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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Marketing tip for Indie / self-published authors

Have you, like me, been voraciously reading all the advice for self-published authors on how to actually sell your books? My problem is that my books (about horses and film) present a bit of a cross-genre quandary and so are a bit more difficult to market. I’ve been pursuing all the advice about building up social media (shame I didn’t start before publishing…) and so on and I’ve advertised in the horse media and in the film media. I even took out an ad in the UK Sunday paper The Observer but that was definitely not a good return for the cost in my case despite its millions of readers.

A lot of the advice around is along the lines of “go with giveaways”. Amazon’s Kindle Select programme allows you to do just that with the ebook version of your book and you can do it with paperbacks through Goodreads. I’ve done both but got very little back in terms of reviews (though they can lift your book up a little in the ratings and you can make useful connections on Goodreads).   

Anyhow, the latest thing I’ve tried is Story Cartel – and so far, it’s looking good. Story Cartel offers readers free books in return for an honest review.  Story Cartel comment that they are “a home to any kind of book you could imagine, from nail-biting thrillers to tender romance novels, serious literary fiction to self-help non-fiction”. It does cost ($30 – or under £18 at current exchange rate).

It’s important to point out that Story Cartel isn’t about buying reviews. It isn’t about manipulating people into giving your book five-star reviews. But remember, even low star reviews can help your ratings on amazon (and if all your reviews are 5 star, conspiracy theorists might think they’re all written by your relatives…).

Anyway, I’m part-way though the 3 weeks my book is on free offer for and so far I have garnered more reviews than I did with Goodreads and for half the cost. So right now, if you too need more reviews, I’m recommending giving Story Cartel a go. (Watch this space to see if it gets better by the end of my 3 weeks).

You can check out my book on Story Cartel – and find out more about the what Story Cartel has to offer both readers and writers here: http://storycartel.com/books/horse-and-pony-colours-which-one-would-you-choose

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