Why would you change a book’s title once it’s out for sale?

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Our newest book was printed 10 weeks ago and about 400 copies were sold within a few weeks, most to attendees at two late fall 2013 conventions in Illinois, for school boards and K-12 superintendents. We had finished the book under some time pressure because its author, Jim Burgett, was attending or speaking at the conventions, where he also autographed copies at related book signings.

The book’s title was The Art of School Boarding, and it had a subtitle largely created to fill the artwork on the cover, where the title was followed by a blackboard on which was written Our Standards are Excellence and Caring.

You can see the front of this book here:

The Art of School Boarding

I’m the publisher. The author, I’m proud to admit, is my much lauded brother Jim. This is the fifth book we have published together. We are a niche house and our niche is K-12 school administrators (and teachers).

Why did we decide to change the book’s title just 10 weeks after our first printing was out? Well, to quickly rectify my goof.

I didn’t even know I had missed the boat until I heard a publishing speaker talk about SEO and book titles. Even then no bells rang nor did lightning strike. Instead, it dawned on me that that was the reason I couldn’t find any mention of the book at Google. Nothing. Only when I typed in the entire title did the search engine begrudgingly give up one indirect reference.

The “why” we were omitted jumped out at me. I had never directly mentioned “school board” (or board of education) anywhere in the title or subtitle, so why would they list it? Rather, brother Jim had thought of the title, “The Art of School Boarding,” and he said he wanted that title for the book he was writing. It sounded clever to me, was new (none of us had seen it in print before), and it was precisely what he was writing about.

Publishers title books because they must market them. (I had mercifully changed every title in the other six K-12 books that we now have in print.) But in this case Jim’s title sounded good. It still does. I blew it in the subtitle.

I wrote the subtitle, which, in retrospect, says nothing about the book’s theme or purpose. It simply meant, below the title, that the school board’s standards were excellence and caring. But who cares? Of course they are. Their standards also include patriotism, honesty, prudent tax spending, and so on. About like every other school board in America.

Nobody would be searching Google to find “the art of school boarding.” The term is new, so they wouldn’t be looking for “school boarding” at all. And I had failed to work “school board” anywhere into the title or subtitle. I’d also overlooked a key question all nonfiction books must ask: why would a person open its pages or buy it?

So the new title of the book is The Art of School Boarding: What Every School Board Member Needs to Know. Not only is the new subtitle much better, “school board” will turn up immediately in the search engines. Is that important? Must you ask?

In retrospect, the goof is even more embarrassing because the first book that Jim (with Jim Rosborg and Max McGee) wrote and I titled was What Every Superintendent and Principal Needs to Know. That book sold very well—and continues to be used in graduate education classrooms across the country. It sounds suspiciously like the title/subtitle I should have used from the outset for our school board opus.

What have I done in the past week since I’ve made the change? I’ve informed everybody selling or listing our book about the new title, and I changed it in all of our in-house ebook master files: the title page, the volta face page, and the rare references to the title in the text.

Thanks to POD and the small-run presses now accessible, we have only about 200 copies of the first version of the book with the original title and subtitle in stock. In a couple of weeks, after the holidays, I will have the cover artwork and text redone and the paperback copy modified and saved in .pdf to send to our regular printer, to Create Space, and probably to Lightning Source.

Today I will correct the website copy, the press kit, and other sales documents. All that remains is to swap are the ebook front covers and website cover artwork, when it arrives with the new subtitle.

Why am I sharing this with you? Because I’m trying to walk you through the book production process in this blog (see the earlier post titles to the right) and it seemed a good, though embarrassing, opportunity to keep the dialog current and relevant.

An important carry-away here is to ask yourself what key words in your title and subtitle will put you on the Google server so it will do your book and message the most good. And don’t rush into printing titles until you are certain they are the best you can create.

Oddly, I always bounce a list of possible titles of a new book off my friends first. That’s the only part of the book they see before print. I ask, “Which of these titles/subtitles most appeals to you? Tell me the best in 1-2-3 order!” Almost always.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

To see more about the other Education Communication Unlimited K-12 School Administration books we have published: Finding Middle Ground in K-12 Education by Jim Burgett and Brian Schwartz; The Perfect School by Jim Rosborg, Max McGee, and Jim Burgett; Teachers Change Lives 24/7 by Jim Burgett; What Every Superintendent and Principal Needs to Know (2nd ed.) by Jim Rosborg, Max McGee, and Jim Burgett, and
The Kid in Purple Pants by Pat Anderson.
For more about the book production and ebook publishing,see How to Get Your Book Published Free in Minutes and Marketed Worldwide in Days.

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