We’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover — but we do…
I know, I know. It’s not literal. Except when it is. But the saying is a saying for a reason.
As human beings, we make snap judgments. It’s wired. It’s how our brains work. We have millions of years’ of evolution built in that helped us make the kind of split-second decisions required for survival in the wild.
And now in our modern, advanced, sophisticated society, we have morals and awareness of our higher nature. We have reason and rationality. And we’re supposed to not be superficial. And we’re supposed to use logic to guide our decisions and actions.
While it is possible, through life, to become better at making more logical decisions, I think nearly all of us underestimate the following truth…
Most of our decisions are made at an instinctual, emotional level — and only later justified with rational thought.
And usually, the people who do this the MOST and have the LEAST control of it are the hyper-rational “engineer” types. They claim they’re above emotion, but they really just hide from it and so they don’t recognize its influence on their behavior and decision-making.
What am I getting at?
Well, this is the topic of today’s Mailbox Monday question. It’s about creating a title that causes your best prospective readers to grab your book off the shelf (or click it on the virtual shelves of Amazon), literally judging the book by the cover, and making a buying decision, right there.
To have YOUR question about marketing, selling, copywriting, business, and more answered in an upcoming Mailbox Monday, click here.
My biggest question is how to find the right title in order to sell a book easily at Amazon or elsewhere. Book is on Self-Help and Christian faith.
The best way to figure out what people want is…
Let’s start with the principle of this.
This is the thinking behind about 80% of the advice you’re going to get below.
And remember, principles drive strategy, which drives technique and tactical implementation. If you get the principle right, the right tactics will follow.
So, the underlying principle to naming your book is…
Ask the market what it wants!
There’s really no better way to figure out what people will respond to than actually putting some options out there, and seeing what people will respond to.
Now there are a million counter-examples of this all throughout business and marketing history. But this principle pretty much makes up the history of direct response marketing. And has proven itself over and over again.
If you can actually put some options out there and see what people respond to, you’ll very quickly figure out what people want most.
A lesson in book titles, from marketing history…
Have you ever heard of E. Haldeman-Julius?
He was a book publisher based out of Kansas, during the Roaring 1920s. And he built a book publishing empire that ended up selling about 300 MILLION books.
Most of them were under his “Little Blue Book” imprint. Where he’d republish others’ books. He’d run a full-page ad in the paper. The ad was basically a list of hundreds of books. And the offer was something like, 20 books for $1. You’d simply mark the ad for the 20 books you wanted, send it with a dollar to the publisher, and they’d send the books.
Every book cost a nickel. There weren’t blurbs or any other ads for each book. It literally had to be sold on title alone.
And Haldeman-Julius was a relentless tester. He’d test multiple titles for the same book. And see which came out on top. He found some titles could make a book a best-seller, while other titles for the same book were a flop.
In his book, The First Hundred Million, he tells many stories of testing new titles, and getting dramatically different sales results.
For example, there was a classic book, Theophilo Gautier’s Fleece of Gold. When it wasn’t selling, he tested the new title, The Quest for a Blond Mistress. Sales increased from 6,000 copies one year under the previous title, to 50,000 under the new. That’s more than 8X the sales, for the same book, with a new title.
A play titled Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme was retitled to The Show-Off, and sales jumped from basically nothing to almost 10,000 in a year.
Or how about this? The Mystery of the Iron Mask, when retitled The Mystery of the Man in the Iron Mask, grew in sales by nearly three times.
Fascinating. His book is full of these stories and comparisons. And includes some broader observations about what appeals to readers, based on which of his thousand-plus books they bought, and under what titles each book sold best. (Hint: Yes, sex sells. So does self-improvement. And fun and laughter. People buy religion, but they also buy skepticism — in fact, the conflict between religion and skepticism is particularly compelling to readers.)
Now let’s get current on this…
Today’s equivalent is faster and easier than ever before…
I don’t know if you’ve ever read The 4-Hour Work Week. It’s a perennial best-seller. And for a reason.
Its title was created with a modern version of Haldeman-Julius’s tests.
After a few misadventures with trying to title the book, the book’s author Timothy Ferriss used Google Ads to compare the interest in a few different titles.
Basically, he wrote a handful of titles, and ran a small campaign to his target audience.
Each ad was dominated by the title itself.
Turns out the most people were interested in clicking on information about The 4-Hour Work Week, and he had a title.
See the book for the full story.
Others have used similar tactics.
Boardroom, Inc., under my “friend for life” Brian Kurtz, regularly ran interest surveys. They had it down to a science, too.
They’d send out a card to their best customers with a list of titles. They’d ask which they’d be most likely to buy. And based on which were most popular, they’d develop those books.
An example campaign…
If I were doing this today… Here’s roughly what I’d do.
I’d brainstorm a list of my top few titles. I’d aim for the best I could come up with. If I had too many, I’d try to sort them down, maybe with the help of a few friends who weren’t afraid to say bad things about titles they didn’t like.
Then, I’d create a few different setups I could run in parallel.
For each title, I’d have an ad, leading to a landing page with an email opt-in form.
I’d also have a download page for each one.
The main thing I’d change between each would be the title.
And it’d say something along the lines of, “Get the first 3 chapters free from my upcoming book, [TITLE]… Plus get notified when it’s released.”
The ad would lead to the landing page, and that to a download of a version of the first chapters with the title included in it.
Then, I’d rotate those ads to the same audience, a target audience of my ideal buyers.
What you would find — most likely — is that at least one of the titles stands a bit above the rest, and is the clear winner.
Then, you could move forward confidently with that as the winner.
At the minimum, consider titles that meet this criteria…
A few weeks back, I discussed my ABC Headline Formula.
My assertion was that every headline should:
— Be clear about the Audience you’re speaking to…
— Convey the primary Benefit, and…
— Stimulate the Curiosity of the reader.
Since your title is the headline for your book, you’d be smart to make sure your title and at least your cover does the same.
Also, it wouldn’t hurt to test at least one that you really don’t like — because often those are the ones that surprise you and are the biggest winners.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,