Tuesday, February 14, 2006

BC: Tattling On Titles

Here’s an interesting Web site, brought to you courtesy of Lulu, the large print-on-demand publisher. The site rates book titles, with this provocative lead-in:

The Lulu Titlescorer has been developed exclusively for Lulu by statisticians who studied the titles of 50 years' worth of top bestsellers and identified which title attributes separated the bestsellers from the rest.

You type in your book title, answer their short list of questions, and voila, the results, given in percentage of chance that the title will be a bestseller.

The site is quick to say the data scores aren’t perfect.

However, giving them the benefit of the doubt, I found an intriguing pattern when I logged in each of my suspense novels. After typing the title, you must first choose whether the title is “literal” or “figurative.” Help buttons guide you through your choices. Here is the site’s explanation for which to choose:

Literal--Example: Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger. The novel largely consists of dialogue between the two main characters, Franny and Zooey, making the title completely literal. The Harry Potter titles are good examples of literal titles.

Figurative--Example: Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer. The story's two main characters are named William Kane and Abel Rosnovski — simple, Kane and Abel. What makes the title figurative is the parallel to the Old Testament Biblical story of Cain who kills his brother Abel. To a reader familiar with this story, the plot of Archer's novel takes on an additional layer of meaning due to both the contrasts and parallels with the biblical story.

By this definition, all of my novel titles are figurative because they refer to the underlying spiritual theme as well as a concrete aspect of the story. However, I was curious. If I left all other answers the same, what difference would calling my title “literal” vs. “figurative” make in the score?

Answer: a big difference. Most of my titles scored a 41.4% when I listed them as literal. But when I changed the same title to figurative, the percentage jumped to 69%.

Hm. No difference in the actual title. Which would mean no difference in the book cover. Which would mean no difference in swaying that bookstore browser to buy the novel—unless the back cover copy explicitly states the figurative meaning of the title. Barring that scenario (which I don’t think happens very often), the only difference a figurative title would make is after the person has read the book—then recommends it to friends and family. If these data are true, inferred logic tells me that recommendations for the figurative title book are stronger because the story has more depth of meaning.

Either this, or a book with more depth of meaning somehow does attract more bookstore browsers. Maybe the cover somehow reflects the “figurative” appeal? Maybe the back cover copy alludes to a more substantive book?

Maybe these titles statistics are pure schlock?

Here’s the Web site. Experiment away.

~ Brandilyn Collins,
Seatbelt Suspense™
Don't forget to b r e a t h e . . .™


At 5:22 AM, Blogger Steve Miller said...

I think you've discovered Lulu's preference for figurative titles. Whether Lulu's preference accurately reflects reality is another matter.

At 11:23 AM, Blogger Domino said...

Personally, I think the figurative titles can give us more information about the story. That makes me more interested in reading the book. If the title of the book is the name of one or two characters, I generally say... so what. No offense intended.

I like a title that leads the reader to ask a question. To answer that question, I am compelled to read the book.

Web of Lies is an excellent title. I can tell what the story is about without having to read back cover copy. But the title makes me want to read the back cover anyway - and the whole book - to answer those questions. Who is the liar? What kind of spider is in the book? Will I be able to see through the lies and figure out the truth before the end of the book?

I also like Ted Dekker's title: Three. It tells me nothing. It's a number. But I am asking all kinds of questions that can only be answered by reading the book. I haven't read the book, but the title makes me want to read it.

At 11:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found the same thing when I changed from literal to figurative. But it's fun to play with!

At 3:26 PM, Blogger Patricia Hickman said...

It does seem the program is skewed and possibly leaning toward the tastes of the web owner, but it is fun to try out.

At 8:54 PM, Blogger Lynette Sowell said...

Interesting. My title scored 26.3% when I rated it as figurative. Then it went down to 10-something% when I rated it as literal. Hummm.

At 2:42 PM, Blogger Paul Nichols said...

I typed in "A million little pieces" and was told it has a 10.2% chance... Go figure.

My Blog title "Writing From the Hip" has a 20.2% chance... Go figure my advance.


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