Monday, December 5, 2011

It's not the cover you're judging a book on any more

Last month at bookswap, Sophie Hannah made a passing-ish comment that really stayed with me. 'Look at all the books that really work', she said. 'They've all got Ronseal titles'.

If you grew up pre-Ronseal, what that means is a title which exactly sums up what the book delivers. In my first in-house publishing job that's exactly what we called book titles, and it's stuck with me ever since.

I've been thinking about this again this week. Is there a correlation between book sales and titles that tell you exactly what they're about without giving it away? A quick browse at any BookScan list (or media bestseller list, usually fed by the same data) will tell you it probably is. Sister. Room. The Help. Have a think.

So the more interesting question is: why? Is it to do with our link-hitting, button-pressing age, where we memorise nothing because 'I'll google it if I need to know'? Is it more prevalent now than it was in the 1950s, for example? Is it because, in this world of the Hollywood pitch, a publisher is more likely to invest more strongly in publicising a book that's easily described? Very possibly, surely, it's a mixture of both.

More and more, books are coming up with titles that sell them to us in our lightning-quick decision-making world. And people are buying them, in their droves. Something to think about before you name your putative bestseller after an obscure 16th-century Latvian poet.

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