The majority of online readers don’t really read: they browse.
That fact is why titles matter so much.
Have you ever heard of The Little Blue Book?
Little Blue Books were a series of small paper books (3 1/2 by 5 inches), bound with staples, published by Emanuel Haldeman-Julius and his wife Marcet.
These books ran regularly for nearly sixty years, from 1919 through 1978, and were extraordinarily popular, selling during that time more than 300 million copies.
I mention them in context of titles because Emanuel Julius and his wife Marcel extensively tested their titles, and their results are exceptionally edifying and exceptionally interesting.
Here’s an abbreviated rundown (hat tip Gary Halbert Newsletter):
The Art of Kissing sold 60,500 copies, yet one titled The Art Of Courtship sold only 17,500 copies.
What Married Women Should Know (a euphemistic titled that Haldeman-Julius really wanted to call Sex Facts For Married Women) sold 112,000 copies while What Married Men Should Know sold 97,500 copies.
Women’s Sexual Life sold 97,500 copies, Man’s Sexual Life sold 54,000 copies.
Confidential Chats With Wives sold 52,000 copies, while Confidential Chats With Husbands sold only 29,500 copies.
Modern Aspect of Birth Control appealed to 73,000 readers, while Debate on Birth Control appealed only to 27,000.
Check out this figure: Prostitution in the Modern World – 129,500 copies!
As opposed to The Evolution of Marriage which sold only 20,000 copies.
Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun sold 46,000 copies, while How to Write Love Letters sold only 23,000 copies.
And Facts About Venereal Disease sold 41,500 copies as opposed to the more specific Facts About Syphilis which sold only 36,000.
Look at this difference: How to Improve Your Conversation sold 77,000 copies yet The Romance of Words only 10,500.
Hints in Public Speaking sold 46,500 copies, How to Write Advertising 20,000 copies, How to Write Book Reviews only 8,000 copies.
How to Psycho-Analyze Yourself sold 43,000 while another titled How I Psycho-Analyzed Myself only 13,500.
How to Fight Nervous Troubles 39,000, Facts About Will Power 38,500.
Your Memory and How to Improve It 37,000 copies, Your Talent and How to Develop It 35,500.
Psychology of Leadership 32,000.
How to Think Logically 30,500.
Psychology of Character Building 29,000.
The Conquest of Fear 27,500.
Psychology of Laughter 14,000.
Here’s an illuminating statistic: How to Break Bad Habits sold 29,000 copies as opposed to How to Form Good Habits which sold only 20,000.
And another: Care of Skin and Hair sold 52,000, yet How to Take Care of Your Mouth and Teeth only 8,000.
How to Make All Kinds of Candy sold 45,000 copies.
How to Make Pies and Pastries 29,000.
How to Cook Fish and Meats 21,500 and, dead last, was French Cooking for Amateurs at 9,500.
Back in 1927, the Little Blue Book titled Hints on Etiquette sold 72,000 copies!
Less surprising … is that Party Games for Grown-Ups sold 46,500
From a chapter called THE HOSPITAL which is subtitled How Little Blue Books Are Given New Zest by New Titles!
Consider: When Gautier’s Fleece of Gold was changed to The Quest for a Blonde Mistress, sales jumped from 6,000 to 50,000!
When the title of Oscar Wilde’s Pen, Pencil and Poison was changed to The Story of a Notorious Criminal, sales more than tripled.
The book Patent Medicine did poorly. Yet, when changed to The Truth About Patent Medicine, sales also more than tripled.
Arthur Schopenhauer’s Art of Controversy didn’t do squat until retitled as How to Argue Logically when, thereupon, it enjoyed sales of 30,000 per year.
You already know what happened when Thomas De Quincey’s Essay on Conversation was changed to How to Improve Your Conversation….
In Part 1 of this post, I mentioned an eight-month-long experiment I’ve been conducting. In the next part — Part 3 — I’m going take you, whether you like it or not, through the rather wrenching process of changing my novel’s title.
4 Responses and Counting...
Fascinating stuff – look forward to hearing more of your experiment. I think titles, covers and book blurbs or descriptions, are all key to marketing and clearly, certain words/concepts sell – sex or the mere hint of it being probably the biggest sell of all.
Thank you, Avril. It’s very good to see you.
But sex, you say, or the mere hint of it? Baby, I’m buying what you’re selling.
Happy Holidays. Thank you for dropping by.