Change your book title and boost sales …?

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Liz and Business books

Liz and her books. Photo by Simon Howes

I was setting up a post on my main blog introducing my two new books to the world and I thought it would be interesting to write a “making of” on this blog which is, after all, about my adventures in reading, WRITING and working from home … And the title of this piece explains it all, really – can tweaking your book titles change your sales profile? I’m sharing my experience of naming my books and tweaking those names … and what might have happened next …

Funny book titles equals higher sales? Hm.

My first book was called “Going it Alone at 40: How I Survived my First Year of Full-Time Self-Employment“. I realised there was a danger of people only reading the first part of the title and thinking it was a guide to empty nest syndrome or divorce, but it was my first book, so I could ‘leverage’ that and tell the world about my book. It was sufficiently differentiated from other books to do quite well, and I’ve had some lovely positive reviews (if the worst someone can say about your book is that it contains a few too many cardigans, then life isn’t too bad).

I wasn’t really planning on writing another self-help careers book … except I then put together a Quick Guide to Your Career in Transcription, because people kept searching for that topic on my blog, and that has indeed done pretty well, given that it’s a small book, not a full-length one. And then I kept on blogging about how I was building my business and developing my career and it became apparent that I could put together another book, about increasing your income, saying no and planning your time, plus what I’d learned about blogging and social media. I wrote some new chapters for the book which were later summarised in blog posts, and I published “Who are you Calling Mature? Running a Successful Business After the Start-up Phase” in early 2014.

I did some market research on this title, this way round (and yes, if you’ve clicked the links, you’ll notice that the titles aren’t quite the same now) and people generally thought it was a good and funny title, as well as thinking the idea of the book was useful, given that there are lots of books out there about starting out and not so many about what happens next. I asked friends and colleagues on Facebook and in person at networking events, and excitedly launched the book. At the same time, I launched an omnibus e-edition of the two together so people could get better value, and called that “Going it Alone at 40 AND Who are you Calling Mature? The Omnibus“, which was probably a mistake. Who was going to find THAT searching for business books?

Launch your book and watch it fly!

Or not. I’ll be honest, sales were not what I’d hoped for. I did all the stuff you’re supposed to do, including sending out review copies, and people have bought it and posted some good reviews. But not in the numbers I’d wished for.  Then I asked again, did anyone think there was anything wrong with the title? And I got lots of replies, some along the lines of the business area not being as large, but several saying that the title didn’t lead them to think about business, but about some kind of guide to growing old disgracefully. Oh. After some fulminating about there being subtitles and blue books with graphs on the cover not generally being the way to sell comedy books on ageing, I actually listened to the advice, realised that no one had a chance of finding the omnibus, and switched all the titles around.

Do your research and tread carefully

It’s been a week or so since I changed the titles around. I haven’t actually changed the book covers – yet. I considered it, but as my motto is “Do things carefully and don’t spend out unless you have to”, I thought I’d see if the change had an effect.

What did I do?

  • I changed the titles around on Amazon, and added a whole new title to the omnibus, so it’s now called “Your Guide to Starting and Building your Business“.
  • I remembered to change the titles on my business website’s publications page, and I took the opportunity to add to their SEO (search engine optimisation, AKA making sure that people can find your stuff) by adding sub-headings with the book titles.
  • I changed the titles on my book pages on this blog
  • I told people what I’d done and thanked them for their input
  • I wrote a blog post on my main blog introducing the books (with their new titles) to the world – it’s common practice to launch independent authors’ books once they’ve garnered a few sales and reviews) and made sure they were helped by the SEO of that site

What happened?

I sold more books. It’s anecdotal, obviously: there hasn’t been enough time to see whether this is a trend or a spike. I don’t think the sales were ‘support buys’, i.e. my friends feeling sorry for me and buying a copy to help out (I do massively appreciate that when it happens, and am chuffed at all sales, but that does sort of skew your sales statistics!), but so far I have had significantly more interest and sales.

What happens next for those book titles?

Well, for a start, I’m going to leave them that way around, as it obviously works.

I’m going to see how sales go through next month, and if they are good enough and I can see they’re going to pay their way, I will get the covers redesigned (including the covers for the print books)

And I’ll let you know!

Update – 20 days on and I’m redoing my book covers!

Update: 20 June. I’m pleased to report that as of 20 June I’ve sold copies of my books every day, and more copies of the renamed ones. Luckily, I get a nice report from Amazon about daily sales. I don’t think I’ve been talking about my books any more on social media than I usually do, so I’m putting it down to the new book titles.

Update – August 2014

Liz new books fbI ordered a new cover for the Omnibus e-book, and the two print books – and here they are. Doing that plus creating a dedicated books website has helped to build traffic and sales – but what started it all off was changing the titles! I’ve blogged a more detailed update here.

Book reviews – Adam Bede and Virginia Woolf A Critical Memoir

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May 2014 whole TBRTwo non-Iceland books now – I know! But I decided that I couldn’t read just books on Iceland all month (and by doing that, ruined my chances of reading them all – doh!) Plus I was already reading the amazing “Adam Bede”, and I wasn’t about to give up on that for a month! So here are two books by favourite authors – and a shock confession, too (not about book buying this time …)

George Eliot – “Adam Bede”

(19 August 2013 – bought on my last book-buying trip to Oxford)

Sorry, Mr Rochester, I might have grown up a bit and got a new literary crush (don’t worry, Reddle Man from Return of the Native, you’re safe!). Adam Bede is a stalwart countryman who puts up with his alcoholic father, clinging mother, lovelorn brother and faithless love, keeping calm and finding joy in working hard, in what must be a direct comment on the benefits of keeping with the older, more traditional ways of working (much as Hardy does with some of his supporting men and women when his heroes and heroines are going off being all modern and dramatic and doomy).

Again, like Hardy, Eliot sets this entirely in a rural community, pretty enclosed in an arable area of the Midlands, with the brooding industrial towns a safe journey away and only the saintly Methodist preacher providing a bridge between the two. While Good Things are not the only thing found in the countryside and Bad Things are not confined to the towns, it’s noticeable that the negative action does tend to happen in either the contrasted town or what I might call the liminal space of the cottage in the woods. Eliot also uses the pathetic fallacy to good effect, linking the woods, the weather and the characters’ actions and emotions in a way that had me constantly looking forward to my re-read of this in the future.

I did find myself doing a lot of Hardy comparisons, as Eliot has similar wayward women punished by society and a disdain for high-faluting higher class or towns people who mess with the natural order in various ways, either through estate (mis)management or dallying with the  country girls. She also has local people with all their colour, variety, bravery and dialect, who are somehow a bit less annoying than Hardy’s can be. I appreciate that he’s not the only other writer who uses these features, though, so let’s move away from the Hardy comparisons for a minute …

One very ‘Eliot’ feature of this book is the author’s ability to create a seemingly perfect, virtuous, hard-working, attractive central character and make him completely believable and, frankly, not as annoying as he should be. She does this to great effect in her portrayal of Daniel Deronda, and here she is again. Maybe it’s the way in which she does give them human emotions, wobbles and an awareness of their own limitations. I’m not sure, but it makes for a banging good read which belies the length of the book – I really didn’t want it to finish.

Fate is allowed to be thwarted to an extent, and some have criticised the ending for being too obvious and pat, but I liked the truth of the dawning affection between two characters, handy as it was. As I said before, I did read it for the story this time round, to an extent, but with an eye to the re-read I will be looking forward to doing. Definitely a keeper.

And why, oh why have I read “Middlemarch” about five times, “Daniel Deronda” once and this one, now, once? At least I have a lot to look forward to!

Winifred Holtby – “Virginia Woolf: A Critical Memoir”

(Bought 19 August 2013 on the same Oxford trip)

Poignantly written while Woolf was still alive, this is not so much a “Memoir”, in that it doesn’t relate the books particularly to either Holtby’s or Woolf’s life, but it does address Woolf’s novels and other writings in chronological order, and examines the development of her style and use of language, especially her move towards stream of consciousness work. She has a good, thorough look at the themes and writing of the books, sometimes alone, sometimes in pairs, and pays particular attention to Woolf’s experimental work on the way towards her eventual mature style. It also looks at underlying issues of writing, creativity and gender, so there are a lot of layers and things to unpack.

It’s all done in Holtby’s lovely, flowing, deceptively simple prose, of course, so easy to read, even if this is a reprint which reproduces the odd spaces before semi colons that we don’t see now. It’s very good on “Orlando” and “A Room of One’s Own” (which it pairs, to good effect) and has the effect that is the best outcome of such a  book, in that it makes me want to rush back to the Woolf oeuvre and devour it, possibly in chronological order. An unusual and lovely book – when writers write well on other writers, they do it supremely well (like Byatt on Iris Murdoch) and this was a real treat.

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A small confession: OK, you probably guessed it from my comments above. I have come to the conclusion that I place George Eliot above Hardy and Austen in my Top Authors list. Up there with Iris Murdoch (in fact in the complicated relationships, depiction of closed societies and multiple echoes and pairings, they do have much in common, and I’m trying to get hold of a chapter in a book which treats the relationship between the two). I love Austen and Hardy, but Austen is sometimes a bit too light for me – I prefer “Mansfield Park” and “Emma”, as well as “Northanger Abbey” for their interaction with morals and other genres; and Hardy’s rustic choruses can grate at times, plus sometimes Eliot pips him to the post with her characters, metafiction and settings. It’s not like I’m eschewing them or saying that they’re no good, and it’s only very personal opinion … we’ll see, as I read more of Eliot’s books. That’s it – forgive me and stop gasping now, please!

Book Reviews – Names for the Sea and The Tricking of Freya

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Books about IcelandI have been a bit lax in my reviewing – I wrote up a load of reviews in my notebook last night and I’m gradually transferring them onto this blog, so sorry if you’ve been pining to hear what I’ve been thinking about my reading!

Anyway, here we are – hello! – and I’m pleased to report that I have been making good progress with my Icelandic Reading. I’ve read quite a few of this pile pictured to the left, and although I’m right in the middle of the great big Laxness book, oh, but it’s wonderful! It may appeal more to those who already love the sagas, as I know a few people have found it miserable, and I’m finding it blackly funny in places. Anyway, more of that later. For now, a memoir and a novel.

Sarah Moss – “Names for the Sea”

(18 March 2014 – it does feel a bit odd not reading books acquired last summer!)

In which Moss, her husband and their two young sons live in Reykjavik for a year while Sarah works teaching English literature at the University. They live in a commuter suburb which was left half-built and deserted when the financial crisis hit, but they make friends with local families, both native Icelanders and other “foreigners”), and she describes, sort of, what it’s like to actually live there for a year. I really enjoyed all the little details about how student classes work, how exactly the primary schools operate, etc., and the author does make an effort to meet different kinds of people and find out about politics, activism and the actual effects of the financial crisis on a society that seems on the surface to be running on business as usual. However, and I imagine this is a product of culture shock, she is quite negative about a lot of things (particularly the food and weather), which makes it a slightly less than ideal read just before you go there (I did balance it out with some more positive reads, fortunately, so wasn’t feeling quite so doomy after a while).

There are some useful tips about operating in Iceland and places to go, and some good stuff about culture, art, knitting, etc., and the growing practice of recycling and second-hand objects, plus the epilogue is a lot more positive about the availability of vegetables than the main book. So it was an interesting read, and a quirky travel biography/memoir which did make an effort to examine the cultural differences, etc.

Christina Sunley – “The Tricking of Freya”

(18 March 2014)

An interesting novel set partly in a Canadian settlement of Icelanders, partly in New York, and partly in Iceland itself. Freya is a woman of Icelandic origin who has never visited the island, but spends summers in the settlement where her grandmother, aunt and various people from the old country still live, speaking Icelandic and still being immersed in their own culture (this place apparently does exist, which is fascinating). Family secrets start coming out of the woodwork and Freya becomes more involved with them than she would prefer to be, getting sucked back into a culture that’s as alien to her underground New York existence, working in a photography lab, as her mother’s suburban home and Iceland itself.

It’s not Scandi-noir, which most books set in Iceland seem to be at the moment, although there is mild peril and mental illness. I’m not entirely sure that I’d have picked it up if it wasn’t partly set in Iceland, but the descriptions are lovely and the plot twists and turns (I really felt smugly that I’d got it, then found out I was totally wrong). It didn’t really put a foot wrong, but did rely on a few small-town-coming-of-age tropes – the disruptive aunt, the traditional grandma, longing to escape from suburbia – and some of the characterisation could have been filled in more, perhaps. But it was more than competent, enjoyable and interesting.

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I have been reading a bit of non-Icelandic stuff in the gaps, too – more about those next time. In other TBR news, a big sigh over Elizabeth Jane Howard. I sort of met her at the Elizabeth Taylor Day I went to in 2012, and I was surprised I’d never read any of her books. I popped a load of them on my wish lists, and was thrilled to receive three for Christmas. Ideal for a light read to accompany me at meal times (Laxness is BRILLIANT but you don’t want to read him over your tea), thought I. Well, the first one I picked up had a cat death. The second one had an eating disorder. And do you know what? I kind of lost my faith in her after that, and I’m going to pass over these ones. My fault entirely, not my lovely Christmas gift giver, I hasten to add!

Book review – Louise Harnby – “Marketing Your Editing and Proofreading Business”

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Marketing Your Editing and Proofreading Business Louise HarnbyI’ve previously read and reviewed Louise’s first book, “Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers“, aimed at newcomers to the profession and those who needed to brush up their business planning skills. This book on marketing is for a similar audience, but it goes much more into the nuts and bolts of the actual marketing process, telling the reader what is out there that they can try, explaining why it’s a good idea to try it, providing some examples of people who have tried it (and in the interests of disclosure, I am one of the people who she mentions as examples of good practice) and giving some pointers as to what to do next.

As I do in my own writing, the author professes not to use jargon in her book, and she doesn’t, explaining concepts clearly and concisely without muddling the waters with marketing speak. As such, the book will be very accessible to those who fear marketing and can’t see the point of making the effort – or those who try to do it, but half-heartedly – the “embarrassed marketers” as Harnby calls them. But no one could fail to be convinced by the information that’s laid out clearly and methodically – and everyone can learn from it – I certainly learned a bit more about the relationship between Google+ and searching for your services, and about some of the other social media service that are out there.

The book is clearly laid out in four parts, covering concepts – ideas about marketing, what it is, how it helps you to grow your business; then activities, which sets out a chapter on each of various marketing channels including cold letters, face-to-face networking and social media, among many more; then a very useful sample marketing plan; and a good solid list of resources at the end. The marketing plan is a stroke of genius, as it takes a non-traditional editor – certainly not a woman who’s worked for a publisher then struck out on her own, which is something of a stereotype in our industry – and sets out what they can achieve around an editing career, branching out into all sorts of other activities and, as Harnby advocates at the beginning of the book (and something I strongly advocate, too) making sure that they have a mix of customers and types of work.

This book would be particularly useful for anyone starting out in editing freelancing or for anyone who’s giving it a go but not getting very far with getting customers. It’s also very useful for anyone planning to work with traditional publishers, as it sets out a lot of information about choosing which companies to target, etc., although one of Harnby’s own strengths is that she also works with self-publishers, and she has plenty of advice about how to deal with this market segment too. It also served to make me count my blessings and realise how lucky I’ve been to have gathered together a broad portfolio of clients through word of mouth, social media marketing and a couple of directory sites.

In summary, if you’re in the early stages of an editorial career, perhaps especially if you are not sure of the market in which you wish to work, buy a copy of “Marketing your Editing and Proofreading Business” and read it cover to cover (or percentage to percentage, I suppose, if you read the e-book version!). I will be recommending it to my mentees in the profession, and including it in the list of resources in my next book!

Find out more about the book on Louise’s website. You’ll find more info there on the book and links to where you can buy it.

Note: I received a review copy from Louise – thank you. Although I am quoted and referenced in the book, I make no financial gain from you purchasing it (although of course it helps my marketing effort in raising awareness of my website and thus my own books!).

Book reviews – I Still Dream About You And John Major: The Autobiography

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May 2014 whole TBRI’ve got a bit behind on my book reviewing – sorry! Lots of work, lots of sorting out, not so much reading time for a bit (which I have now addressed) and some pretty hefty books on the go have all conspired against me somewhat! So I’m still working my way through (slowly, to savour it) George Eliot’s “Adam Bede”, and you will read the first two reviews in my Reading About Iceland in May project, but for now we’ve got what should have been a firm favourite but wasn’t really, and what should have been heavy going, but wasn’t really. Intrigued? Read on. And no, this isn’t a natural pairing – that’s temporarily deserted me!

Fannie Flagg – “I Still Dream About You”

(14 September 2013 – BookCrossing)

I picked this one up from my friend Gill, who knows that I like this author’s books, after it had been donated for, but not taken at, a local festival where we have a free books stall every year. It was OK but not amazing – a bit predictable and a bit sappy.

Maggie is a former Miss Alabama now working in real estate. Her office is threatened by an unscrupulous rival, especially now their much-loved boss has passed away, but she thinks their troubles are over when she lands the contract for the sale of a big old mansion that she’s always loved. But that’s before all of the skeletons in the closet come tumbling out … some more literally than others.

It is lovely to read a book about Birmingham (AL) and the reflections on the city’s role in the struggles for equality in the 60s and 70s are interesting and well done. The characters of the office mates are also well-drawn, but the central story is a b it sappy for me, to be honest, as is the veneration of their late boss, tiny but miraculous Hazel.  So although there were some good twists and turns, as well as some laughs, it was ultimately a bit cloying for me.

John Major – “The Autobiography”

(19 August 2013, Arcadia Bookshop, Oxford)

This book was bought on the trip to Oxford detailed in this post. An excellent political autobiography that deserves its description as one of the best of the genre written in the 20th century. It’s very detailed and did take a long time to read (and I will admit to getting a big bogged down in all the mechanisms of the ERM) but very much worth it.

Major’s conservatism was of the socially responsible kind, in fact initiating many of the policies that New Labour took and ran with. He never forgot his own start in life and did seem to genuinely aim to lift people out of poverty, remove class distinctions and offer education of whatever kind people needed, while making public services more accountable (even if league tables obviously went a bit far in the end; he is clear-sighted on the propensity to ‘game’ these, however). He does make much of the fact that Blair decried his policies while in opposition then took them over when it power, with Blair even using pet words and phrases of Major’s in his own rallying calls, which seems a  bit much, really. Having said that, he does have a decent word for Blair’s support during the Northern Ireland peace negotiations and subsequent work on this area. He is also generous about other characters’ actions, e.g. Heseltine’s decency during the last leadership campaign Major fought.

Major’s prime ministership fell during an important time in my life, when I was getting interested in party politics and voting for the first time, so it was interesting to read about the background to some of those seminal events. He clarifies why he has been said to have done too little in Yugoslavia (letting the UN get on with it rather than wading in), and he does admit his mistakes, although I have to say here that he does  not mention his own contribution to the accusations of ‘sleaze’ levelled at the Tories after his ‘Back to Basics’ campaign, which was a bit disappointing. He’s very clear on Margaret Thatcher, both in power and after power, and quite scathing about her breaches of etiquette in openly talking about him and even campaigning against him – I had thought this would be more mealy-mouthed on that area. He paints amusing and affectionate portraits of his fellow politicians at home and abroad, and reprints his lovely eulogy for John Smith.

A humane and interesting book about a man who was perhaps more interesting than contemporary reports portrayed him. He seems to be a decent man who genuinely wanted to serve, and consulted his immediate family on the big political and career decisions. There’s an additional chapter in this edition which looks at ‘what next’ from 2000, which is a bit unnecessary now, as I don’t really remember the exact detail of what came true and what didn’t. But overall a fascinating and valuable read.

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Up next, reviews of a memoir and a novel about Iceland, and I might even finish “Adam Bede”. Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? What are you reading now?

State of the TBR May 2014

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May 2014 whole TBRWell, here’s my TBR looming out of the gloom: it’s not that “good” in terms of numbers, is it, but it is full of great books. The trouble I’ve had this month is that I’ve been reading big, meaty tomes which have taken ages to get through – “33 Revolutions Per Minute”, John Major’s autobiography (still, as I write) and now the rather wonderful “Adam Bede” by George Eliot. I don’t seem to have got through many books during my week off, although there is one more review to add. Anyway, there’s the TBR, and the angle is obviously a little deceptive, because it looks like just one row of books, Two rows of books to readwhile of course it’s very much not just one row of books … I am almost up to books received for Christmas and birthday, although they do take up the equivalent of a shelf-worthington, so I’ll have to carve out some more reading time from SOMEWHERE as I’m itching to get on to these.

Books about IcelandBut of course I have designated May as my Month of Reading Books About Iceland, and so it must be, for we will be going to Iceland this summer when the ice has melted and the buses are running and we can see the places I’ve wanted to see since I was about 8 (well, I didn’t know about all of the sagas then, but you know what I mean). I have some super ones coming up and I’m sure I’ll be able to pick a few off the TBR to go in between, in the unlikely event that I get bored reading about Iceland (yeah, right).

Iris Murdoch booksNow to some LOVELIES. I’m not sure that these count as book confessions as such, because – gasp – I’m not going to read them! But I’ve fairly obviously read all of these a number of times before (“The Sacred and Profane Love Machine” being one of my early IM reads, as a teenager) and they are lovely First Editions. I picked them up on eBay after a tip-off from a fellow Iris Murdoch Society member, and Matthew ordered them for me from Bank of Matthew (Christmas and Birthday money fund) and they arrived today – very, very exciting. I now have four proper firsts, a third impression and a kind-of-first-as-it-was-the-first-publication-in-book-form. Whoo hoo (don’t go mugging me, now – IM is suffering from the dip in popularity that many authors experience a decade and a half or so after their death, so they’re not worth a huge amount monetarily – but a lot to me).

What are you up to with your reading? Any special themes for May?