Choosing your book’s title – a tip

As I found out – the hard way – including punctuation in your book’s title can hinder sales.

My book is a non-fiction, illustrated book about horses in film and on television. There are wild horses galore, chase scenes and lots of daring stunts. Horses rear, fight, buck, jump, dash through war zones, swim to deserted islands or play dead. Choosing the sub-title was relatively easy: “The Story of the Horse in Film” tells you what it’s about and “horse” and “film” and “horse in film” are going to show up in online searches. So far so good. But I wanted a title that would be able to convey some of the excitement there is in filming horses. Horses are unpredictable but fabulously fast and strong. I hit upon “Lights! Camera! Gallop!”

Everyone knows the director’s shout of “Lights! Camera! Action!” so I thought I can tap into that. Job done and eBook uploaded onto Amazon, Apple’s iTunes bookstore, Kobo, WH Smith and Waterstones.


That was August 2012. Sales since then have been mostly through Amazon, as you’d expect from Amazon’s dominant place in eBook sales overall. And with the sales, usually, come some reviews, from a (fairly small percentage) of buyers on Amazon. Still, I thought I should check the others. And here’s where I found the problem. The really big search engines, like Google and Amazon’s own internal search engine, are sophisticated enough to pick up the book whether you type in “Lights! Camera! Gallop!” – or “Lights Camera Gallop”. Smaller or more specialist search engines, however, such as those within other eBook sellers’ sites do not always pick up the book from the search term which has the exclamation marks, although they will pick it up if you type in “Lights Camera Gallop” . You can see the problem: your would-be buyer is looking for your book but doesn’t find it with the first search. How many would-be buyers will try again, leaving out the punctuation?

I’ve noticed the same problem with hyphens. I was searching a company’s website for one of their own publications which does have a hyphen in its title. Nothing. I rang them up – “Try searching for it without the hyphen”, they said. So they knew about the problem but had done nothing to fix it.   

My tip, then, is to avoid punctuation in your book title. I’ve not firmed up yet on my next book’s title – I was thinking maybe something really simple, like “Colourful Horses”. But then I’ll have another problem – if I’m hoping for a US market, won’t they be searching for “Colorful Horses”? Time for a rethink perhaps….

Book titles: choosing the right one – and pitfalls to avoid

I checked a lot of advice when I was choosing the title for my book – but still had some problems. Here’s how it went:

The first point, I thought, was obviously to choose something striking and thought-provoking. I doubted I’d come up with anything as sensationally striking as, say, Who Moved My Cheese? the best-selling motivational book by Spencer Johnson but I was aiming for something that would attract attention and curiosity – and at the same time convey my book’s content. It’s a non-fiction book but the principles around title-choosing are, I think, applicable to both fiction and non-fiction. Mine is about horses in film – covering all sorts of films, from silent movies through Westerns to the present day and War Horse. It deals with how these films are made, eg how the stunts are done, mistakes in filming, special effects, even make-up for horses. Anyway, you get the idea. After a lot of thought, I came up with “Lights! Camera! Gallop!”. That had it all, or so I thought. The reader knows and expects “Lights! Camera! Action!” and will immediately understand that this book will be about film – and horses.

I was, I confess, even a little smug. Lights! Camera! Gallop! – the exclamation marks make it sound exciting too. I was soon pretty much committed to the title. I’d sent out the book proposal all over the place and I’d been working on it for a couple of years. But then, when like so many writers these days, I realised I’d be going down the self-publishing route, I began researching the marketing and publicity side. That’s when I started to learn about search engines, search terms and metatags. Big problem. All the advice pointed to having key words in the title. But of course no-one looking for a book about horses or films would enter search terms such as Lights, Camera or Gallop (even without the exclamation marks.

The solution was to add a sub-title. Who Moved My Cheese? has An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life. I decided on The Story of the Horse in Film. Off I went, into production. So far so good. Until I looked up my book on Amazon only to find that there are a lot of book titles beginning with Lights! Camera!.:

Lights, Camera…

Lights, Camera . . . Cats!

Lights Camera… Travel!

Lights, Camera, Soundtracks

Lights, Camera, Capture

Lights, Camera, Girl Power!

Lights! Camera! Murder!

Lights, Camera . . . Zombies!

Lights Camera Masala

Lights, Camera… Nude!

Lights, Camera, Sex

There are more – but you can see the problem. And no prizes for guessing that the last two will show up more often than mine…..

Lessons learnt (but a little late for me…):

  • think through the options for your title at an early stage
  • ensure your title – or subtitle – includes key search terms if possible (vital for non-fiction, helpful for fiction)
  • try your title out by searching for it with Google or Amazon

 Good luck!