Three self-publishing tips: things to avoid when choosing your title

As many “how to” bloggers and writers have stressed, choosing your book’s cover and its title can seriously help or hinder your sales when you come to the marketing and publicity for your book. But even when you have the perfect cover and you think you have found a pithy, attention-grabbing title that promises a really good read in your chosen genre and style, it pays to do a bit of thinking and research before making your final decision. There are some pitfalls to avoid.

Here are three things you can learn from problems I’ve had:

  1. Try to include your key word(s) in the title rather than only in the sub-title. My first book is a non-fiction one about horses in film and on TV. My title: “Lights! Camera! Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film.” Yes, search engines will pick up “horse” and “film” even though they are in the sub-title. But the mighty Amazon machine which sends those helpful alerts along the lines of “you might also like” picks sometimes picks a whole set of lighting products….
  2.  Avoid any word that is spelled differently in American English from how it is in UK English. [I was going to write “spelt differently” – but apparently that’s a UK English option – it must be “spelled” in American English. See what I mean?] My third book is called “Horse and Pony Colours: which would you choose?” You notice I’d learnt from mistake number 1 above: my keywords are in the title not the sub-title. And I’d followed a suggestion I’d read that non-fiction titles should show the reader what it is that your book offers them. But “colour” is of course spelled “color” in American English. The search engines still find the book from either side of the Atlantic – but they flag up “Did you mean Horse and Pony Colors?” So now there could be a tiny suggestion at the back of the reader’s mind: can’t this author even spell?
  3. Do your research first – how many already published books have the same or a similar title? You don’t have to avoid duplicating an existing title if there’s only one other book with the same title or a very similar one. I edited some stories recently: “Night Mission: 7 WWII era stories” by Clive Lodge. The “Night Mission” bit came from one of the strongest stories. I nearly called it “The Tunnel” after one of the other stories and I’d chosen some great cover pictures of mysterious tunnels. But the cover then seemed to hint at science fiction rather than second world war adventures. “Night Mission” – with a Spitfire in the evening cloud on the cover – fitted much better. A quick search only threw up one other “Night Mission” – and since that one was about one night stands and sported an obviously sexy cover I doubted there would be too much confusion. But with “Lights! Camera! Gallop!” I discovered after I published that there are very many books beginning “Lights! Camera!” and at the moment they mostly seem to come up before mine on search pages.

So, take choosing your title seriously – avoid my mistakes – and good luck!

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The Lone Ranger: past and present

OK, in the UK right now, it might be a little bit too hot (very unusual) to think about films but by August this may all have changed. And hardened film buffs carry on film-watching regardless.

The Lone Ranger – starring Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer – is finally, after many delays, incidents and an accident, due to charge into UK cinemas on 9 August.

The challenge with a remake like this is to resonate with the original much loved stories while bringing something new and modern to the film. Time, then, for a look back to the original. The Lone Ranger was an early TV series in the 1950s, about an unnamed, masked Texas Ranger in the American Old West, who galloped about on his horse Silver, righting injustices with the aid of his wise but laconic Native American assistant, Tonto. Silver was introduced to the audience at the beginning of each episode as ‘A fiery horse with the speed of light!’ At the end, the Lone Ranger would famously say, ‘Hi-Yo, Silver, away!’ (often misheard by the audience as ‘Hi-Ho’), as they galloped off. The series theme tune was the ‘cavalry charge’ finale of Rossini’s William Tell overture. The Lone Ranger had well over two hundred episodes and ran from 1949 to 1961, including re-runs. It successfully made the leap from black and white to colour TV in 1956.

The original Silver was a magnificent horse, white all over except for a couple of black dots around one eye.

So what about the remake? The film dramatically reveals much of the back story to the old series: why the lone ranger was “lone” and why he wears a mask. Importantly, the film’s director Gore Verbinski has taken a similar line to Steven Spielberg’s in War Horse: he’s gone for real stunts wherever possible and spectacular real locations instead of taking the easy way out with CGI. From the trailers, it looks like this has really paid off in terms of the film’s excitement factor. 2013’s Silver, is also a fabulous white horse – but this one even gallops inside a train.

Check out the trailers. On YouTube there’s even a behind-the-scenes trailer which shows the sheer dangers involved in shooting hair-raising action sequences. For example, there’s some action set on a rickety scaffolding on top of one of the rocky buttes in Monument Valley. There’s also has a clip of Johnny Depp’s (real and unscheduled) dramatic accident as he falls off his horse and gets dragged.

Fast-moving, stunning Western locations – amazing train and horse scenes. Let’s hope the film lives up to its trailer hype. I’ll be going for the horse scenes anyhow.

For more, especially on Johnny Depp’s character, check out ScreenwritingU’s Jenny Miller recent interview with the film’s screenwriter Justin Haythe – see http://www.screenwritingu.com/blog/screenwriter-justin-haythe-writing-lone-ranger

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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.

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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….