The Name Game

In twenty-five years of marketing, the two toughest items I produced were billboard copy and photo captions. I’ve now discovered their literary equivalents: book titles and cover copy. These tiny, critical windows are the most-important point-of-purchase components of book sales. So how does an author create compelling book-marketing bits and pieces? Here are a few ideas.

41PMlxkPaTL._SX260_YOUR BOOK TITLE — Billboards are the “three-second read” in advertising. Drivers glance, absorb four or five words, and either ignore the (very-expensive) board, or act later because something stuck in their minds. Your manuscript title is a literary billboard. How does it perform in the following criteria?

  • Is every word familiar? Use the simplest English words you can, and replace all but very common foreign words. In Friedman’s The Aleppo Codex, anyone paying attention to Syria’s civil war will immediately pick up the book. Regarding The History of the Arab People by Hourani, his foreign name lends credibility. (These are AWESOME books.)
  • Is your title evocative and powerful? Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a great example of an intriguing title. John Le Carre’s A Delicate Truth is another interesting option. I like juxtapositions in titles, or plays on words. But remember, the shorter the better!
  • Is your title different? Again, refer to Barbery’s recent work. When did you last see hedgehog on a book cover? Or delicate in the title of a work of suspense, a la Le Carre?
  • Does your title convey the essence of what you’re doing? Sometimes I create great titles—but they don’t match my work. Usually the “perfect” title floats from my subconscious. Keep at it until your title is relevant, and consistent with your story. Creating a title is all about condensing.


COVER COPY — Once your title is strong enough to rise from the sea of recent releases, address cover copy. The title and graphics trigger a person to consider the book. But the “sell” comes with the cover copy. Don’t underestimate the importance of this short blurb, which must be perfect.

  • How powerful are your words? Look at cover copy from books by favorite writers. They use strong words “indigenous” to the genre. Sentences are crisp. Lean. Study every individual word, and surgically lace them together. Be precise.
  • Does this copy convey the gist of your story? Cover copy can be well-written, but a literary rabbit trail. Share enough to trigger a purchase, but not too much. Write in a style consistent with your manuscript, because cover copy should be a sneak preview of what’s to come.
  • Does your cover seduce your reader? Cover copy is the come-hither phase of your literary relationship with a potential reader. Be your best, stay true to yourself, and represent your genre well. If you write suspense, be suspenseful. If you write romance, be romantic. If you write horror…well, just don’t get arrested.

Lastly, be prepared for all of this to change if your publisher decides to reposition your work. What is your experience with book titles and cover copy? Do you have suggestions? I’m interested!

(cover art courtesy of

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