia on a hospital’s night shift when trouble often strikes. I wrote it especially for nurses and nursing students, but those who have children with cancer can find it helpful for understanding the staff who care for their children. I deal with almost every imaginable issue, and even explain why my work there was the most meaningful in my life.

Some retailers, including Amazon, also allow authors and readers to contribute keywords for their search engines. That’s a good way to include words that could not be fitted into the title and doubling the use of the word (title plus subject) probably improves a book’s search ranking. For this book, words like “Nurse,” “Nursing” and “Oncology” can be put there as subject. “Oncology” in the title could be a big turnoff.

Today, when people often buy books online without seeing them, the title and subtitle has become even more important. I try to create a short, catchy, vivid, easy to remember title followed by a highly descriptive subtitle. The latter can be longer but should not be too long.

Another of my books about when I worked at the top children’s hospital has the title:

Hospital Gowns and Other Embarrassments

“Hospital Gowns” is vivid. “Hospital” gets in that this book is about hospital care, and “Gowns” makes it vivid. Everyone knows that hospital gowns cover poorly. The rest of the title, “and Other Embarrassments” makes it clear this is a book about embarrassment in hospitals. And it works. On Amazon, it is the #1 hit in a search for “hospital embarrassment.”

The title can’t do everything though. The book could be funny look by a patient at all that goes on in hospitals much like someone else’s Hospital Gowns Don’t Have a Pockets. There’s where the subtitle matters. Mine is A Teen Girl’s Guide to Hospitals. It’s a practical guide to avoiding embarrassment in hospitals. It’s actually good advice for anyone, but I focused on what I knew best. After 16 months of working nights caring for small children with cancer, I worked 10 months as the only guy on the nursing staff of the adolescent unit. Half my patients were teen girls for whom my guyish presence was an issue. This book describes how they and I managed to establish friendly, trusting relationships.

Flipped, the book is useful for anyone providing patient care for the opposite sex. That’s why I’m thinking of added another book to the series: Bedpans and Other Embarrassments: A Nurse’s Guide to Happier Patients. That illustrates another point about good titles. If you’re doing a series of books with a common theme, having similar titles helps readers. People who see Hospital Gowns and Other Embarrassments listed next to Bedpans and Other Embarrassments know the two books go together.

As an author, you may even try to develop a trademarked style to your book titles. Some of Agatha Christie’s titles, for instance, use childhood rhymes: Then There Were None, Five Little Pigs, and A Pocket Full of Rye. Develop your unique own style in titles.

Like developing a professionally done cover, time spent finding just the right title tells readers you took time with the writing too. And if you look at the two books I mentioned above, you’ll see that both have very appropriate covers. I spent many hours looking through stock photo services to find just the right pictures.

–Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books

Good advice!