When I started as a publisher, people used to tell me to publish
what you know and like. It all sounded naive. But I think it’s true:
you have to publish books you feel passionately about. — Neil Ortenberg, publisher, Thunder’s Mouth Press
The first step in marketing any product is to produce something worthwhile, something people want or need, something people
will buy. As products, books involve a combination of content, author, title, design, packaging, and price. All these elements must
work together to create a bestselling book.
6:01 Strive for Excellence
Regardless of what kind of books you publish, the books must have some sort of content. Yes, it is possible to sell books with no
content at all (witness the Anything Books and diaries), but that is a limited market. Most publishers must give priority to content. And
rightly so. Indeed, the reason most of us are in publishing is because of the content. We want to create books with lasting value,
with significance, with substance.
Excellence of content does not come out of thin air. You must seek it out. And the first step in finding what you want is to define as
clearly as possible what it is that you are seeking. Set a firm objective, make it clear to your editorial staff, and then let them go to work.
Here are a few guidelines your editors should have:
- Seek the best available—the best authors, the best subjects, the best content, the best marketing possibilities.
- Make sure the book fits into the company's current and projected lines of books. Don’t spread yourself thin by trying to
publish in too many subject areas. Ask yourself: Will the book add to our credibility?
- Always be aware of the marketing implications. Your editors should participate in your major marketing meetings and decisions.
- When reviewing a proposal, consider not only its potential for direct sales but also for subsidiary rights,
international sales, and special sales.
- Also ask: Will it fit into our backlist? Will it be a good backlist seller?
- Then ask: Will the copyright be valuable? This question becomes most important to those larger publishers affiliated with
TV networks, movie studios, audio tape producers, or other content hungry subsidiaries.
- Think big—not that all books have to be bestsellers, but rather that all books should have grand possibilities, either for
sales or for the enlightenment of the world, or for both.
- Publish solid information. Publish books that are useful, inspiring, entertaining, or informative.
- Stratify your list. Be clear about which of your books are A list (that is, worthy of extra promotions and
national exposure), C list (those aimed at a limited market, thus requiring a shorter print run and less promotion),
and B list (titles in the middle of the other two categories).
- Consider who your target audience is. Who would buy this book? Who is your core market? How large is the audience?
- Is the timing right? Is the content fresh, new, unique, interesting?
- What is the competition? How is this book better? What do the publishers of competitive titles do to promote their titles?
6:02 When Should You Publish a Book?
Before you decide to publish a book, here are a few key points you should consider. These points apply to large publishers
as well as small publishers. In fact, they also apply to writers. You might want
to create a checklist of the following points so you cover them with every title you publish.
The Chill Factor
Don’t publish a book unless you have a passion for it. If you are going to do justice to the book, you need to believe in it. First,
you will be living with it for at least one year, maybe five or more years. Second, if you are not passionate about your book, your lack
of passion will be communicated to book buyers, media people, and consumers. It will always show through no matter how much you pump
yourself up. You cannot fake passion. You have to live it, right down to your toes.
I call this requirement for passion The Chill Factor. When I think of writing or publishing a book, I know it’s a good idea if I
feel chills running up and down my spine. If I don’t feel that kind of excitement about a book, I will not publish it. In fact, I won’t
send out a news release unless I feel the same Chill Factor about the news release.
Make It the Best
Don’t publish a book unless it is the best on the market. The first question bookstores, wholesalers, sales reps, and consumers
will ask you is: How is your book different from other books on the market? You need to answer that question. If you can answer that
yours is the best, so much the better!
It’s up to you to define how yours is the best. Maybe it’s the biggest. The least expensive. The most comprehensive. The most
revolutionary. Why is it the best?
If your book is not the best, don’t publish it until you can change it enough to make it the best. Never try to squeak through
with almost the best. That’s a poor attitude for building a company. You can only afford to be less than the best if you don’t care about
your customers or you don’t plan on being around for very long. Remember: The reputation of your company is on the line with every
book you publish. Make sure it’s the best!
Get Endorsements for the Book
Don’t publish a book unless you can get at least two endorsements for the book before you sign the contract with the author. Or,
at the very least, before you go to press with the first edition.
Identify Five Target Audiences
Don’t publish a book unless you can identify five target audiences for the book. That means that you should know at least five different
groups that would want your book—plus you should know how to reach them. What magazines do they read? What organizations do they belong
to? What catalogs serve these audiences? What book clubs?
For example, with my Celebrate Today book, I identified these target audiences: trivia lovers, birthday gift buyers,
publicists, book publishers, writers, media (especially radio), speakers, meeting organizers, teachers, sales managers, and retailers.
Identify Three Ways to Reach Each Audience
Don’t publish a book unless you can identify at three ways to reach each of the five or more targeted audiences for you book. You
should work out a specific plan for publicity, advertising, and distribution to each audience.
Backlist Sales Potential
Don’t publish a book unless it has backlist sales potential. Look for books that will sell for years to come. Don’t try to catch the
latest fad. If you want to build a business, you need to build from a
solid base—and, for publishing, that means you have to publish books with lasting quality.
Ten Minutes a Day
Don’t publish a book unless you are willing to spend at least ten minutes per day for the next three years marketing that book. Never
break this rule. If you are not willing to spend ten minutes per day marketing a book, then you have no right publishing it. Let someone
else do it—someone who believes in the book enough to spend a few minutes each day marketing it.
6:03 Edit for Clarity and Simplicity
Don't let a book out your door which has not been edited carefully by an experienced editor. Edit for clarity. Edit for a readable
style. Edit for ease of use. The more accessible you make the contents, the more likely readers will be to finish the book … and
recommend it to their friends and associates.
- Mail Order Know-How by Cecil Hoge, Sr. could sell many more copies if only it had been edited more thoroughly. It could
have been cut by 30% without detracting from its content. It would have made an outstanding 300-page book. As it is, the superb
content is lost in the rambling, unedited nature of the book.
- The same is true for most of the books self-published by Jeffrey Lant. They are great books with plenty of good
information, but the key points often get lost among all the repetition. The books need a good editor.
Authors — Work with your editors to create the best book you can write. Don't be offended if they suggest changes to
make the book better. Let them do their job. Don't be so married to your words that you let the words get in the way of the message. A
good editor can make your book clearer and simpler so more readers will be able to read and use it.
6:04 Edit for Promotional Clout
When editing a manuscript, consider ways to insert material into the book to make it more promotable. For example, if you are editing
a book on gardening, list specific seed and tool companies as resources in the appendix. Not only will such lists benefit the
reader, but they will also provide you with potential premium sales. Any company with marketing savvy would jump at the chance to use your
book as a premium to give away or sell to its customers—especially if that company is mentioned in the book as a prime resource.
Beth Ann Herman, author of Power City, mentioned several well-known products, including Maserati automobiles, in hopes of
attracting corporate sponsors to help her promote the novel. To ensure she’d get some sponsorships, she hired a public relations
agency to help her promote the book to potential sponsors. The Beverly Hills Maserati dealership was convinced to host a promotional
party for the book. Although few sales were made at the party, the event was covered by CNN, USA TODAY, and Entertainment Tonight.
Another way to increase the promotional value of a book is to expand a special chapter or section so the book attracts a wider
audience. While editing the fourth edition of the Directory of Short-Run Book Printers, I renamed it the Directory of Book,
Catalog, and Magazine Printers and featured not only book printers but also those capable of printing catalogs, magazines, and
other bound publications. I thus expanded the potential audience from just book publishers and self-publishers to businesses and
organizations as well. This slight change in editorial matter increased the bookstore sales of the directory.
Authors — Look for ways to include extra chapters or additional information that might be useful to potential
readers— and to people who might not otherwise buy the book. Is there any material you can add that will increase the audience for your book?
6:05 Look for Tie-In Possibilities
Your editors should be on the lookout for any manuscripts which could tie in with current television programs, movies, or other
products already being promoted. The resulting book can then hitch a ride on an already rolling promotional wagon.
- Avon sold over ten million copies of The Thorn Birds, many after the TV miniseries.
Shogun also sold well after its release as a TV miniseries.
- Two Sniglets books hit the bestsellers lists. Certainly
it did not hurt their sales to be indirectly promoted on HBO's Not Necessarily the News.
- Simon & Schuster, a sister company to Nickelodeon, publishes many titles related to Nickelodeon shows, including Rugrats.
- The Muppets shows and movies have given rise to a great variety of licensed products including books by Holt, Rinehart
& Winston, Random House, and Fenmore Associates as well as software by Simon & Schuster. Many gift stores have included
these books in the Muppet Boutiques organized and promoted by Henson & Associates.
- Cookbooks by Joan Lunden, David Letterman’s mom, Miss Piggy, and Regis and Kathie
Lee have all been among the bestselling cookbooks of the year.
- Lake Wobegon Days would not have been the bestseller it was without the prior exposure of Garrison Keillor and Lake
Wobegon on the weekly National Public Radio series, Prairie Home Companion.
- Books by talk radio hosts have all made the bestseller lists in the past few years, including books by Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern, and
Laura Schlessinger. As Judith Regan, editor of Limbaugh and Stern, noted in an interview in American Bookseller, “Either you have an
author that’s very bookable on television and radio and is a great salesperson, or you have just a fabulous book that spreads by word of mouth.”
- Pocket Books sold over two million copies of the book tie-in to the movie, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and over a
million for the tie-in to the third Star Trek movie, The Search for Spock. Their Star Trek series of original novels regularly
sell over 300,000 copies each. It's a continuing gold mine for them.
- Avon sold over 2,800,000 copies of their Gremlins movie tie-in book.
- Ballantine sold over 1,500,000 copies of their movie tie-in, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
- The Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Cookbook and Gumpisms were two of the bestselling books of the year after Forest
Gump won several awards at the Oscars and dominated the box office.
- Children’s movies always lead to several licensed books hitting the top of the children’s bestseller list. For example,
six of the top ten hardcover bestsellers in 1994 were related to the Disney movie, The Lion King.
- A number of companies brought out books to tie-in with the movie biography of Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa. Two of
these titles became bestsellers, Vintage's combined edition of Dinesen's Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass and St.
Martin's biography of Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller by Judith Thurman.
- Alice Walker's The Color Purple stayed on the top of the mass-market bestseller lists for months after the release of the movie.
- Note that your book does not have to be about a movie to capitalize on that movie’s popularity. When The English
Patient became one of the most successful movies of 1996, Knopf published a new edition of Herodotus’s The Histories,
which was a favorite book of Count Almasy, one of the main characters in the movie. Several other publishers also saw small
sales uplifts from the movie for their editions of The Histories.
- When Fox Searchlight released producer Bruce Beresford’s movie Paradise Road, it sold the screenplay reprint rights to
Buzz Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s, but it also chose to work with White Cloud Press, which had published Helen Colijn’s Song
of Survival. While the movie and the book featured different stories, they were about the same topic—Dutch female prisoners of
war who kept their sanity by singing classical symphonies during World War II. Because Fox figured Colijn, who was one of those
prisoners, would add a note of reality to the promotion of the movie, they worked closely with White Cloud to set up interviews
and other features that would have been the envy of many small publishers: CNN, People, Parade, Modern Maturity, CBS Evening
News, Today Show, Publishers Weekly, and a Lifetime documentary.
Magazines and Newsletters
- Consumer Guide, Rodale Press, Sunset Books, Meredith, Writer’s Digest Books, Scholastic, and many other magazine publishers
regularly publish books that draw upon their editorial expertise.
- When Collier published the People Magazine Guide to Movies on Video (taken from reviews in People’s Picks and Pans
section), HBO bought a five-figure quantity to use as premium giveaways to its cable accounts.
- Viking’s Woman’s Day Cookbook has sold 270,000 copies in two years, many of those sales undoubtedly came from readers of the magazine.
- Backpacker magazine entered into an agreement with Mountaineers Books to produce a series of wilderness books. As
part of the agreement, Backpacker advertises the titles in
the magazine while the publisher sells the books via more than 4,000 bookstores and outdoor retailers.
- Golden Books worked with Essence magazine to bring out a line of books featuring children of color. As they noted,
Essence readers look very seriously at anything with the Essence brand on it.
- Even professional trade magazines can contribute valuable content to a book line. For example, John Wiley & Sons
collaborated with Industry Week on a series of books about manufacturing and management.
- Bottom Line Personal provided continuing promotion in its two-million circulation newsletter for Bottom Line Personal
Book of Bests. In turn, the publisher St. Martin’s used a $100,000 advertising campaign to place print ads in USA
TODAY and New York Times, schedule a 15-city author tour, produce a floor display, and provide co-op money to bookstores.
- Catalogs, especially the specialty catalogs, can be a rich resource for content. For instance, Addison-Wesley has published
an entire series of Eddie Bauer sporting guides.
- Items from Our Catalog, a takeoff on the L.L. Bean catalog, became a bestseller.
- Since 1992, Time-Life has sold six million books from their Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library.
- Sports has always been a rich source of content. There are too many books to mention, from biographies and team
histories to baseball card price guides and hall of fame pictorials, but most are steady sellers. And even a small
publisher can hit a home run with a book featuring the local team, especially if that team has a winning season.
College teams as well as professional teams can lead to bestsellers.
- Note: Golf guides and baseball books are perennial bestsellers around Father’s Day.
- Random House has published four books featuring Wrinkles (the 1985 Canadian toy of the year) as well as other books featuring
the Berenstein Bears, Sesame Street, and the Muppets. In 1988, for the first time, Random House exhibited at the Toy Fair
as a toy manufacturer. Indeed, besides books, Random House now produces crayons, electronic games, board games, and puzzles.
- When Reader’s Digest published a line of books related to Fisher-Price toys, the toy company contributed national TV and
print advertising, a McDonald’s Happy Meal promotion, and a Little People look-alike contest, while the publisher provided costume
characters for bookseller tours, consumer contests, trade advertising, and merchandising support. Such cross-promotions are
one of the great pluses of publishing books related to other products.
- Klutz published The Etch A Sketch Book combined with a travel-sized Etch A Sketch toy. Within six weeks, they had sold
out of the first printing of 125,000 copies.
- Campbell's Creative Cooking with Soup is one product-related cookbook that comes readily to mind, but many
other product tie-ins including at least one for Hershey's chocolate and another for Spam have been published and sold many
copies. One key to success is to work with brand names that are already well promoted and trusted by your target market.
- Viking’s Pillsbury Complete Book of Baking, published in 1993, has sold 180,000 copies in four years.
- Restaurants are also a great source for books. Cookbooks featuring Silver Palate, Chez Panisse, Moosewood Restaurant, Union
Square Cafe, Green’s, and Charlie Trotter’s have all been great backlist bestsellers.
- In 1992, when juicers were all the rage on TV infomercials, several books quickly became bestsellers. Juicing for Life,
co-authored by Cherie Calborn, the Juicewoman, sold more than 350,000 copies in the first two months of publication. Another
book published by Avery, The Juicing Book by Stephen Blauer, had sold only moderately well during its first three
years, but when the juicing craze hit, the book’s sales zoomed to more than 225,000 copies. Several other juicing books experienced
healthy sales as well. Of course, it did not hurt that many of the juicer manufacturers were recommending the books and, in some
cases, providing excerpts with their juicers.
- Computers (in all makes and models), computer software (for all makes and models), automobiles (including the classic, How
to Keep Your Volkswagon Alive, and many other products have been featured successfully in books.
- Look for brand names that have a loyal following and/or status, such as Coca-Cola, Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Rolex
watches, Cessna airplanes, Burpee seeds, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Southwest Airlines, and Walt Disney World.
- John Wiley & Sons collaborated with the New York Public Library to publish The Incredible Earth and The
Mysteries of Space, two fact-filled, question-and-answer books. They have plans to do many more titles.
- Cause-related marketing has added great value to books published by Foghorn Press and others. For details, read Chapter 19.
6:06 Get the Best Authors You Can Afford
When selecting possible books for publication, look to the author's qualifications, experience, and promotability. In one survey
of children's booksellers, they rated the author's reputation as the third most important criteria (after contents and illustrations) when
selecting books for resale. Among adult consumers, while the subject of the book was the most important criteria for 43%, the author’s
reputation was the primary motivating factor for 23% of book buyers.
Here are a few pointers on how to select authors:
Select authors on the basis of past performance. Authors who have previously written books tend to be more reliable, are less likely to
cause problems, and are generally more promotable. If they are also a big name, so much the better. As mentioned previously, there are a
number of authors whose new books are guaranteed bestsellers.
In publishing Paul Pearsall’s The Pleasure Prescription, Hunter House made the bestseller list for the first time. Pearsall, a
columnist for Living Fit magazine and active speaker, had earlier bestsellers such as Superimmunity and Super Marital Sex.
If you have a choice between a celebrity author and an unknown, choose the celebrity (as long as the books are fairly equal in
content and quality). Someone who is better known is more promotable—even if they have never authored a book before. As Rick
Horgan, executive editor of Warner Books, noted in a recent Publishers Weekly article, “Making the bestseller list is all
about velocity, and celebrities have tremendous velocity.”
Movie stars, sports heroes, political figures, military heroes, company presidents, great chefs, fashion designers, and other
celebrities are all promotable authors (provided they have help from ghost writers if they need it). Here are a few bestselling
celebrities from the past few years:
- Movie stars—Jamie Lee Curtis, Tell Me Again; Isabella Rossellini, Some of Me; Kirk Douglas, The
Broken Mirror; John Travolta, One-Propeller One-Way Night Coach.
- Television stars—Paul Reiser, Couplehood; Bill Cosby, Fatherhood; Susan Powter, Food; Oprah
Winfrey, Make the Connection; Richard Simmons, Farewell to Fat; Rosie O’Donnell, Kids Are Punny.
- Radio stars—Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives; Rush Limbaugh, See
I Told You So; Howard Stern, Miss America.
- Comedians—Jerry Seinfeld, SeinLanguage; Tim Allen, Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man; George Carlin,
Brain Droppings; Dom DeLuise, Hansel and Gretel; George Burns, 100 Years, 100 Stories.
- Music stars—LeAnn Rimes, Holiday in Your Heart; Michael Bolton, Secret of the Lost Kingdom; Della Reese,
Angels Along the Way; Carly Simon, Midnight Farm; Lorrie Morgan, Forever Yours, Faithfully, Patti Labelle,
Don’t Block the Blessings; Madonna, Sex.
- Sports heroes—Greg Louganis, Breaking the Surface; Dennis Rodman, Bad as I Want to Be; Ekaterina
Gordeeva, My Sergei; Cal Ripken, The Only Way I Know; Michael Jordan, Rare Air; Tim Green, The Dark
Side of the Game; Rick Pitino, Success Is a Choice.
- Religious leaders—Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope and Gift and Mystery; Billy Graham,
Just as I Am and Angels; Robert Schuller, Be Happy Attitudes.
- Political leaders—Robert McNamara, In Retrospect; William Bennett, The Book of Virtues; Jimmy
Carter, Always a Reckoning; Newt Gingrich, Contract with
America; Duchess of York, My Story; Ed Rollins, Bare Knuckles and Back Rooms.
- Newsmakers—Christopher Darden, In Contempt; O.J.
Simpson, I Want to Tell You; Walter Cronkite, A Reporter’s Life<.
- Business leaders—Lee Iacocca, Iacocca; Robert Hagstrom, Jr., The Warren Buffet Way.
Not only was Lee Iacocca a well-recognized television spokesman for Chrysler, but his biography had a pre-sold market. Hundreds of
local car dealers gave away thousands of copies of the book to people who took a test ride in a Chrysler.
Strike while they are hot.
When selecting celebrity authors, it is best if you can publish the book while the celebrities are at the peak of their fame. As
mentioned before, Random House required Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill to have his memoirs ready in time for the book to be
published within three months of his retirement—before he disappeared from the limelight.
In another case, Pergamon Press began to re-advertise their collection of Deng Xiaoping's speeches and writings within weeks
after Time magazine named the Chinese leader Man of the Year for 1985.
In January 1997, two months after Joseph Cardinal Bernardin died of pancreatic cancer, Loyola Press published his book of personal
reflections, The Gift of Peace, which the cardinal had written during the final months of his life. On the day of publication,
during a reading at the archdiocese pastoral center, diocesan officials announced that the highly anticipated book would begin
arriving in Chicago bookstores that afternoon. News media immediately picked up on the story. By the time the day was over, dozens of
booksellers had arrived at Loyola’s warehouse to pick up cases of the book. Within 48 hours, the entire first printing of 50,000 copies had
sold out, and a second printing of 100,000 copies had to be ordered.
Search out local celebrities.
Jennifer James, a Seattle talk radio personality and local columnist, sold 50,000 copies of her self-published book, Success
Is the Quality of Your Journey, in the Pacific Northwest alone.
Later, Newmarket Press brought out the book in an expanded paperback edition for national distribution.
Be on the lookout for successful self-publishers.
Self-publishers are an excellent source of new book material. In the past few years, many self-published authors have made the
bestseller lists once they were picked up by a major publisher. The list is long: James Redfield’s The Celestine Prophecy, Marlo
Morgan’s Mutant Message Down Under, Richard Paul Evans’s The Christmas Box, William Byham’s Zapp: The Lightning of
Empowerment, Arlene Eisenberg’s What to Do When You’re Expecting, David Saltzman’s The Jester Has Lost His
Jingle, and E. Lynn Harris’s If This World Were Mine. As Publishers Weekly rights columnist Paul Nathan recently wrote,
“Gone are the days when self-publishing was virtually synonymous with self-defeating.”
Below are a few more bestsellers which were originally self-published. For a much longer list, see the
BookMarket website at
Apples of Gold by Jo Petty
The Encyclopedia of Associations by Frederick G. Ruffner
Feed Me, I'm Yours by Vicki Lansky
How to Avoid Probate by Norman F. Dacey
How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive by John Muir
The One Minute Manager by Spencer Johnson and Kenneth Blanchard
What Color Is Your Parachute by Richard N. Bolles
Collier published a paperback edition of Joshua, a parable originally self-published by Fr. Joseph Girzone, a retired priest.
The book had sold 45,000 hardcover copies in its self-published edition; it sold 100,000 more copies in Collier's trade paperback
edition and spawned an entire series of popular novels.
Richard Paul Evan’s The Christmas Box is one of only a few books that has made it onto the hardcover (Simon & Schuster) and
softcover (self-published edition by the author) bestseller lists at the same time.
After receiving rejections from 150 publishers, Aliske Webb self-published her novel, Twelve Golden Threads: Lessons for
Successful Living from Grama’s Quilt, and went on a tour of quilt shows to sell the book. In this way, she sold 25,000 copies in two
and a half years. Soon thereafter, four major publishers participated in an auction for her book. HarperCollins, the winner, signed her to
a four-book contract for a healthy sum. Her editor acknowledged that her book was every editor’s nightmare since, if they had been alert,
they “could have gotten this a lot cheaper two or three years ago.”
In hopes of getting another bestseller like those from the Delaney sisters, Warner Books recently paid 98-year-old Jessie Lee Brown
Foveaux more than $1 million for the rights to her self-published reminiscences, Any Given Day.
Contact syndicated columnists.
Almost every syndicated columnist can generate one or two books a year just by editing their collected columns. And many of these have
become bestsellers. Witness the books by Ann Landers, Lewis Grizzard, Dave Barry, and Erma Bombeck.
Syndicated columnists can also create new books about their field of expertise. Edith Lank, whose “House Calls” real estate column is
syndicated to 100 newspapers across the country, has written The Complete Homeseller's Kit, which is more than just a collection of her columns.
Bob Rosner, whose humorous “Working Wounded” Q&A business columns appeared in newspapers across the Pacific Northwest as well
as in Price Costco’s club newsletter, recently sold Warner rights to a Working Wounded book for six figures. By the time the book
is published, his column will be syndicated to more than 200 newspapers via the United Features Syndicate.
Search out the small newsletters.
Small, but successful newsletters that have identified a new market can be rich sources for books. For example, Amy Dacyczyn,
editor and publisher of The Tightwad Gazette, compiled two books that went on to be bestsellers.
Tracey McBride, editor of the Frugal Times newsletter, recently wrote Frugal Luxuries, published by Bantam. The
Chicago Tribune called her the “Martha Stewart of the cheapskate set.”
Join author groups.
One of the best places to find prospective authors are as members of professional associations. Depending on your specialties, join the
Romance Writers of America, National Association of Science Writers, American Medical Writers Association, or any of dozens of other
associations for writers. They can be a great place to find talent and topics.
Sign up speakers.
Some of the bestselling authors of the past few years have been speakers first, authors second. Witness John Gray, Zig Ziglar, Mark
Victor Hansen, Jack Canfield, Paul Pearsall, and Stephen Covey.
Cynthia Black, publisher of Beyond Words Press, first discovered John Gray working the seminar circuit in 1991.
Knowing that his ex-wife, Barbara DeAngelis was fast becoming a bestselling author, Cynthia coaxed Gray into competing
with her. His first book, Men, Women, and Relationships, sold reasonably well, but he really hit the big time
with his second book, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. HarperCollins, publisher of his other titles, bought
reprint rights to his first book from Beyond Books in 1995—for a seven-figure advance!
Several authors have recently been discovered while chatting online or providing online content. The online world is a good place
to catch upcoming trends as well as spot new voices.
In 1996, Simon & Schuster published The Motley Fool Investment Guide by David and Tom Gardner. The Gardners are the
creators of America Online’s popular, offbeat Motley Fool investment
advice site. At their first meet-the-authors online event, they sold 160 copies of the book.
Laurie Chittenden, a young Simon & Schuster editor, met “Stelow” during an “Ask the Editor” chat on America Online’s Book Central site.
Intrigued by his story, she ended up signing Franklin White (aka Stelow) to a two-book contract. His first book, Fed Up with the Fanny,
which he self-published, will be rewritten and republished. Simon & Schuster is positioning him as a “male Terry McMillan.”
Go for authority.
If the author is an authority on the subject, again so much the better. And if the author is an authority, don't keep it a secret.
Play up his or her expertise in your promotions.
For example, a diet book by a doctor, a book on early childhood learning by a teacher or a psychologist, or a book on the science of
hitting by Cal Ripken or Ken Griffey, Jr.—all are more promotable because of the acknowledged expertise of their authors.
Jon Gindick, called “the world’s foremost instructor of country and blues harmonica” by legendary musician B.B. King, has sold more
than two million copies of his harmonica books.
Authoritative authors can also help you to land other important authors. One of the reasons that Paul Samuelson went with McGraw-Hill
to publish his bestselling Economics textbook was, as he once wrote, because they “had published Joseph Schumpeter’s two volumes on
business cycles, and that prestigious item carried some weight with me.”
Look for authors people respond to.
As Nach Waxman, owner of the Kitchen Arts and Letters bookstore, noted recently in a Publishers Weekly category closeup,
“There’s something about Patricia Wells and her smiling face. She has tremendous mastery of her subject, and she also has great charisma.”
If you have the choice between an author with adequate style and someone with superb style, choose the author with superb style.
Well-written books will tend to sell better, provided the style fits the subject. One noted editor once described his secret of success:
“Find people who can write, and then discover what they are interested in.”
Many celebrities need a helping hand, but so do many bestselling authors. For example, in some of Louis L’Amour’s later novels,
someone was not at the editor’s desk, because at least one novel came off the press with very poor writing and confusing plot lines. That
would never have happened when L’Amour was first starting out.
Recently I discovered the following reader’s review posted on Amazon’s bookstore site: “The most entertaining book of 1997 with the
poorest editing.” The reviewer of Stephen Cannell’s King Con noted that the book contained misspellings, sentence misplacings,
weird punctuation, and dialogues hidden in thick blocks of narrative paragraphs.
While focusing on celebrities and established authors, don't forget the unknowns. Do what you can to develop new writers as well.
Remember: All established writers had to begin somewhere.
If that is not enough to convince you to develop new writers, note that first time novelists are often more promotable than second or
third time novelists whose first books were only mid-list sellers. Finally, there is nothing really as exciting in the book world as
discovering a new talent and sharing that talent with others.
Authors — Don't give up just because you are an unknown. Instead, do everything you can to get better known. Write for magazines.
Write for local newspapers. Write for small press journals. Develop a web site. To get better known, you have to get your name out there
in the marketplace. If you cannot do it through writing, then emphasize your areas of expertise. Become an expert—one worth publishing.
6:07 Editors as Stars
Editors can have a great impact on books. A good editor does much more than just acquire books. As a publisher, you should work hard to
develop editors who can spot new trends and work well with new authors to develop their style and talent. Indeed, many authors are
quick to thank those editors who helped them to develop their ideas into compelling novels, clear how-to books, or beautiful picture books.
A good editor can be worth a lot of money. In fact, the top editors at major New York publishers earn annual salaries well into
six figures. As Walter Zacharius, publisher of Zebra Books, once noted, “Let the great editors find the great authors, and trust me,
the numbers will all fall into place.” Both he and I are great believers in the importance of substance and content if the book is
going to rise above the crowd and become a backlist bestseller.
Here are a few of the editors who are or were among the best (please note that this list is no way near complete): Maxwell Perkins,
Bennett Cerf, Nan Talese, Bob Giroux, Blanche and Alfred Knopf, Albert Erskine, Lawrence Hughes, Michael Korda, Jason Epstein, and Judith Regan.
One way to work with great editors is to allow them to form their own imprint. Nan Talese, Helen Wolff, Margaret McElderry, Paula
Wiseman, Anne Schwartz, Arthur A. Levine, and Judith Regan are just a few of the editors to have their own imprint. Such imprints give them
greater opportunity to develop and nourish authors.
Also, allow your editors to become stars in their own right. Judith Regan, known for signing bestselling authors, now hosts a Fox
News Channel talk show, That Regan Woman. Because half the show is devoted to authors, she will have many opportunities to sign
established authors who are unhappy with their current publisher.
When publishing an anthology, textbook, or other compilation, choose an established author to head the editorial effort. The name
quality of the author will help to sell the compilation.
Houghton Mifflin's anthology series, The Best American Short Stories, sold only 6,000 to 7,000 copies a year until they began
using a different celebrity author as guest editor each year. Sales now total close to 35,000 copies per year, a fivefold increase.
A great number of science fiction anthologies have been produced by the team of Isaac Asimov, Charles G. Waugh, and Martin Harry
Greenburg. The sales of these anthologies, of course, were not hurt by the fact that Isaac Asimov was associated with them, though by now
both Waugh and Greenburg are as well known by the fans of these anthologies.
While giving your editors free reign, you might want to check out their rejection pile once in a while. You might discover some gems
therein. Below, for example, are a few rejection letters of books that later went on to become bestsellers.
- “A period novel! About the Civil War! Who needs the Civil War now— who cares?” — Herbert Mayes, editor, Pictoral Review,
on turning down an opportunity to serialize Gone with the Wind.
- Charles Scribner told F. Scott Fitzgerald that This Side of Paradise lacked “literary merit.”
- Richard Bach’s agent told him that the reason twenty publishers rejected his novel was simple: “Look, they’re not
interested in a talking seagull.” Jonathan Livingston Seagull went on to sell well over 3 million copies.
- One publisher rejected Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki because, “Who in hell wants to read about a bunch of crazy Scandinavians
floating around the ocean in a raft?” The book went on to top the New York Times bestseller list for more than a year.
- Dr. Seuss’s first children’s book was rejected by twenty-three publishers.
- Another publisher rejected Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It because, in his words, it “had trees in it.” The
University of Chicago Press went on to sell more than 700,000 copies of the memoir.
- William Kennedy was told by more than one editor that “Who wants to read about bums, and especially bums in Albany?” Rejected by thirteen
editors, his novel Ironweed went on to win the 1984 Pulitzer Price for fiction as well as the 1984 National Book Critics Circle award.
“This is the worst-edited book I have read in years,” said the
Milwaukee Journal in
its review of Southern Daughter: The Life of Margaret
Mitchell (Oxford University Press). The review's headline proclaimed: “Sloppy
editing mars Pyron's well-written, thorough book.”
Typos, misspellings, and other goofs from bargain-basement copyediting diminish a book's
credibility and embarrass author and publisher. Less obvious is the lack of developmental editing, which can cause a book to miss its
market. In a developmental edit, a market-savvy editor guides an author in producing a more salable book. Below are four of my
clients' success stories.
Editing a Professional Book to Reach a Consumer Audience
The Battering Syndrome is a
successful $79.00 hardcover book marketed directly to professionals by the National Crisis Prevention Institute. The publisher knew the
same information could benefit lay readers as well. So I was brought in to rewrite the book as a $14.95 softcover. I introduced a
conversational style, cut the length, and simplified the vocabulary and sentence structure. Even the new title is designed for the trade
market: He Promised He'd Stop: Helping Women Find Safe Passage from Abusive Relationships.
Clear and Simple Is Best
magazine reprinted a chapter from The Safety Minute, telling its publisher, Safety Zone Press, that they bought the rights because the book's
content was presented so clearly they could easily select the material most appropriate to their 5 million readers. Mademoiselle used the book's lists of
safety tips as interview points in creating an article about the book. Developmental editing had turned the author's great content
into a highly readable book by stripping away excess wording, rewriting each tip as a direct command for action, and presenting the
text in an inviting format.
Clear Editing from the Beginning for Easy Sub Rights Sales
The public television series Ancestors selected Genetic Connections, the first title from Sonters
Publishing, for its companion guide to the series—the only resource picked for the segment on genetics. The book (a Benjamin Franklin
award winner) was easily condensed in time for the broadcast because its highly technical content had been exhaustively edited from the
beginning to be clear and user-friendly.
Begin at the Beginning
Even authors who market their manuscripts to agents and publishers can benefit from
professional editing—before submission. The first publisher that Jeanne Dams sent her manuscript to, Walker & Co., offered her a
two-book contract (since expanded to four) and published The Body in
the Transept with no changes. She credits this extraordinary reception
for a new author to having a well-edited manuscript to submit. When this first book won a 1996 Agatha Award, sales jumped and
HarperCollins bought the paperback rights. Thoughtful editing had helped a talented new writer withstand intense scrutiny by editors,
publishers, and mystery fans.
After more than 25 years as an editor in niche publishing in New York, Chris Roerden, M.A., began her own freelance book editing
service in 1983. Her high quality work has won many awards for the publishers and writers who are her clients. Chris was the 1995-97
president of MidAmerica Publishers Association, a member of Mensa, and a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Maine. Contact
Chris Roerden at
Edit It, 3683 Waterwheel Court, Greensboro, NC 27409; 336-323-1032; 877-266-5334;
Fax: 336-323-1033. Email: email@example.com.
6:08 Other Sources of Editorial Material
In your continuing search for new authors and new material for your line of books, you might want to research some of the following sources.
Remember that content is the main purchasing motivation for 43% of all consumer book buyers (1996 Consumer Research Study on Book Purchasing).
Review the Ingram subject categories.
Here are the official Ingram subject categories as of January, 1994: animals, antiques/collectibles, photography, art &
architecture, automotive, biography/autobiography, business/economics/finance, bibles, calendars & diaries,
family/parenting/children, Cliff/Monarch notes, crafts/hobbies, cooking/wine, home improvement/construction, diet/health/fitness,
education/teaching, environmental studies, fiction (many genres), games/gamebooks/crosswords, gardening/horticulture, recovery, history
(military, general), humor, inspirational, literature (classics, criticism), love/sex/marriage, nature, true crime/espionage, general
nonfiction, new age/parapsychology, performing arts, philosophy, medical/nursing, politics/current events, poetry/ plays, pop arts/pop
culture, psychology, reference, regional interest, religion (many categories), sale books (remainders), science/mathematics,
transportation, sociology/anthropology/archeology, sports & recreation, study guides, technology & industrial arts, theology,
travel, movie/TV tie-ins, computers (many categories), coloring & design books, and blank books—plus the following non-seasonal themes:
aging, Asian studies, African American studies, Civil War, gay studies, gifts, Hispanic, home schooling, Judaica, men’s studies,
Native American studies, weddings, and women’s studies.
Follow the news.
Witness the O.J. bestsellers, from I Want to Tell You by O.J. Simpson, Faye Resnick’s Nicole Brown Simpson, Christopher Darden’s
In Contempt, Henry Beard’s O.J.’s Legal Pad, Jeffrey Toobin’s The Run for His Life, and Larry Schiller’s American Tragedy.
Selena!, a book published in Spanish and English, made the bestseller lists five weeks after the death of the Tejano music queen.
Within one week of the final match between Garry Kasparov and IBM’s Deep Blue computer, B.T. Batsford published the first instant book on the
match, Kasparov v. Deeper Blue. Former instant books like the White House Tapes and the Pentagon Papers became bestsellers.
Trivial news can also contribute to bestselling books. For instance, America’s Dumbest Criminals and Wanted Dumb or
Alive both became bestsellers.
Authors: Be alert to news opportunities. When Carol Turkington, a former newspaper reporter, heard that John E. du
Pont shot Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz, she immediately decided to write a serious study of how a self-destructive man was protected by
his wealth from getting the help he needed. A few days later, she called her agent with the idea. She then faxed him a proposal, which
he reworked and sent on to Turner Publishing. That same day, they closed on an offer which included book and television rights for
No Holds Barred.
Catch the moment.
When I saw 18-year-old Noa Rabin’s eulogy at the funeral of her grandfather Yitzhak Rabin, I knew there was a story there. Her words
sent chills up my spine and tears to my eyes. I hoped some other publisher would pick up on the power of her words. They did. Bernard
Fixot and Susanna Lea of Robert Laffont Fixot Seghers tracked Rabin down at army basic training and signed her to do a book about growing
up in Israel amid the ever-present danger of war. Knopf bought the American rights to In the Name of Sorrow and Hope.
Other memorable television moments that would make or have made great books include the lone man who stood against a column of tanks
heading to Tiananmen Square, the flight of O.J. Simpson in the white Bronco (about missed opportunities amid incredible success, written
from a man’s perspective), and Kerri Strug’s vault at the Olympics.
Lyle Stuart has made a career out of publishing controversial books, from The Anarchist’s Cookbook to The Sensuous Woman to
Jackie Oh to The Turner Diaries. Controversy makes the news and helps to sell books. Most of his books became bestsellers.
Avon/Flare sponsored a biannual Young Adult Novel Competition for authors between 13 and 18. Winners received a publishing contract and
an advance of $2,500. Avon published Lee J. Hindle's Dragon Fall in 1983 and Tamela Larimer's Buck in 1985.
Each year, Greenfield Review sponsors two Native Authors First Book Awards, which grant publication and $500 to two Native
American authors, one a poet, the other a novelist or nonfiction writer.
To research its new line of Swept Away romances, Avon participated in Seventeen magazine's market research questionnaire. They
also sponsored a contest in which students were asked to finish the following sentence: “If I could travel through time, I would most like to see,
experience, and meet . . . .” (in 150 words or less). The winner received $200 plus recognition in the book inspired by his or her essay.
Bill Tamlin, editor of St. Paul Companies News, attaches a red pen and a page of instructions to ten copies of the newsletter.
The randomly chosen employees are asked to put a star by passages they like, draw a double line where they stop reading, and pick the
newsletter apart. He finds this process gives him immediate feedback on what works and what doesn’t. Why couldn’t you do the same with your books?
Know your customers.
Get to know your customers. Put reader feedback cards in your books. Insert surveys in your books. Do surveys at your web site. Set up a
feedback channel at your site to make it easy for people to write to you about your books and authors. One of the reasons the Dummies
series was so successful is that they listened. The market had been begging for easy-to-use guides to computer software, and most of the
publishers were missing it. Dos for Dummies came along, and soon IDG, a startup, was the leading computer book publisher.
Scholastic makes it a point to find out what children are interested in reading and what they actually are reading. As Barbara
Marcus, their executive vice president once noted, “We make it our business—and it is our business— to talk to children on an ongoing
basis to know what they like and what they’re interested in.”
One day Walter Zacharius, publisher of Kensington, overheard two women in a bookstore complaining that there were no romance books for
people like them. As a result, he was one of the first to start a multicultural line of romances for African Americans.
Joanna Lund knows the small-town, middle-America audience for her Healthy Exchanges cookbooks. “I have four rules, and I never
deviate from them.” she says. One, the recipe must be healthful. Two, every recipe must pass a taste test by her truck-driving husband.
Three, if it takes longer to fix than to eat, forget it. And, four, every ingredient must be available in DeWitt, Iowa, where she lives.
One of the reasons Jacqueline Susann was so successful is that she knew her audience: “I write for women who read me in the goddam subways
on the way home from work. I know who they are, because that’s who I used to be.” She knew they wanted glimpses into the lives of the rich
and glamorous, but she also knew that the rich ultimately had to suffer (so her readers could go home feeling better about their own lives).
Be alert to trends.
Watch for what’s hot and what’s not, what’s in and what’s out. These lists of trends can serve you well. Here is one example of
current trends. In the July 1997 issue of Catalog Age, here are the “in” items: the color blue, jewel tones, fairies, water
fountains, European country, soft gothic, casual elegance, aromatherapy. What’s out? the color green, earth tones, angels,
candelabras, American country, dark gothic, shabby chic, and psychotherapy.
Think of the ways you can make use of these trends. One of the reasons that Avery Publishing finally made it on the map is because
they adapted their healthy cookbooks to the low-fat trend. When they retitled Gloria Rose’s Cooking for Good Health to Low-Fat
Cooking for Good Health, sales jumped fivefold, from 20,000 copies to 100,000 copies.
Statistics are one way to predict new trends. Here are a few facts that might inspire a new book for you.
Americans spend $17 billion dollars on their pets, including 63 million cats and 54 million dogs.
In 1970, the percentage of single adults was 28%. By 1997, the percentage had risen to 39%. There are 3,000 dating services in the
U.S., which earn $1 billion each year.
There were 30.1 million self-employed workers and small business employees in 1996. These people spent $1 billion on information in 1996.
In 1992, more than 400,000 children were hurt in bicycle accidents.
Marriott Management Services, which provides meals at the dining halls on many college campuses, reports that 15% of their students
eat vegetarian. At some schools, the percentage is as high as 60%.
Follow other successful publishers.
Many publishers already follow the latest trend. Note that most knockoffs don’t sell as well as the original, but many do make the
bestseller list or sell well enough to justify their existence.
Look at the knockoffs to the bestselling The Rules: The Code (“When you live by The Code, The Rules no longer apply!”, which
sold 265,000 copies in 1996), Breaking the Rules (a humor book), and The Southern Rules (“You read the rules, now read the real rules!”).
Betty Eadie’s Embraced by the Light inspired a whole slew of saved by the light books, including the parody Petted by the Light.
Not only are the Chicken Soup for the Soul authors knocking themselves off with bestselling book after bestselling book, but here
are a few other knockoffs which became year-end bestsellers: Stories from the Heart by Alice Gray, God’s Vitamin “C” for
the Spirit by Kathy and D. Larry Miller, and Heart at Work by Jack Canfield and Jacqueline Miller.
The success of Sisters, a warm-and-fuzzy coffee-table book, has led to the publication of Mothers and Daughters (by the
same authors), Daughters and Mothers (by the same publisher), and other coffee-table books devoted to relationships of best
friends, gay partners, lesbian partners, fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, and HIV-positive women.
Buy from other publishers.
Other publishers often let a book go out of print long before its natural sales cycle has been exhausted. Why not take advantage of their shortsightedness?
Blue Heron Publishing bought the paperback and audio rights to Laura Kalpakian’s Graced Land from Grove Press. The novel had
previously won a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award as well as been filmed as The Woman Who Loved Elvis, starring Roseanne Barr.
Hence, it made an appropriate choice for the Oregon publisher.
When Turner Publishing folded in 1997, Regnery bought the rights to Donald Dewey’s biography, James Stewart. They also bought
up remaining copies of the book so they could continue selling it right away under their own imprint, Without changing the ISBN number,
they notified wholesalers and bookstores to change the title in their databases to show Regnery as the publisher.
When Harper & Row let The Martha's Vineyard Cookbook go out of print (because, as they said, there were only two bookstores
on Martha's Vineyard), Globe Pequot Press was able to pick up the rights free. Since then, they've sold more than 40,000 copies of the
book to gift shops, gourmet shops, and other retail outlets throughout the New England area.
In the summer of 1997, HarperCollins announced that they would not publish 100 titles they had committed to and were releasing the
authors from their contracts. At the time, I suggested in Book Marketing Update that there surely were a good number of independent
publishers who could take over the rights to those books and make a handsome profit on them. That is exactly what some publishers did.
A longtime collector of paperbacks, Marc Gerald was aware that many mass-market paperbacks were written by African Americans. A
former fiction editor for True Detective, he cleared the rights for the best of these novels, edited them, and republished
them under Norton. The first four titles in the series, released in 1996, were The Angry Ones by John A. Williams, The Farm
by Clarence Cooper Jr., Portrait of a Young Man Drowning by Charles Perry, and Corner Boy by Herbert Simmons.
Buy foreign rights.
To obtain a title that has not yet appeared in the United States, but which has proven its worth, look into purchasing rights to books
published in other countries.
Northwood Press bought one title, Dear Children of the Earth by Schim Shimmel, from a Japanese publisher while, in turn,
selling one of their titles, Brother Wolf, to another publisher in Japan.
Listen to specialty booksellers.
More than anyone else in publishing, booksellers know what is selling and what is in demand by readers. Why not make use of their
expertise to generate new titles? Ask for their feedback on proposed titles. Also, ask for their recommendations on up and coming authors.
You might even create an entire line of books with the store's imprint. That's what Farrar, Straus & Giroux did with Kitchen Arts &
Letters, a specialty cookbook store in New York. Their first title, Christmas Memories with Recipes, came out in the fall of 1988.
Similarly, Warner Books has begun publishing a joint imprint with the Traveller's Bookshelf, another New York specialty bookstore.
Already they have published eleven titles in Karen Brown's Travel Guides series. Directors of the bookstore suggest authors, ideas, and
titles as well as approve book covers. They also do a lot of promotion.
Otto Penzler, owner of the Mysterious Book Shop (another specialty bookseller in New York), established his own publishing imprint, The
Mysterious Press, in 1976. Later, he joined in a partnership with Warner Books and still later with Houghton-Mifflin.
Peter Glassman and James Carey, owners of the Books of Wonder children's bookstore in New York, have their own Books of Wonder
Classics imprint with Morrow Junior Books. Besides suggesting titles, authors, and illustrators, they work with the art director to ensure
top quality production. Glassman also writes an afterword for each edition.
When Jerry Pallotta visited an Audubon Society bookstore, he noticed that there were no alphabet books on birds. So he decided to
do one to complement his Ocean Alphabet Book.
Listen to general booksellers.
While all of the above examples involve New York specialty booksellers, it should be possible to make similar arrangements with
some of the top-rated booksellers in your region—whether they are general booksellers or specialty booksellers.
For example, if I were a publisher in Colorado, I would certainly try to arrange a co-publishing agreement with the Tattered Cover
Bookstore, one of the largest independent booksellers in the country. Or how about an imprint featuring Powell's in the Pacific Northwest?
In 1993, Swain Wolfe self-published his novel The Woman Who Lives in the Earth after getting a rejection from a major
publisher but encouragement from his local bookseller, Barbara Theroux of Fact & Fiction in Missoula, Montana. Within weeks, the
book was on the store’s top ten bestseller list. With Theroux’s help, Wolfe began a marketing campaign by sending galleys to a hundred
independent bookstores. Later they sent 700 jackets with testimonials to additional bookstores. After many more bookstore appearances and
five reprintings, Wolfe eventually sold the book to HarperCollins.
Karen Pandell, author of Ghost Beyond the Garden, worked part-time at The Open Door bookstore in Schenectady, New York,
because she wanted to “see books from that point of view, to learn by working there.” A co-worker at the same store, Karen Pandel also
found bookstores a great place to work “to understand bookstore lingo.” A former librarian as well, Pandel has written six children’s books.
Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books in Coral Gable, Florida, was so excited about Arthur Sokoloff’s self-published book, Life
Without Stress, that he recommended the book to Lauren Marino, editor at Broadway Books, as well as an agent. Broadway bought the rights
to the book for a substantial five-figure advance and published a hardcover edition in 1997 and scheduled a paperback edition for 1998.
Besides getting ideas for new titles, you should also get feedback from booksellers on your titles, cover copy, and even the contents of
the book. Since they are on the front lines of bookselling, they often have insight that you won’t have. In a July 1997 New York
Times front page article, some larger publishers were criticized for listening to chain store buyers. I disagree. I think every
publisher should listen to store buyers and others in the business. But let your better sense decide what advice is useful and what
advice is not. In the article, Ira Silverberg of Grove Press described how he decided not to publish a memoir by songwriter Jerry
Leiber after getting a tepid response from Barnes & Noble. The same article also quoted Harold Evans, publisher of Random House, who
changed the cover for Mario Puzo’s novel, The Last Don, and retitled Melvyn Bragg’s Credo to The Sword and the
Miracle after consulting the chains.
Listen to your sales reps.
Sales reps have been responsible for bringing a number of good selling titles to their publishers attention. A Warner rep first
recommended that they publish James Redfield’s The Celestine Prophecy. A Houghton Mifflin rep came up with the idea for their
Best American Sports Writing series. John Little, an independent sales rep, has suggest a number of reprint ideas for the Bison Press.
When the owner of Albuquerque’s Bookworks picked up a copy of Jean Hegland’s Into the Forest published by Calyx Books, she liked
it so much that she praised the novel to a rep from Warner Books. With Warner’s interest, the book went to auction. Bantam came out the
winner with a $700,000 bid for that title and a follow-up book.
Listen to feedback from your reps also. Their feedback is the main reason you should attend the sales meetings of your distributor (if
you have one) or invite the reps to see your line (if you have your own reps). For instance, when Mitch Rogatz of Triumph Books presented
The 25 Greatest Moments of Golf to his sales reps, the first thing they asked him was: “Does it include Tiger Woods?” When they
found out it didn’t, they told Rogatz that he simply must change it even though the book had already been printed before Woods won the
Masters. Rogatz listened. The book was updated to include Woods.
Listen to schools.
Pay attention to any feedback you get from schools or libraries. Sharyn November, a senior editor at Puffin Books, listened to the
fourth graders of Berkeley Carroll School in Brooklyn when they pleaded with her to republish Grace Penney’s Moki, which they
had fallen in love with even though the only copies they had to read were faded photocopies. Agent Gail Hochman, a Berkeley Carroll
parent, tracked down the rights and found that Houghton Mifflin, the original publisher, was willing to sell paperback rights, which
Puffin picked up. Now the children of Berkeley Carroll can pass on their favorite book to their friends and fellow classmates.
Listen to the media.
Besides paying attention to news stories, also listen to the media for other hints. For instance, when Kathie Lee Gifford of Regis
& Kathie Lee noted during a holiday show that The Small One was her son Cody’s favorite story, her audience went right
out to the bookstores to find it. The bookstores, however, could not find it since the book was out of print at Disney Press. The next
year at Christmas, however, Disney brought out a new edition to meet the demand. In November of that year, it was the most requested
children’s book at Ingram.
Read your telephone poles.
Be on the lookout for stories or authors while you are walking the street, eating at a pizza parlor, passing a telephone pole, or doing
your laundry. Why? Because those are the places that Xander Mellish posted excerpts and promos about her short stories. Plus she created
a web site. Since then, her fans have translated her work into four languages—and she has found an agent!
Everybody loves their own hometown, so regional and city-specific titles almost always sell well. Not only the usual tourist
coffee-table books with plenty of pictures, but also other titles such as How to Live (Fairly) Elegantly on (Virtually) Nothing in
Los Angeles, The Boston Ice Cream Lover's Guide, and The Washington Driver's Handbook: A Guide to Capital Cruising
have all found strong audiences, both local and tourist.
According to U.S. News & World Report, consumers make 80% of their purchases within 20 miles of their homes. That’s one
reason why Catherine Rahart’s The Valley’s Legends and Legacies sold so well in California’s central valley. In fact,
the Fig Garden Bookstore in Fresno sold more than 1,000 copies during 18 days of December 1996. As co-owner Keith Shore noted, “Local
author, local publisher, local stories.” That’s why it sold. And that’s why Stan Yogi’s Highway 99 made the bestseller list of
the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association.
If you can’t feature local, then feature some place famous: Walt Disney World, Santa Fe, San Francisco, Paris, DC, or the Antarctica.
As Eric Kettunen of Lonely Planet noted recently, “People rolled their eyes at Antarctica, but we expect to sell 20,000 copies this year.”
Fictional characters can also sell.
Do they have star power? Yes, they do, says Stephen Kerr of Business Marketing Consultants, “People still search the cities and
woods of England for signs of King Arthur, Robin Hood, and Sherlock Holmes. A book entitled The Sherlock Holmes Guide to London
would definitely fare much better than The John Jones Guide to London.”
Search the lists.
Marketline Press, publishers of Debt-Free & Prosperous Living, won’t publish a book until they’ve checked the SRDS
mailing list directory to be sure there are sufficient mailing lists of customers who might want the product. Since most of their sales
come through direct marketing, they need those lists to make it work.
One other way lists come in handy is to check out the mailing list offerings of your competitors. For instance, below are a few titles
from Rodale’s top 50 books for 1989-90 and the number of names collected under each title through direct sales.
Allergy Self-Help (19,786)
Arthritis: What Works (146,757)
Cancer Prevention (33,047)
Doctor’s Book of Home Remedies (340,148)
Encyclopedia of Natural Home Remedies (144,483)
Flower Garden Problem Solver (33,779)
Healing Foods (607,989)
Total Recall: Books Your Memory Power (7,668)
6:09 Get Good Blurbs
If you can't sign celebrities or established authors, the next best thing is to obtain a foreword or blurb from such people. Anyone with
visibility or name recognition (celebrity, expert, reporter, host, leader) is a good candidate for writing forewords for books by unknown authors.
Robert Miller's Most of My Patients Are Animals was given a big sales boost by James Herriot's rave introduction to the book. The
book, published by Paul S. Eriksson, was also chosen as a featured alternate by both the Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club.
Don Dible's Up Your Own Organization received such favorable advance comments that he decided to make use of them to
help promote his book. In the end, three known business leaders, Robert Townsend of Avis, William Lear of Lear Motors Corporation, and
John Komives of the Center for Venture Management, wrote an introduction and foreword to his book. Of course, he made sure their
well-known names were featured on the front cover of his book.
Richard Grudens, author of The Best Damn Trumpet Player, sent out books and comment pages to potential endorsers and in very
short order received rave reviews from Frankie Laine, Larry Elgart, Kathryn Crosby, Warren Covington, and others.
Cat Wagman, self-publisher of Why...Thank-You!, noticed an email address for Greg Howard, creator for the Sally Forth
comics, in one of the daily panels. She sent an email message to Sally, from one working mother to another, about how hard it is to
get children to write thank-you notes. She then asked if Sally (and Greg) would like a copy of the book and be willing to provide
feedback. Howard answered by return email, saying he would look at it but could not promise anything. Several weeks after she sent him the
book, he sent her an email note providing her with the testimonial she wanted.
Authors — Do you know any well-known authors or other celebrities who could write a foreword, introduction, or other
blurb for your book? If so, ask them to write a foreword. It will make your book more salable. If you don't know anyone personally,
write to a few well-known experts or celebrities who would be appropriate for your book. Your librarian will help you locate their
addresses (in Who's Who or Contemporary Authors or some other biographical resource).
If I had a choice, I’d rather have a blurb with impact written by an unknown over a bland blurb written by a celebrity or
expert. To give you an idea of the kind of blurbs that work, here are a few of my favorites:
Jan Murray, the comedian, wrote the following note about Dr. Morton Cooper, author of Stop Committing Voice Suicide: “Dr. C
has done wonders with my voice. Now if he can only do something with the rest of my body.”
Use simple, warm imagery.
Jack Canfield, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul, wrote the following comment about Lessons from Mom by Joan Aho
Ryan. He wrote that the book is “as nourishing as mother’s milk...and full of simple truths and wisdom for everyone.”
Hitch your wagon to a star.
USA TODAY wrote that Nicholas Sparks’s The Notebook is “better than The Bridges of Madison County.” Library
Journal used the same star to praise The Notebook: “This is a more romantic testament to love’s enduring miracle than Robert
James Waller’s The Bridges of Madison County because the Calhouns choose the rigors of daily domestic life over a dream of four days.”
Make it sing.
Bill Hirschman, reviewer for Fort Lauderdale’s Sun Sentinel wrote the following of Alan Maltz’s Miami–City of Dreams:
“Alan Maltz’s camera croons like Mel Torme, Gloria Estefan, Muddy Waters, and Jimmy Buffet on a CD changer gone mad.”
State the benefit.
When Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen wrote their testimonial for this book, they were very clear about its primary benefit: “If
you want to sell 25,000,000 books like we have, read and use this book.” Short, sweet, and to the point.
6:10 How to Get Good Testimonials
Below are a few pointers on how to get good testimonials. For a more extensive discussion, see John Kremer's special report on
How to Get Testimonials (available for $5.00 from Open Horizons — http://www.bookmarket.com).
Network with others.
The key to getting great testimonials is to make connections, because the more connections you have, the greater chance you have to
reach the people you really want to reach. Remember the law of six degrees of separation. You are within five people of the person
you want to reach. You know someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows the person you
want to reach. That’s for anyone in the world!
If you are a good networker, I believe you are within three people of anyone in the United States. For twenty-five years, I was within
one person of the president of the United States. Since my connection died a few years ago, I’m within two people.
Take a chance.
Don’t be afraid to contact important people. You may be surprised by their response. For instance, Jim Smith, author of The Last
Mission, wrote former president George Bush asking him to look at the book. A few weeks later, he received a letter from Bush saying
that he wanted to make the book part of his Presidential Library collection. Smith then included a copy of the letter in all his press mailings.
Talk to the person on the phone or by email.
These are two of the best ways to feel someone out. These two methods also have the advantage of being quick and easy to carry out.
Pick up the phone and call. If you can’t track down the person’s direct line, track down the number of that person’s agent, company,
publisher, or organization. As a last result, send a letter to the agent or other contact point.
Get an introduction.
The best way to approach an important person is to get an introduction through a mutual acquaintance.
Provide a starting point.
It is perfectly legitimate for you to send along three or four choices that someone might use in recommending your book. While most
people won’t use your exact quote, they might use it as a starting point for creating their own. By providing samples of the kind of
quotes you’d like, you increase your chances of getting a really useable quote rather than a bland generalization.
Get a release.
If you get a good quote, write back to ask for permission to use it in promoting your book. Be specific on how you are going to use it
(on the back cover, in ads, in PR releases, or whatever).
Authors: If you want good testimonials, get them yourself. You will always do a better job than your publisher
because, in most cases, you will be far more motivated.
6:11 Create a Knockout Sales Handle
When a sales rep goes to visit a store, he has two main things he uses in selling the book: a copy of the cover and a short sales
handle. As Michael Korda, longtime editor for Simon & Schuster, once noted, “If you can’t describe a book in one or two pithy
sentences that would make you or my mother want to read it, then of course you can’t sell it.”
You need this sales handle to convince your sales reps to push the book, to convince the booksellers to stock the book, to convince
media to listen further to your pitch, and to convince consumers to go out and buy your book. All the way along the chain, you will have
only a few seconds to catch someone’s attention. The best way to do that is with a good short knock-your-socks-off sales handle. To
create such a sales handle, you might again try to hitch your wagon to a star. Here are a few such sales handles:
- Jennifer Enderlin, editor of James Michael Pratt’s The Last Valentine, described it thus: “Ghost meets The
Notebook meets The Red Badge of Courage.” In one short sentence, she tied the book into the power of three stars while
giving a good description of the content of the book.
- Random House used two lines to promote A Gracious Plenty by Sheri Reynolds: “The breathtaking new novel by the author of Oprah’s
April ‘97 Book Club Selection” and “Reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird, Spoon River Anthology, and Our Town...”
- The cover of All We Know of Heaven, a first novel by Anna Tuttle Villegas, proclaimed that it was “The Love
Story for Our Time.” A bold statement, but one that seemed to be upheld by the amount of rights activity the book generated.
- For the legal thriller, The Tenth Justice by Brad Meltzer, Rob Weisbach Books gave it a high-concept tag line:
“Friends meet The Firm.”
- When Open Horizons published Nat Bodian’s The Joy of Publishing, we used the following pitch: “In the bestselling
tradition of The Joy of Sex and The Joy of Cooking, now comes The Joy of Publishing.” Of course, publishing
doesn’t have quite the same fascination, but the line worked because Bodian’s book was about the history of publishing and
included mention of both bestselling books.
As with testimonials, you can also use humor, benefits, puns, and imagery to sell a book. Here are a few sales handles that use such techniques:
- “It ain’t broke; it just needs duct tape.” — This sales handle captures the humor and essential content of the bestselling Duct Tape books.
- Here is the trademarked slogan of Joanna Lund, author of the Healthy Exchanges cookbooks: “It’s not a diet. It’s a way of life.”
- The sales handle for the novel Meg was a takeoff on the key sales line for the movie Jaws, “Don’t even think of going into the water.”
- The advertisements for Mark Sullivan’s The Purification Ceremony carried the tag line pun, “It’s time to prey.” The
book was also pitched as a Smilla’s Sense of Snow and Silence of the Lambs hybrid set during a deer hunt in British Columbia.
Authors: One of the first things you should do in creating a good book proposal is to create an incredible,
motivating sales handle for your book. In fact, I’ve known of books that were bought by major publishers based on a one-word sentence
describing the concept for the book.
6:12 Titles: The First Impression
A good title alone can make the difference between a mediocre seller and a bestseller. The title of a book, like the headline of an
advertisement or news story, often makes the difference between a reader passing the book by or picking it up and giving it more
careful consideration. More often than not, the reader gives less than a moment's attention to any book title; if you don't capture the
reader's imagination or curiosity or desire in that short moment, you will have lost the sale.
More important, however, is that many distributors, bookstore buyers, reviewers, and subsidiary rights buyers also judge a book by
its title (and its cover). They know from experience that a good title sells more books. As Gloria Norris of the Book-of-the-Month
Club once noted, “We can break out good writers—especially if their books have good titles.”
Below are a few suggestions on how you can create titles that will sell more books. For a more detailed discussion, see Nat Bodian's
book, How to Choose a Winning Title.
Test your titles beforehand.
Either use focus groups, your key contacts, or small test markets. Some authors have gone to shopping malls and bookstores to ask for
feedback from anyone they met. While this is an informal testing method, it can provide you with some valuable feedback about your title and your book.
Politico Dick Morris hired a polling firm to test-market 21 possible titles for his book. In a sample of 700 Americans, the top
vote-getter was Behind the Oval Office: Winning the Presidency in the ‘90s.
When Pamela Gilberd, author of The Eleven Commandments of Wildly Successful Women, approached Andy Ross, owner of Cody’s
Books, about her book, he told her that with a title like that, she didn’t have to sell him on the book because of course he would buy it.
Test with classified ads.
They are a cheap and workable way to test the effectiveness of titles, since the title alone either sells the book or it doesn't. In
one such case, a publisher tested two different titles for two books by advertising the books in full page ads in leading newspapers
across the country. Which of the following titles do you think did best?
1. The Art of Courtship vs.
The Art of Kissing
2. Care of Skin and Hair vs. Eating for Health
Here are the actual results: The Art of Kissing sold over 60,000 copies in one year while The Art of Courtship sold only
a little over 17,000 copies. Care of Skin and Hair outsold Eating for Health by 52,000 copies to 36,000. In each case,
both titles had the same number of exposures to the same number of readers.
Let the readers know what they can expect to get from your book. Specific benefits are usually more effective than general benefits in
appealing to book buyers.
When Clint Richard sold Pocket Books a photography book featuring the Tejano singer Selena!, he had titled it Photographs and
Memories. The publisher, however, retitled the book. Selena! sold 650,000 copies and went straight to the top of
the bestseller list. Many of Selena’s fans would have walked by the other title.
Use them to provide further explanation or description of the book's contents or benefits. Here are two examples of superb benefit subtitles:
Herb Cohen's You Can Negotiate Anything: How to Get What You Want and Callan Pinckney's Callanetics: 10 Years Younger in 10 Hours.
Several years ago, Birch Lane Press challenged all comers to a longest subtitle contest, which was a great way to get a
Publishers Weekly note about their own title, The Big Splash: A Scientific Discovery that Revolutionizes the Way We View
the Origin of Life, the Water We Drink, the Death of Dinosaurs, the Creation of the Oceans, the Nature of the Cosmos and the Very Future
of the Earth Itself (40 words).
A few weeks later, Scarecrow Press responded with their 47-word subtitle for Adventurers Afloat—A Nautical Bibliography: A
Comprehensive Guide to Books in English Recounting the Adventures of Amateur Sailors upon the Waters of the World in Yachts, Boats, and
Other Devices and Including Works on the Arts and Sciences of Cruising, Racing, Seamanship, Navigation, Design, Building, etc. from
the Earliest Writings Through 1986.
Such long subtitles may be carrying the process too far since many people would be lost half way through such a long title.
Choose titles that play off the titles of other well-known books.
Melvin Powers of Wilshire Book Company wrote a parody of Jim Everood's bestselling book, How to Flatten Your Stomach, which
he titled How to Flatten Your Tush. His parody made several bestseller lists.
Charlotte Peche titled her book on gynecology, The One-Minute Gynecologist, thus drawing on reader's familiarity with other
One-Minute books. The subtitle for her book helped to clarify what it was all about: One Woman's Search for the Quick and Painless Visit.
Choose familiar leads to your titles.
For example, The Joy of Sex, The Joy of Lex, The Joy of Cooking, The Joy of Photography, The Joy of Publishing, and so on. Or, that
classic book title lead-in: How to ... do just about anything. Or, finally, how about 101 Ways to ... do just about anything?
Use the subject of your book as the lead-in to the title.
In that way your book will be listed in the title index of any reference work just where inexperienced readers would look for a book
on that subject. Also, since many bookstores now rely on computers to track their sales, it is important to have a title with lead words
that give the substance of your book and will fit into the 25- to 35-word title field of many store inventory systems now on the
market. This can also be important for helping people to find your book on many online bookstore sites.
That is one reason we changed the title of one of our earlier books from The Directory of Book Marketing Opportunities to Book
Publishing Resource Guide. It's also a good argument for such titles such as Book Marketing Made Easier and Iacocca: An Autobiography.
Helen Gurley Brown's Sex and the Single Girl had a great lead-in. Its first word attracted a lot of attention. In fact, Brown
sold movie rights to her nonfiction book based solely on her title. That's all that the producers wanted; they wrote a new story line to go with the title.
When Euphrasia Carroll of Planetary Publications surveyed a chain store buyer as well as a dozen independent booksellers for their
Teaching Children to Live: 55 Games and Fun Activities for Raising Balanced Children in Unbalanced Times, she found that they wanted
you to put what you wanted them to remember in the first 25 characters of the title. Then use the subtitle to describe the book and audience further.
Make it pronounceable.
If you expect your authors to tour or do interviews, make sure the title is one they can pronounce. I wrote one book about kinetic
optical illusions (illusions created when you spin a black-and-white pattern on a record turntable) with a working title of Dizzy Discs
and Other Kinetic Illusions. However, I would never use that title for the book, because I have an impossible time pronouncing the
word “discs”—that “c” between the two “s's” is incredibly awkward. When I published the book, its title was Turntable Illusions:
Kinetic Optical Illusions for Your Record Turntable.
Make it memorable.
When John Gray followed up his bestselling Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus with What Your Mother Couldn’t Tell You
and Your Father Didn’t Know, Borders returned 50% and Ingram 70%. Why? Because the second book didn’t have nearly as memorable a title.
As Susie Russenberger of Ingram noted, “The previous book had a great title, but this one was really hard for people to say.” When Gray
began doing more Mars and Venus books, he again leapt to the top of the bestseller lists.
Make it mysterious.
When Jim Hornfischer of Literary Group International pitched Mary Thurston’s history of dogs, he did not sell the book until they
changed the title from The Dog Lover’s Book of Dog History to The Lost History of the Canine Race.
Several novels with intriguing tabloid titles were discovered in the slush piles of Simon & Schuster (Franco American
Dreams) and Berkeley (Going Postal). These novels would not have been discovered if their titles had been more general.
6:13 Choose Uniquely Wonderful Titles
This suggestion for titling your books is the most important of all: Choose new titles, wonderful titles, titles that speak of
romance, glory, wonder, or delight. This advice is absolutely important when titling novels. Nonfiction books can get away with
being prosaic, but novels must be enticing, or startling, or daring, or warm.
Here are a few of my other favorite book titles (certainly not a complete list): Cold Sassy Tree, The Unbearable Lightness of
Being, Stolen Ecstasy, The Lonely Silver Rain, A Confederacy of Dunces, The Winds of War, Silk Lady, Angels of September, Waiting to
Exhale, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Color Me Beautiful, In Search of Excellence, How to Be Your Own Best Friend, Think and Grow
Rich, Dress for Success, Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex But Were Afraid to Ask, Women Who Run with the Wolves, Official
and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, Earth in the Balance, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, How the Irish
Saved Civilization, and Jesus, CEO.
6:14 A Rose by Any Other Name
Don't be afraid to change a title if you can make it better. Never stop playing with the title until you get it right. Even after the
book has been published, it is still possible to change a title. It's been done more than once. And done successfully.
One note of caution: If you change a title, make sure everyone knows, especially your wholesalers and booksellers. For
instance, it took Douglas Rushkoff’s American publisher two months before they discovered that bookstores did not know about their
change of his title from Children of Chaos to Playing the Future, a change they made because their computer research showed
that books with “chaos” in the title were not selling as well.
One paperback publisher changed the title of a book from Five Days to Five Nights. The second title sold much, much better than the first.
One of the first books I published was FormAides for Direct Response Marketing. What a horrible title! The book was
well-reviewed, but its sales were not spectacular. It was a superb book, with a poor title and poor cover design. Fortunately, we did
sell out of that edition and were able to bring out an expanded edition under the title, Mail Order Selling Made Easier. Book
club rights for this edition were sold to The Executive Program and Fortune Book Club, UK rights were sold to McGraw-Hill, reprint rights
were sold to John Wiley, and our retail sales were fantastic. When John Wiley brought out their edition, they retitled the book The
Complete Direct Marketing Sourcebook, another good title but one that hasn’t sold as many copies as Mail Order Selling Made Easier.
When Garden Way changed the title of one of their books from The Squash Book to The Zucchini Cookbook, sales
rocketed from a paltry 1,500 copies to over 300,000 copies.
Fisher Books found that sales picked up considerably after retitling Cooking for Compliments as Dairy Food Cooking.
The Little Blue Book Company often tested the titles to their books. Here are the yearly sales resulting from some of those changes:
Patent Medicine and Public Health — 3,000
The Truth About Patent Medicine — 10,000
The Sonnets of a Portrait Painter — very few
The Love Sonnets of an Artist — 6,000
The Mystery of the Iron Mask — 11,000
The Mystery of the Man in the Iron Mask — 30,000
Poems of Evolution — 2,000
When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish — 7,000
On the following page are other title changes which I feel were made for the better:
The Pineapple Diet Book to The Beverly Hills Diet Book—The second is much more glamorous and enticing. Pineapples pucker my mind.
Tomorrow Is Another Day and Tote the Weary Load to Gone with the Wind—and the heroine's name was changed from
Pansy to Scarlett O'Hara. Which title do you think has sold millions of copies and became a major motion picture? Would the original titles have done as well?
They Don’t Build Statues to Businessmen to Valley of the Dolls—Which book sounds like a novel you could lose yourself in?
It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet to All Things Bright and Beautiful—Not only was the second title more interesting, but it
allowed James Herriot to come up with wonderful titles for the rest of the books in the series.
Your Guide to Coping with Pain to Conquering Back Pain—The Canadian title was changed when Prentice-Hall came out
with a U.S. edition so that the title would better reflect the book's contents. And better reflect the American way of viewing problems.
A Story That No One Can Beat to And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street—Dr. Seuss’s first book was rejected by 27
publishers under that first title. When Ted Henle of Vanguard Press bought the manuscript, the first order he gave Seuss was to come up with a snappier title. He did.
Notes from a Teacher's Wastebasket to Up the Down Staircase—The first has the flavor of an old maid teacher; the
second catches the chaos and joy of teaching.
Chapters in the Life of a Young Man to The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man—There is more romance in being an
artist. Plus the vibrant “portrait” enlivens the title more than the stale “chapters.”
The PRE-Reading Experience to Developing the Early Learner to The IQ Booster Kit—Note how the title becomes
more specific while at the same time offering greater benefits. Which would you buy if you were a parent? Which do you think sold best?
Trimalchio in West Egg to The Great Gatsby—Which would you rather recommend to a friend? I can't even pronounce the
first title, but, oh, the second title! Look out, Tony the Tiger, here I come!
A Grammatical Institute for the English Language (with an 18-word subtitle) to The American Spelling Book—Which title do
you think sold best for Noah Webster’s first spelling book, published in 1783?
If you’d like to read more fascinating stories of title changes, check out André Bernard’s little book, Now All We Need Is a Title.
Authors — Be open to suggestions for changing the title of your book. Don't insist on your title. Allow your
publisher an opportunity to give the book a title that will sell more copies. Indeed, you should always be developing and testing new
titles yourself. Keep trying out new titles till you find one that clicks—not only with your inner sense, but also with friends,
booksellers, librarians, and strangers on the street.
When Harvey Mackay was writing Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, he kept trying out different titles.
He rejected Prepare to Win as too mundane and 88 Lessons for '88 as too dated. Finally, he came up with a line from the
book, How to Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten, which he liked because of its powerful symbolism which combined a bit of
raunchiness with a sense of curiosity.
His publishers at Morrow, however, hated it. They said it was too long and too vague. But Mackay was convinced it was the right title,
so he hired Janz/Abrahamson, a Minneapolis company experienced in naming consumer products such as hot dogs, beer, and jelly. They put
together a focus group which checked out over 800 titles. Mackay's title, minus the How to, remained their top choice. When
Mackay showed the results to the people at Morrow, they capitulated. As Morrow's senior editor, Adrian Zackheim, noted in an article in
Inc. magazine, “If an author feels such a moral certainty about a title, you've got to say yes.”
When his agent told Carl Upchurch that people would hate his Convicted in the Womb because “it sounds like you’re blaming others
for your problems,” Carl went along with changing the title to Let There Be Hope. A year later, however, when Bantam published the
book, they used the original title, Convicted in the Womb: One Man’s Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker. A conservative radio host
hated the title so much he invited Carl to be a guest on his show. The other title would not have gotten that reaction.
6:15 Titles as Point of Purchase Advertising
Whatever you title your book, remember that the title of your book must serve at least three purposes:
1. It must attract the attention of the book buyer.
2. It must indicate what the book is about. For nonfiction, the title should be as clearly descriptive as possible. For fiction, the
title should be appropriate for the specific genre.
3. It must, if possible, create the desire to buy.
The best titles, like all good advertising headlines, serve all three functions at the same time. Remember that the title (along with
the cover) of your book is often the only advertising message any buyer ever sees. Make sure the message is clear and effective.
Indeed, even the cover is not always seen by the buyer. Go visit a bookstore or library to see what I mean. Walk the aisles. What do you
see? Spine after spine, titles only.
Note: How important is a title? Critical. Indeed, it is possible to sell a book based on the title alone.
That's what Cindy and Alan Garner did with their self-published book, Every Thing Men Know about Women. Why do I know that the title
alone sold the book? Because the book had nothing in it except 120 blank pages. Yet the book sold well over
2 million copies!