Saturday, May 16, 2009

Tips for Terrific Titles #3

Tip #4: Remember Your Audience! Novelists do a great job, on the whole, of keeping their audience firmly in mind as they write. But sometimes when trying to come up with a catchy title or cover image, they go a bit far afield of that audience. The result is that readers who would love the story won't even pick it up. And those who do pick it up may not find what they expected inside. So as you work on your title, remember who your reader is. For example:
  • Age range. If your book would appeal mostly to Christian women in their 40s and up, then don't use a trendy title that will appeal to the twenty-somethings. And watch out for technology phrases. Unless your certain your core audience is familiar with both the meaning and use of something technologial, steer clear. For example, using RAM, bits, bytes, and bauds as words in your title may work for a younger audience, or one that's technologically savvy, but for older readers? Odds are good you'd lose 'em. (Or have them writing you letters scolding you for misspelling bites.)
  • Region. If your book is set in a particular region, are there phrases or even familiar sayings you can adapt to a title? Or, as we discussed in the character tip, are there landmarks that will position your story in a readers' mind? In the Northwest, using words such as Cascade, Siskiyou, Sun Valley, and Snohomish create an immediate image in our minds.For example, the publishing house I work for, B&H Publishing Group, is based in Nashville. Can you guess the phrase that I hear ALL the time...and now say on a regular basis? Yup: Bless yer heart!
  • Education levels. This has nothing to do with your readers' intelligence, but more with the fact that what appeals to those who've gone through advanced levels of education often is different than what appeals to those who finished their formal education in high school. And studies have shown that reading tastes of those with different educational backgrounds often differ as well.
  • Married and family status. Are your readers married? Single? Do they have kids or not? Are you readers of an age where their children are toddlers, teens, college-bound, etc? All of these factors come into play with what appeals. For example, I've been married almost 30 years, but my hubby and I never had children. So while I'm drawn to titles focusing on love or relationships, I'm not inclined to pick up a book that, by its title, is aimed at either someone single or someone with children. Unless, of course, the children are in jeopardy! Then that moves it from relationship into suspense, and I love that!
  • Gender. Yes, it does make a difference! Not that women aren't drawn to guy titles, or vice versa, but you do need to remember your core consumer and how the title will both sound and feel to them. For example, the title and cover below has its strongest appeal to men. Yes, we anticipate women will like it as well, but it was designed to appeal to men first.
Whereas I'd guarantee you this title/cover is geared to women. :)

  • Tastes in music. Song titles can be great book titles, or great springboards to a title. And every generation has universally known titles. Think about it: Leader of the Pack, Close to You, Great Balls of Fire, Hotel California, Billion Dollar Babies, If God Was One of Us, and so on. Also, consider hymns. There's a wealth of beautiful imagery in hymn titles. (note: you can't copyright a title, so no worries about copyright infringement.)
Also, keep in mind what may be uppermost on your readers' minds. What are they feeling, struggling with, fearing, anticipating? For example:

  • Economics (is your audience made up of those who are most likely hit by the current economic issues such as job and retirement loss?)
  • Issues with children
  • marital struggles
  • struggles with organized church
  • faith crises
  • Emotions (for example, with all the job and retirement loss in the last year, fear is a huge factor for many people. Titles that offer hope and peace, or a respite from the struggles, would draw readers' attention)

Remember, good titles--combined with good cover art--create an image or mood and garner a visceral response from the reader. It's my hope these tools will provide you with some assistance in coming up with two or three good options to send to you publisher when the time comes to do so.

So have at it--and happy titling!




B.K. Jackson said...

Another aspect of this topic is that gender consideration in title and cover considerations helps book shoppers like me, who seem to go against the traditional female shopper demographic. I go straight for books with a title/cover geared toward men - that way I know I'll find the kind of book I want to read (and in fact "Certain Jeopardy" caught my browsing eye while visiting the B&H website the other day and is next on my reading list).

Thank you for your insights on these topics.

B.K. Jackson said...

Sorry, forgot to add that while I haven't tried to calculate the actual numbers, my perception is that B&H does a better job at catering to male readers or women who want to read books with male protags. I don't know if that is a conscious striving of B&H or if you even feel that is true, but I am certainly grateful for it.

Rachel Hauck said...

Good post, Karen! Thanks for all thie great insight and information.


Valerie said...

Thanks for all these great ideas for titling a manuscript, Karen!

Teri Dawn Smith said...

Whew! That's a lot to consider! But then I guess we can use it for brainstorming purposes. Maybe if we came up with a title for each of those specific considerations, we could narrow it down to the top three.

And who knows? We just might be able to chose a title the publisher would like!

Is that the problem with those of us who write? We get married to the first title that comes to mind without going through this process you're suggesting?

Thanks for the great instruction. I haven't seen it anywhere else.

Karen B. said...

Thanks for your comments, all. Teri, some authors do get pretty attached to their titles, but thankfully most of the authors I've worked with know it's a team process. My publisher came up with most of my titles, with my help, and I'm happy with the results. But I came to them with a number of suggestions that provided a springboard for creative discussion. Publishers LOVE it when authors do that.