As an author, there’s nothing worse than telling someone the title of your book only to have them respond with a polite smile revealing that they think it’s terrible, and would never pick it up off the shelf. Of course, the author’s mind then wanders to the thousands of copies already printed bearing that bomb of a title…
At this point, there is no changing it.
Here’s how book titles are usually decided: an author pitches some ideas to her editor. Perhaps a few friends are asked for their opinion. The sales department weighs in. The Higher Ups must give their blessing. After all, they have an instinct for what works or doesn’t. What’s missing: Actually testing the title with readers.
Eager to avoid a terrible title for one of my upcoming books, I decided to do things differently. I decided to test different titles using Facebook.
Here’s what I did:
I picked two titles that suited my book and that I would be happy with:
- The Flame And The Wallflower (playing off the epically awesome classic romance, The Flame And The Flower)
- Sweet Wallflower of Mine (playing off Sweet Child Of Mine by Guns N’ Roses)
I created two landing pages on my website. As you can (sort of) see, they were identical except for the different titles.
For one day I set up two different Facebook ads.
Again, these were identical except for the titles. Each ad was targeted to fans of a particular bestselling romance author that I assumed had fairly similar audiences. Then I went about my day and checked my stats the next morning. One title blew the other one away in terms of clicks, likes, and had even gained some viral views. It was not the title I expected.
In case you can’t read it, one got 1,827 impressions and the other just 276.
These ads also scored me a bunch of new likes for my Facebook page and a bunch of new newsletter subscribers. Not a bad use of 20 bucks! I also got a great title that resonated with readers: The Flame and The Wallflower.
Next I learned that data isn’t everything in publishing
I emailed my agent and editor with the exciting news that I had a kick ass title backed up by data. I was then informed I could not use that title precisely because it was so similar to The Flame and The Flower, which they had also published.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had a title changed — my first book was supposed to be called The Pleasure Revolution but a buyer at one of the major accounts said they would not stock the book with that title because they didn’t feel readers would like it. We went with a different title rather than lose some major print distribution. It never occurred to anyone — my co-author, our editor, our publisher, the buyer — to test the title with readers.
Next I had to select new titles to test.
It was back to the drawing board. I only had one idea for a title — Gone with the Wallflower. It riffed off one of my favorite novels and fit the spirit of the book, but it got a “meh” response from a few friends. I was out of ideas. So I asked my Facebook fans for some suggestions with this post:
Maya Rodale - HELP! I need a title for my third... | Facebook
HELP! I need a title for my third Wallflower novel--Prudence's story. It has to include the word "wallflower" and I'd…
From this massive list (thank you all!) I picked 6 titles that I liked and that I thought fit the story. I ran those by my editor who nixed my favorite — Romancing The Wallflower — because another author had a similar title in the same year (Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare. Check it out!). Aside: there’s so much romancing going on. Surprise.
Facebook polls to the rescue!
With an approved list I created a poll using the app Polls for Facebook and shared it on my page. I asked responders to also share with their friends and like my page because why not?
The results came in pretty clear. Almost everyone hated my original title idea of Gone with the Wallflower (so glad I checked). The title I thought would probably win (The Wallflower Strikes Back) did not.
The winning title surprised me.
Here is a snapshot of the results:
Drilling down on the results I noticed that the votes were in roughly the same ratios seemed to hold whether people took the survey on my page or whether they viewed it from a shared link. It could be interesting if there was a disparity, suggesting that one title was more appealing to new readers than my fans (who would theoretically be more inclined to buy my book even if they didn’t love the title).
And the winner is…
My editor and I then conferred. Because I hadn’t shared the results publicly or promised anything to the winning title, I could have gone with whatever I wanted, data be damned. But I actually liked the most popular title. It fit the book and it gave me an amazing idea for how to rewrite a sex scene to make it much hotter. We conferred with the Higher Ups. And then, lo, it was decided that the title of my third wallflower novel would be….
What a Wallflower Wants
And I am forever indebted to….
All my readers who suggested titles ESPECIALLY Amy V who suggested the winning title! Beaucoup de thanks to all who voted!
Join me on Facebook…
Cool stuff happens over at my Facebook page. Obvs.
Buy the book…it’s what a wallflower wants ☺