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!

coversmallcolours jpeg1nightmissionsmall

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!