Josh and I met yesterday for a beer. Josh is, without exaggeration, one of my favorite people ever. He has wild black hair and today has an animated beard that is quickly turning “salt and pepper.” He is wicked smart. Too smart, really. You know how they say that Einstein would forget to change his socks? Well Josh is that level of smart.
Anyway, we met for a beer and got to talking about books. Josh knows a ton of authors (and has a gift for writing himself) and he knows the challenge of finding a title that strikes the perfect balance between constructive identification and scintillating provocation. Not an easy task, to say the least.
At one point in our conversation, Josh turned the question on me. We were sitting at one of the square tables on the south end of the Hair of the Dog tasting room in Portland inner-eastside industrial district. He leaned across the table and said to me, “I love your book, Tony, but I think you made a big mistake.”
I just stared at him, wondering if his “big mistake” coincided with the half a dozen “big mistakes” that I had already tried and convicted myself over since the book’s release last Fall.
“Your one big mistakes is your book’s title. It does not get at the heart of your message. I mean, once you explain it to me, I understand why you chose it, but the average reader does not get a chance to sit down and talk to you the way that I do. I think it takes the average reader several chapters to really get the mind-bending message you are communicating. Your book is about hearing God through non-Christians and that is a significant concept, but ‘Neighbors and Wise Men’ just does not deliver that important idea.”
I have often wondered the exact same thing… and now to hear these words from my savant friend. Could he be right?
. . .
Naming a book is a complicated process. And we struggled with it with my recent book. We ended up landing on ‘Neighbors and Wise Men: Sacred Encounters in a Portland Pub and Other Unexpected Places’ and that title came under duress since Thomas Nelson’s Fall Catalogue of new books was going to the printer and they wanted to feature my book.
(If you want to hear an explanation of the book’s title, please watch the video at the bottom of this post.)
So, here are two titles that I pushed to the publisher that ended up on the trash heap. To tell the truth they hardly made it to committee they were dismissed so quickly. I am curious what you think:
Title One: Disciple of the Damned
This was the title that I pitched with the initial book proposal. It was good enough to get me the contract but I was later assured that the publishers would have nothing to do with it. Maybe it was the word “damn” in the title (can’t have any cursing you know… and by the way, when you read the book you will notice that all the naughty-words have been removed from its pages as well.) I think the concern is that this title would turn off the ‘voting base’ of religious publishing. Yes, it may appeal to the religiously-progressive and spiritually-dramatic but not to the average church-goer.
Title Two: Aliens Saved My Religion: How Religious Foreigners (Muslims, Atheists and Drunkards) Taught me the True Gospel of Jesus.
This title was more playful (with an undeniably clear subtitle.) I imagined a book cover that looked like a dime-store science fiction novel. In fact my new friend Jonathan Case even mocked up a version for me (you need to check out Jonathan’s work… fantastic.)
I thought this book title had some real potential. The sub-title pulls no punches, but the title itself is fun. Maybe the concern with this one is that the main title was too esoteric or fanciful so it wouldn’t appeal to the average reader and relegate the book to the Martian Chronicles/Dungeons and Dragons crowd. I don’t know.
Titling a book is a tricky thing, especially when it is connected to a fairly unknown guy like me (‘Tony the Beat Poet’ aside.) In the first months of the release the title/look/marketing/placement of the book must hook a large enough group of early adapters to build momentum, and eventually lead to a Tipping Point in the broader reading populace (and in this case the publisher sees that reading populace as church-going Christians, though I hope it can have a much broader appeal.) In the latter stages (after those first months), many believe the book’s title/look must then appeal broadly enough so as not to get pigeon-holed in a sub-group and therefore have the possibility to go viral (Blue Like Jazz and The Shack for instance, while not particularly dramatic names, once the books took off, the titles/looks of the books would turn no one away.)
So, here are my questions for you, dear friend blog reader:
- Did I blow it on my title choice?
- Do you prefer “Disciple of the Damned”?
- Do you prefer “Aliens Saved My Religion”?
- What do you think generally about the gauntlet of marketing a book?
Be @ Peace
Watch this to learn more about the title “Neighbors and Wise Men”, an allusion to the power of the religious foreigner.