Tuesday, July 29, 2008

TITLE as Marketing Tool - Part One

I think Margaret Carter, in her Thursday July 24th post, has missed an important point about MARKETING. The Newspaper she sites was of course writing to readers and the reporter was probably unaware of the Point Of View differences.

I've been studying "Marketing" a bit lately, so I may be doing what the reporter did -- failing to connect with you, the book-buyer. But I'm going to try to explain how it looks from the Publisher's point of view.

Here's the point that's overlooked in Margaret Carter's last Thursday post on Titles.

Titles don't sell books to READERS.

Now go back and read her post and the comments once again, understanding that Titles have nothing at all to do with manipulating book-buyer's behavior.

So stipulate that the point and purpose of the TITLE in the Book Publishing Business Model is not to sell books to READERS.

The question then becomes what is a title and what is it for?

Titles are vital -- the correct choice of title is vital -- and makes or breaks sales. All the time.

Absolutely. Without exception. Proven by computer analysis. THE correct title is absolutely necessary to make sales figures soar.

Now how can that be if book-buying readers like Margaret ignore it? And after reading the book, forget the title!

We as readers mostly forget or ignore titles -- rarely does an intriguing title result in an impulse buy. Why is that?

Because intriguing titles attract the eye and mind to the book cover, but when you flip it over or look at the inside blurb, or first 3 paragraphs -- the book is not about what you imagined it might be or wanted it to be about.

WRITERS take that experience and go write the book that "belongs" under that title. Writers find great titles inspiring.

READERS just pass on, feeling frustrated, cheated and disappointed, and buy a guaranteed good read.

So why are titles so ultimately make-or-break for a book's sales? Don't they sell books to readers?

Well, no, "they" don't. Readers aren't actually part of the Publishing Business Model, any more than "voters" are part of the Political Machinery Business Model.

The PUBLIC (i.e. the Book Buyer) responds to advertising, regardless of their personal opinion.

That's the assumption behind much of the Marketing Paradigm, and more than 50% of the time, that assumption is proved accurate. (Personally, I think readers are harder to influence which is why "publishing" is the poor stepchild in every corporation that owns a Publishing House. We just don't respond in predictable ways to promotional advertising in the same way that people over 40 years old just don't respond to advertising. )

So where in the Publishing Business Model does the TITLE go? Who is it supposed to SELL TO if not the book-buyer/reader? If not the end-user, then who?

The answer is THE SALES FORCE. Titles exist to bait, intrigue, energize, jazz, inspire, and awaken greed in -- THE SALES FORCE. The Marketers.

The TITLE sells books not to the READER but to the SALES FORCE, the Marketing Department, The BUZZ MILL (editor, agent, publisher execs over lunch talking about it).

The TITLE sells not to those who will read the book (none of those professional sales people will read the book!), but to those who MARKET THE BOOK.

So the title is crucial to sales because if the title is not RIGHT, the book will never (ever!) make it to the shelf before reader's eyeballs to give book-buyers a chance to choose it. It might be "published" but won't be in the Book Chain Stores. Since the Independent Book Stores are totally vanished from the scene -- that failure to make the Chains is a deathnell even if the book is "published."

Books get chosen to be on Chain Store shelves in a number of ways. One way is at the annual Book Expo -- the TRADE SHOWS. The INSIDERS, the BUZZ NETWORK, -- what people are saying to each other while walking the aisles of that trade show -- determines if a book gets picked up for stocking in the chain stores.

Even on amazon which doesn't have "shelves," this has become true.

Why even on Amazon?

Because as Amazon has grown from a big reader-fan organization to a powerhouse marketer, they've started taking those standard bribes from publishers that book chains invented.

The Publisher PAYS to have your book in front of the store -- in the window -- in the "NEW" section, or shelved cover-out instead of spine-out -- or shelved in two places (SF and Romance).

The publisher pays? Well, no, the publisher's MARKETING DEPARTMENT (not one person inside which has ever or will ever read any of these books) decide which books to pay to put in front of the store or in the window.

On Amazon "up front" means it turns up in your Recommended section when you log in -- the more the publisher pays the higher in your Recommendeds it will appear. Or even be promoted in an email. Or now given away to amazon reviewers in the Vine program. (yeah, some chosen amazon reviewers get offered free books now! But only books publishers throw into the Vine program which is NOT all the publisher's titles. The select few get promoted.)

How does the Marketing Department decide which books to pay to have put in front of book-buyers eyeballs and which to leave out (so nobody can choose to buy it -- thus determining the sales figures.)

BY THE TITLE. And only by the title. That's what affects sales volumes -- despite what you and I, the inveterate reader actually do when looking at the book.

What does MARKETING look for in a title?

It's called HIGH CONCEPT, and I've been harping on this topic -- BOOKS AND MOVIES ARE NOW THE SAME -- on this blog for quite a while.

There's a vital point to consider here. This connection between books and movies and Marketing isn't something I just somehow missed learning as I grew up.

IT IS NEW. It has never before in the history of the world existed. OK, all right, PUBLISHING is relatively new -- few hundred years if you don't count hand-copying.

But let's take a long look at the history of publishing over the last few decades -- just decades.

When Margaret is discussing TITLE -- she's discussing it from the point of view of about 30 years ago.

In the 1970's and 1980's Publishing underwent a huge, big, monstrous, paradigm shift.

The really frightening thing about that change is that, though it was discussed in various newspapers (there weren't blogs then) and magazines -- the general book-buying public and people growing up with the ambition to "become writers" didn't get it -- didn't understand the nature of the change and its implications.

To this day, the real significance of this change hasn't sunk in.

There's a whole generation of new writers (and editors, too) who have grown up in the modern paradigm and don't really know there ever was anything different. They just know they don't like reading old books.

And there are those readers who are still forlornly searching for new novels written for the old paradigm.

What is the shift? What is this vital, earth shattering, vastly significance CHANGE?

I bet you already know and are bored that I'm saying this again.

Publishing went from a business that barely broke even, and was actually designed to LOSE MONEY as a tax write-off for the corporations which owned the Houses, to a business designed to MAKE MONEY.

It went from non-profit, or anti-profit, to profit making.

It sounds so simple. Who could miss that or not realize the full significance of it? Corporate America invaded our space. So?

Well, novels used to be written to communicate about interesting points, about emotions, philosophy, love, politics, religion -- incendiary topics. To be a "novelist" meant to be a THINKER -- no more, a LEADER OF THINKERS. Not really an "Intellectual" because "we" write for the "pulps" and Mass Market, but novelists were saying things that went way over the heads of most of the population.

That was proved out by sales and surveys. I recall the published figures in Publisher's Weekly from decades ago. It went from about 5% of the population of the USA buying books to read to maybe as much as 10% of the population in the 1960's and 1970's.

What changed?

Movies in the early part of the 20th Century didn't drive people to reading novels. They did however sell Movie Magazines. Mostly pictures. Those pictures changed how women dressed. Did you know that Max Factor makeup was at first ONLY for Hollywood stars when they were on screen -- and via the Movie Magazines, became known, and started making a beauty-parlour version and then went to Mass Market? Women adopted the bra, and other tricks of the stars, because of Magazines. Pin-ups. What guys wanted, girls provided.

Movies pitted us normal girls against "stars" -- and Movie Magazines changed the world.

Films reached a much bigger audience than books ever had. But it was much later that the NOVELIZATION was invented.

The big revolution of the 1960's was just a slow continuation of the 1950's which was a gradual, creeping revolution started in the 1930's and 40's. What was that revolution that affected publishing?


From a few stations in New York, Networks exploded. In the late 1950's the three big radio networks went coast to coast with TV networks of the same names (ABC, CBS, NBC). Remember Kinescope? No? Now you see my point.

Kinescope was the big revolution that allowed recording a TV show and showing it in California 3 hours later than the original broadcast in New York -- a technological miracle that unified this country. At 8PM everyone watched Milton Berle, even if you had to go over to the neighbor's house who had the only TV on the block. (about 7 inches across diagonally).

What happened to Television in the 1960's? Color TV, yes, big screens, and one more really significant thing I don't think any historians ever paid attention to.


Oh, you knew I was going to say that, didn't you?

So I'll give you a week to think about it. Really think - put the pieces together. If you can understand what happened, you will begin to understand what is happening now in such a way that you can take advantage of it and make yourself a profit.

Part II of this post next week, but I'll be on my way to WorldCon (see http://www.worldcon.org and choose this year from the list) so I'll have to ask Rowena once again to post for me.

After I get through with the Historical Review on titles in publishing, though, please someone remind me to discuss how to choose a title for your book that will propel it into the top of the list from which salesforces choose which books to promote. I can't claim to be really good at it, but I think I do have some ideas that will help.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg



  1. Awesome post, Jacqueline, as always. There's so much to learn!

  2. Great piece. Makes me wonder why publishers don't put "Sex" in every title, ha ha.

    Seriously, that is an eye opener. I figured titles were changed for marketing reasons, but not to such an extent.

  3. Thanks, Jacqueline! You've brought out many thought-provoking points that I wasn't consciously aware of. Yes, the newspaper article I was commenting on dealt solely with the impact of titles on READERS, so that was the approach I took.

    I look forward to reading your further explication of how TV transformed the book production industry. I'm afraid I can think of one depressing analogy, if not a direct effect: Nowadays, new TV programs aren't given a fair chance to find their audience. Most often, if they don't grab ratings within a few episodes, they're summarily canceled. I fear authors may be victims of the same attitude, as far as the mass market publishers are concerned. Thank Heaven for small presses and e-pubs.