Book titles that find more readers and sell more books are often based on metaphors. Adding metaphors to your book titles helps the title immediately communicate the essence of your book.
Because of the power of metaphor-based titles, they often form the basis of publishing empires. In these cases, the original title becomes the basis of an entire series of books, as we’ll see below. These can grow to become world-wide brands, catapulting the authors to success with dozens–even hundreds–of different titles based on the same metaphor.
Advantages of Metaphors
- Immediate recognition. A metaphor communicates at a glance. A well-chosen metaphor needs no explanation. It’s message immediately hits home.
- Storytelling power. Metaphors tap into the power of stories to engage readers on an emotional, as opposed to a “factual” basis. They engage your readers’ hearts as well as their brains. They strike chords within your readers.
- Multiple levels. A single metaphor can communicate numerous attributes and emotions. When your title includes an appropriate metaphor, your title taps into numerous nuances and details associated with the metaphor.
- Comfort and familiarity. Titles with metaphors immediately establish a comfort and familiarity. They’re also easier to remember and–hence–easier to recommend to co-workers and friends.
Types of metaphor titles
There are as many different types of metaphors as there are emotions and different ways to describe multiple aspects of a topic. Here are a few of the different types of metaphors that have become the basis of successful book titles:
- Comfort. At some points in our lives, we all need to be comforted. We may have lost our jobs, our spouses, our friends, or our pets. We need to connect with others who may have experienced the same loss, or are currently experiencing the same loss. Sometimes our need for comfort can be very narrowly defined, such as “wives with husbands overseas in the military,”
- Philosophy, attitude, and resources. Metaphor-based titles can also instantly paint a picture of the challenges and resources of our intended readers. At a glance, an appropriate metaphor can target selected types of readers in a way that immediately resonates with them.
- Complexity. A metaphor-based title can identify a book’s intended market as well as describe both the approach, and the the level of information contained in the book. Without using “obvious” words like “beginner” or “newcomer,” a metaphor can communicate that the book is intended for entry-level readers.
- Style. Finally, the particular metaphor chosen can not target the intended reader, but can communicate that the author speaks the reader’s language, and really understands where the reader is coming from.
A series based on a comfort metaphor
One of the most successful book series in the world is Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen’s Chicken Soup series. The first title in the series, Chicken Soup for the Soul, was published on June 28, 1993.
The authors already had the materials in hand–101 story submissions, but they lacked a title. They each agreed to meditate on the topic for one hour. During one of his meditation sessions, Jack Canfield remembered his grandmother telling him that “chicken soup can cure anything!” Since the original title was designed to inspire the soul, not the body, the obvious title was Chicken Soup for the Soul.
By December, the book was a strong seller. By September of 1994, Chicken Soup for the Soul was on every bestseller list in the United States and Canada.
Today, there are over 200 titles in the series, and over 112 million copies have been sold. The title has been translated into more than 40 languages.
More important, according to Harris Polls, 88.7 percent of the public not only recognizes the Chicken Soup for the Soul brand, but knows what it is.
It’s impossible to conceive of success on this order if the original Chicken Soup for the Soul title had been replaced with “conventional” title like:
- How to Cheer Yourself Up
- 101 Inspirational Stories
- How Others Have Overcome Obstacles
The power of the Chicken Soup brand is based on the near universal recognition, and accompanying emotional response, to feeling sick and needing to be cared for by someone who loves you.
Attitude, Resources, and Philosophy
Jay Conrad Levinson’s Guerrilla Marketing series is the world’s best-selling marketing book series. There are over 40 million Guerrilla Marketing books in print around the world. The series has created a market for Jay’s speaking and consulting on every continent; as this is being written, Jay Conrad Levinson is speaking in Poland, Latvia, and Croatia.
The Guerrilla Marketing brand’s strength is based on the immediate recognition the title provides. Guerrilla Marketing resonates with business owners who lack the unlimited budgets and resources of major corporations. Guerrilla Marketers succeed by making the most of whatever resources they have.
“Guerrilla” communicates the philosophy, “Marketing” communicates the topic. Together, the two words tell the whole story.
One of the most successful series of books in the writing and publishing field is Rick Frishman and Robyn Freedman Spizman’s Author 101 series. There are several titles in the series:
Author 101: Bestselling Secrets from Top Agents
- Author 101: Bestselling Book Proposal
- Author 101: Bestselling Nonfiction
- Author 101: Bestselling Book Publicity
The “Author 101” unites the titles under an immediately understood umbrella. Traditionally, college freshmen level classes are associated with “101” level identification numbers, with advanced courses beginning in the 2 series. Thus, anyone who has been to college can immediately recognize that these books are for new authors who want to write a book.
Author style and target market
A book title based on a metaphor can communicate the author’s style as well as target the intended market. For example, Peter Bowerman launched a series of books using The Well-Fed Writer title. This was quickly followed by The Well-Fed Self-Publisher and The Well-Fed Writer: Back for Seconds. Consider what you already know about these titles even before you glance at their back covers or their table of contents:
- Are these serious, or academic, books? Of course not. The title communicates that the books are colloquial and informal.
- Are successful writers the target market? No, again; the market is writers who want to become successful.
It’s fascinating just how much you can tell about a book from its title, especially if it’s a metaphor-based title. When a book title is based on a recognized metaphor, the title–itself–can sell the book. By instantly communicating comfort, philosophy, complexity, or style, metaphor-based titles can sell more books and find more readers by creating an immediate resonance with them on a deep emotional level.
Ask yourself: How effectively does my proposed book title use the power of metaphor to find more readers and sell more books by communicating on an emotional level?