Saturday, June 03, 2006

Stressing the Wrong Benefit

There is a subtle danger in titles and covers that is rarely explicitly mentioned. Titles and book covers are important because it’s what draws the reader to the book, helps them to pick up the book or look at it online then make a buying decision. Often a book title will stress a benefit as a way of attracting readers. But imagine the disappointment for the reader if you stress the wrong benefit? It’s rare that I notice a book which has the wrong title and the wrong book cover but I found one.  Now before I say more, I want to stress the value of this book and I plan to write a couple of entries to show some of the excellent contents.

Making of Christian Bestseller coverSeveral weeks ago at a Christian online forum, people were listing excellent how-to-write books they had recently read. One title caught my attention—The Making of a Christian Bestseller. What an attractive title! I’d love to read someone’s insight about how to make a Christian bestseller. As I’ve mentioned in the past about this topic, everyone that I know within publishing would love to know how to make a bestseller. Unfortunately there is no single formula to make a Christian bestseller or a general market bestseller. When your title raises the benefit to the reader, you have an obligation to fulfill that benefit.  This book fails to tell the reader how to make a Christian bestseller. In fact, it never addresses the issue and the word “bestseller” doesn’t appear in the index.  As a reader, I was disappointed with the unfulfilled promise.

The other key problem with this book is the cover design.  Because I work inside publishing, I fully understand the author has little control or input regarding the book cover.  The combination of fluorescent orange and white is deadly and unreadable. It’s like printing your Christmas letter on red paper. Yes, some people do it but it’s not the easiest to see or read. One of my publishing friends called this cover, “The worst on the planet.” I can only show you the front cover but the back of this book is also fluorescent orange with white type. It’s almost impossible to read the information.  The back cover contains two great endorsements from Sally E. Stuart (marketing guru and author of the Christian Writers’ Market Guide) and Andy Scheer (Managing Editor of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild).

The title which matches the contents of this book is captured in the subtitle: An Insider’s Guide to Christian Publishing. The subtitle is reason to purchase this book and learn from the various chapters. Ann Byle has done a masterful job of gathering over 30 voices from inside Christian publishing on different aspects of the business.  Many of these working professionals have never been interviewed in any other book—and have valuable insight about the workings of the industry.  I know a number of these contributors because I’ve served with them on the faculty of a writers conference or worked with them on a magazine article assignment or crossed paths with them in another aspect of publishing. These individuals build tremendous value for the reader into the contents of this book. I’m going to highlight a few of these people in another entry about the Writing Life. It’s simply too bad to discover great contents wrapped in the wrong title and the wrong cover.

8 Comment:

At 9:05 AM, Blogger Rachelle Left a note...

Thanks for the great post, Terry. Sounds like a book I should get. And I can well imagine what that titling meeting sounded like: "Yeah, Christian bestseller, that'll get people's attention!" And most people in the room probably had not read the book.
P.S. I've been enjoying your blog everyday, kinda like the morning paper.

At 1:21 PM, Blogger Trish Berg Left a note...


Your blog is so timely for me. My publisher just sent me cover designs to look at.

The book’s title is "Rattled-Surviving Your Baby's First Year without Losing Your Cool," and it is being released by Multnomah next year.

They sent me 2 cover designs, and asked for my reaction, and input. (Which I thought was the normal process…still a newbie author, learning a lot!)

At first, I was surprised because the covers were not what I would have designed.

One had a photograph of a LARGE body-less baby's head, screaming, and no rattle anywhere. On the other, they had a silhouette of a woman wearing 4 inch heels, a 2 inch waist, and a business suit. (Not what I think of as a mom struggling to survive her first year as a mom.)

Anyhow, I made some suggestions, and I guess we'll see what they end up with.

But reading your blog made me truly appreciate the fact that they even asked my opinions!

Thanks, Terry!

At 1:37 PM, Blogger Brenda Nixon, Author and Speaker Left a note...

Thanks Terry for your wise words. I enjoy what you have to share and it's so timely for us writers. After reading your blog today, I compared my title, Parenting Power in the Early Years, to what you said and feel the book delivers on it's implied title. You also help me in the title consideration of articles I write. Thanks again for your generousity in sharing your knowledge.

At 6:06 PM, Blogger Shelley L. MacKenzie Left a note...

I'm still newish to writing, and I haven't been published yet (well, aside from a short story in one of the Faith Writer's analogy books). For me, picking a title is hard and I don't know how to really pick one that doesn't sound silly or stupid. Is the chosing of a title usually done by the writer, or is it the job of the publisher to do that? Also, does the author of the story have any input if it is chosen by the publisher?

At 9:56 PM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...


Over the last few years, I've written a lot of posts about titles--for magazine articles and books. I recommend you use the search engine for the blog in the right hand column with the word "title" and see what other things you can learn from those entries.

It's up to the writer to create the best possible title for your magazine article or your book. You are intimately acquainted with the topic and have the best opportunity. Contractually the magazine or the publisher can change the title--but I tell writers if they pick a good one it will make it through the consideration process and into the printed book. It takes work, practice and skill. It's a skill worth learning about.

At 12:39 PM, Blogger Heather Ivester Left a note...

Agent Janet Kobobel Grant gave a great workshop called "Razzle Dazzle: Titles Do Get You Contracts" at the 2005 Glorieta writer's conference. I was absolutely shocked to hear her describe how some books with original blah titles went on to become bestsellers -- because they snagged attention-grabbing titles.

One of her tips was to imagine the customer going to a bookstore and asking for a book -- this got some chuckles from the audience because some of the original titles were so awful!

The CD of her workshop can be purchased for $6 from www.mannarecording.com.

P.S. To Brenda: yes, your book has the perfect title for parents -- it delivers!

At 4:22 PM, Blogger Shelley L. MacKenzie Left a note...

Terry, thanks for the info. On my way to use your search tool and do some more reading!

At 6:44 PM, Blogger Camy Tang Left a note...

I've heard good things about this book, but it's disappointing to hear that about the title (misleading) and the cover (which really is quite bad). I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts on what's inside.



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