Words to Profit

Book Marketing Tip

"Magic Words" that Make Books Sell

When Titles Go to "The Hospital" ...

by Diane Eble

When I was a book editor, our team would do a "post-mortem" on books that went out of print. We'd try to figure out why the book didn't sell.


Rarely did we seriously consider testing a new title. If we thought the title was the problem, we would chalk it up to "let's find a better title the next time." Few people in publishing know how to test titles, or think to do so.


Back in the late 1920s, a publisher name Emmanuel Haldeman-Julius had a better idea. When one of his "Little Blue Books" wasn't selling, he sent it to "The Hospital" before "killing" it  (i.e. pulling it out of print). If the book was well-written and worth reading, he tried to revive it.


Since he sold these books by title alone, it wasn't difficult to figure out where the problem was! Not only did Haldeman-Julius  try new titles, he kept meticulous records of the results.


Here are some of the results after treatment at "The Hospital":


  • 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 not sell well. When changed to The Truth About Patent Medicine, however, sales more than tripled!
  • Arthur Schopenhauer's Art of Controversy didn't do squat until he changed it to  How to Argue Logically. Then the book enjoyed sales of 30,000 per year.
  • You can guess what happened when Thomas De Quincey's Essay on Conversation was changed to How to Improve Your Conversation ...
  • Barnum, the Man Who Lured the Herd  became P.T. Barnum and His Circus. As such, sales doubled. Haldeman Julius found that a winning title for biographies identified the person in some appealing way. Interestingly, at the time Casanova and His Loves did not sell well (Haldeman-Julius surmised people didn't know who Casanova was). When retitled as Casanova: History's Greatest Lover, sales jumped from 8,000 to 22,000 per year (and, it could be argued, made the name of Casanova synonymous with "lover").

Haldeman-Julius's experimentation and testing resulted in his finding what he calls "magical words"—words that make people want to buy. (We would now say "magic words.")


Can you pick out some "magic words" from the above title changes? I'm sure you can.


"How to ..."


"The Truth about ..."


"The Story of  .."






"What You Should Know about ..."


"The Art of ..."


"The Secret to ..."


And many more.


Do such "magic words" hold up today? You have only to check the best-seller lists to come up with an answer. Human nature seems to be human nature. While cultural changes obviously affect which titles will appeal, surprisingly little has changed since Haldeman-Julius's meticulous study.


"A good title is a work of genius," Haldeman-Julius concluded. Hitting upon a great title comes partly by instinct, but in my opinion, it's an informed instinct. The greats among copywriters are those who have honed their ability to recognize killer headlines. Like them, you can develop your skill in recognizing just the right words that could turn your book into a bestseller on title alone. 


Want more help on choosing your best-selling title? Here's how to learn more ...

1. Ask your question about choosing a best-selling title. I will be answering them in articles (this was sparked by a question), on the blog, and/or in my upcoming course, "Choosing Your Bestselling Title" Telecourse. When you ask your question, you will also get access to the replay of the teleseminar in which I answered nearly 20 questions about choosing a great title.

2. Get the Special Report, "How to Choose Your Bestselling Title." This report builds on the above article, but includes so much more! For only $14.95, you will learn:

  • 5 characteristics of a besteselling title
  • 7 criteria for choosing your best title (and the minimum number you should shoot for)
  • The different "jobs" your title and subtitle must do. Miss even one, and your book is likely doomed.
  • 12 places to go for great title ideas
  • The killer criteria that trumps all others when you test your title
  • How to create a "swipe file" of bestselling titles from which to brainstorm your own
  • How to use your research to create templates of best-selling titles you can use over again, not just for your title, but for marketing as well
  • 7 ways to test your titles and come up with the winner that you can be sure will sell your book—including one that will actually net you income before your book is even published
  • 7 action steps for choosing your bestselling title

Simply click the button below to instantly get this Special Report for only $14.95


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