Saturday, August 6, 2011

Best-Selling Titles

Each week the New York Times comes out with its Best Sellers list. In the past year the list has undergone a number of changes, most noticeably how e-book sales have been integrated into the lists as well as singled out as a list of its own. But what hasn’t changed is the fact that the lists are filled mainly with the works of big publishing houses.  We always wonder what makes a book a best-seller. We know there are many factors. Today I would like to explore the names of the best-selling books. Is that what puts some books over the top?

In examining the NYT list posted for August 7, which reflects sales from the two prior weeks, a few things stick out.

Under the Advice/How-To/Miscellaneous section, only one of the 20 books listed had a title of just one word. Four books relied on just two words for their title and eight books featured a three-word title. That means 65% of the list was of titles using three or fewer words. It pays to be succinct. But the top-selling book also has a word missing: Go The ____ To Sleep. Perhaps that missing word had something to do with the book being a runaway hit?

Sixty percent of this week’s hardcover non-fiction best-seller titles consist of three or fewer words. It would seem there is a pattern here: keep the title short and catchy.

The fiction hardcover list featured titles of three or fewer words 75% of the time. So many of the titles sound sex-themed though not one of them has the word “sex”  or “love” in them. Really, here are some sample titles – don’t they connote sex? Then Came You; The Paris Wife; Happy Birthday; Before I Go To Sleep.

For e-books, 60% of the top fiction and non-fiction titles consist of books with titles of three or fewer words. The trend seems to extend across all formats and genres. So if you want to pen a best-seller, don’t worry about publicity, marketplace trends, and advertising budgets – just get published by a big publisher and use a short title.

What If Authors Were Treated Like Athletes?

The NBA and NFL lockouts this summer reminded me why I love sports but hate the way the pros operate. Every bailout, strike, contract negotiation, free agent signing, and stadium-naming deal reaffirms professional sports are more like corporate America.  The fan or customer is an afterthought, taken for granted. If only the fans could muster the ability to override their addiction and boycott for a long enough time period to reassert who is in charge, we’d see a very different sports landscape.

In thinking about sports and how it mirrors life at times, I wonder how book publishing can mirror pro sports.  What if:

·        Authors formed a union, like the players, and dictated terms to the publishers?
·        Authors could be named to annual All-Star teams or named as Hall of Famers for their career contributions?
·        Authors can be applauded by a sports-arena sized crowd?
·        Authors only had a 4-5 year career, the way most athletes do?
·        Authors wore uniforms and sold merchandise with their name on it?
·        Books had sponsors and advertisers filling every other page?
·        There were daily television casts dedicated to books the way networks cover sports?
·        What if there were statistical data to rate an author’s book, other than total sales, similar to all the stats used to rate players and teams?
·        People can boo authors at a signing the way fans curse at ballplayers from the stands?
·        Celebrity gossip columnists kept track of which publishers and editors are sleeping around, the way they track the conquests of athletes?
·        An annual awards show for authors was televised like the Oscars, Emmys and Grammys?

The truth is authors are not treated like star athletes, celebrities or politicians.  They struggle to get published, to be read, to be appreciated. Sure, some books become best-sellers and gain some fame and small riches, but by and large, millions of gifted writers conclude the year wishing they got more media attention, more money, and wider acceptance as a writer.

Many writers write because it’s their gift and their passion and they find reward in knowing they penned what they believe is a good book.  But every writer wants the applause, the critical praise, the validation.  Some even want to change the world.

So when you watch the Super Bowl or World Series this year imagine, just for a moment, the players on the field are writers.  They are you and everyone is watching and cheering.  Stand up and take a bow.  It may be the only recognition you’ll ever get.

Brian Feinblum is the chief marketing officer of Planned Television Arts ( but the views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and are personal and do not reflect the official viewpoints of PTA. You can read his blog ( and follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at

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