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Judging Books by Their Title: A Lulu Idea? Check It Out

Posted December 19, 2005

— So you want to be an author?

Answer truthfully now. Dan Brown of "The DaVinci Code" or Tom Clancy or Patricia Cornwell is your secret idol. You devour every title these best-selling authors produce. And you long to be just like them.

The back of your mind has been cluttered with ideas for writing a best-selling novel for years, hasn't it?

I bet you even have a title or two in mind for the mega-seller that you will someday mail off to an agent. The agent will agree to represent you and then shop your manuscript around New York City, determined to earn you that million-dollar advance.

But where does one start?

How about a title?

A Title Sells

Lulu.com, which is based in Raleigh, has some free advice to help you chart your path to riches and fame.

If you'll read the "Hot Off the Wire" item just published on WRAL Local Tech Wire about Lulu's new title study, you'll see they have run numbers on titles and have developed a formula for picking winning names.

Judging books by titles? How many people buy books based on titles? I have to admit in my own case the title carries a lot of weight - to the point of getting me to pick the book off a cluttered shelf.

I try not to judge a book by its cover, but if it's a historical novel and I recognize something is inaccurate in the artwork I wonder about the entire book's credibility. (For example, a new novel about an alternative beginning to World War Two shows the distinct bow of a U.S. ship being bombed by U.S. planes in a Japanese-held port. It doesn't add up - but I asked for the book anyway because it's a sequel.)

Now that the title and cover have drawn your attention, what do you check next? The author's credits, especially if someone new to you, is a good place to start. Then there are the teasers on the book jacket and the standard quotes of praise ("The next Tom Clancy!" How many times have you read that?) But I always prefer to read a forward - if there is one - and then the first couple of pages to see if the author gets my blood boiling.

What's in a Title?

So let's get back to the title business. How important is it to fledgling writers? The Lulu study makes some interesting points, but I'm not so sure I believe Agatha Christie produced best sellers because of her titles - crafty as they might be.

To help authors along, Lulu has launched its "Title Analayzer" based on the results of its study involving New York Times hardcover best-selling fiction.

I decided to try out Lulu's new tool to see if I might have a chance at writing a bestseller.

"Want to know if you've got a killer title for your novel? Now, for the first time in literary history, you can put your title to the scientific test - and find out whether it has what it takes for bestseller success,"

the web site says.

"Are you brave enough to put your title to the test?"

Yes indeed I am.

The site then asks for the book title and whether it is literal (such as "The DaVinci Code) or figurative ("Ax Murder De Jour").

Then it takes you through a series of prompts to further explain what the title is.

So I entered the title of a book I did co-write ("The Internet Strategic Plan" - not a novel, but a literal title that could be used today to describe a book about evil-doers seizing the Internet.)

My score came back at a whopping 10.2 percent of being a bestseller.

So I tried a different one based on the same theme: "Cyberwar: The Seizure of the Internet".

I'm up to 14.6 percent.

Maybe more active voice will help. "Cyberwar: Seizing the Internet" (I changed the title to figurative because one can't literally seize the Net.)

Closer. Lulu says it has a nearly 35 percent of hitting the best-seller list.

In a last attempt, I tried "Cyberwar". Jackpot! Better than a 75 percent chance of selling bigtime.

Now, all I have to do is write the book! Riches await.

Rick Smith is editor of WRAL Local Tech Wire.


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