Bestselling Titles: Tricks Publishers Use To Get Their Top Books Before The Eyes Of A Million Readers - Katherine Roberts

Yes, I know this post has a long title... that's rather the point. Did it draw you in? More importantly, did it come up when you searched for one of the keywords? Someone who knows what they are doing (unlike me) could make sure you find it, and the same theory applies to book titles.

Sometimes - in the interests of market research, naturally - I browse the Top 100 Bestsellers on my Kindle. There's one list for paid and another one for free (which requires an extra click to find it). For this post, we'll concentrate on the paid list, because any fool can give away a book... right? Wrong, as it turns out, with so many freebies around these days, but the same tricks will help you there, too.

The last time I looked before writing this post (about a week ago), almost every single book on the first five pages of Amazon's Top 100 paid list had not only an eye-grabbing cover and main title, but also an additional subtitle or sentence, some of these too long to fit in the thumbnail view on my Kindle.

Here are a few examples, chosen at random:

The Party: The gripping new psychological thriller from the bestseller Lisa Hall.
by Lisa Hall
OK, I can see how this one works... 'psychological thriller' is a popular genre that a lot of readers will be searching for online, and I guess 'new psychological thriller' is even better for the jaded reader who has read every thriller under the sun. Is there much point in repeating the author's name? I can only guess 'bestseller Lisa Hall' works better than simply 'Lisa Hall' - or maybe it's like the Hunger Games, and the more times your name's in the algorithms, the more chance you have of being noticed/picked for fame.

The Wedding Date: The laugh out loud romantic comedy of the year!
by Zara Stoneley
This one has fairly obvious clues for the comedy lovers among you. Searches for either 'laugh out loud' or 'romantic comedy' should pull this one up. The exclamation mark! Don't ask me. It's possible there's a secret algorithm out there scanning book titles and ranking those with exclamation marks higher than those without, but more likely it's there for the benefit of the human reader. The sort of reader searching for 'laugh out loud' books, maybe.

The Endless Beach: The new novel from the Sunday Times bestselling author.
by Jenny Colgan
This publisher clearly doesn't think it worth repeating the author's name. 'Sunday Times bestselling author' has a nice ring to it, although I wonder how that works in the US? It also works as simply 'bestselling author', of course, in case you didn't know the author was pretty much a bestseller already.

Snap: 'The best crime novel I've read in a very long time.' Val McDermid.
by Belinda Bauer
This one wins the prize for cheekiness. It's a puff of the sort a publisher might put on the cover (couldn't read that at thumbnail size), and I guess some crime readers might search for 'best crime novel'.  As for 'Val McDermid'... well, I don't read much crime but I've definitely heard of her, so I can see the the logic in linking your book to hers if you can get away with it. Less than observant readers might even assume Val McDermid wrote the book, get over-excited and buy it before they realize she didn't... I can't help wondering if Ms MDermid, when supplying the cover puff, was made aware of this extra use of her bestselling author name?

Her Last Breath: an absolutely gripping crime thriller with a massive twist.
Some rather shady claims here, in my humble opinion, but 'gripping crime thriller' is doubtless a popular search term, and 'massive twist' sounds interesting, at least. Putting the author's name in capital letters just annoyed me - some publishers put their entire title in capitals too. Why? I doubt the algorithms see BIG LETTERS AS MORE IMPORTANT than little letters, but they certainly stand out on the screen - unless every other publisher with a book appearing on that same screen has put their titles and author names in capitals, too, of course. That's the trouble with trying to game the system. Once other people start doing the same thing, you have to start all over again...

Out of interest, these are the KDP's guidelines on metadata with regard to titles and subtitles:

Titles are the most frequently used search attribute. The title field should contain only the actual title of your book as it appears on your book cover. Missing or erroneous title information may bury valid results among extraneous hits. Customers pay special attention to errors in titles and won't recognize the authenticity of your book if it has corrupted special characters, superfluous words, bad formatting, extra descriptive content, etc. Examples of items that are prohibited in the title field include but are not limited to: 

  • Unauthorized reference to other titles or authors
  • Unauthorized reference to a trademarked term
  • Reference to sales rank (e.g., "bestselling")
  • Reference to advertisements or promotions (e.g., "free")
If your book has a subtitle, enter it here. A subtitle is a subordinate title that contains additional information about the content of your book. Your title and subtitle together must be fewer than 200 characters. The subtitle will appear on your book's detail page, and must adhere to the same guidelines as your title.

If you break any of these rules as a KDP publisher, you're likely to get a warning email from the title police, and maybe even - in the case of repeat offenders - total removal of your KDP account, although I don't know of any specific cases. Whether the same rules apply to the mainstream publishers, I'm not sure. Quite a few of the books currently on the bestseller lists are definitely stretching them, if so.

If all else fails, you can always opt for a very long title on the book itself, which isn't a new thing by any means as you can see from this link, but works in much the same way to help make your book stand out from the crowd. You could invent a long title to snag the algorithms with artfully-placed keywords in much the same way as the subtitles do above, but it's trickier. There's a young adult book on the Top 100 Kindle list at the moment with quite a long title already, which I notice has developed a few additions for its online listing:

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: Debut Sunday Times Bestseller and Costa First Novel Book Award winner 2017
by Gail Honeyman
It seems winning multiple awards is not enough these days... you still have to shout at the algorithms to get your book noticed online.

I'll admit to having played around with a bit of title stuffing myself.

I am the Great Horse: The story of Alexander the Great from the horse's mouth.
by Katherine Roberts
In this case, I added the subtitle when I published the ebook to give my readers a better idea of the book's contents, since 'I am the Great Horse' did not sit easily in any particular genre. I didn't break any rules, but the subtitle didn't seem to make much difference to the book's visibility, and it didn't tie in with the original paper editions listed online (which created linking problems), so after a couple of months I removed the subtitle and went back to the simpler 'I am the Great Horse'.

These days, a more algorithm-catchy Great Horse title might be:

I am the Great Horse: Bookseller's Choice! The most original laugh out loud adventure ever told by a four-legged celebrity author.
by Katherine Roberts
No false claims here. The book has been a genuine 'Bookseller's Choice' (John Newman of the Newham Bookshop called it "a major work of historical fiction"). Celebrity chasers may be a bit less than enthusiastic once they find out that the 'celebrity author' they expected is actually Alexander the Great's warhorse Bucephalas, but I did say he had four legs... anyway, you've seen my book now, so you might at least mention it to a friend you know who does like horses and/or history... in other words, you (a potential reader with potential reader-friends!) SAW my book in the first place, and that's quite a trick these days among the vast oceans of books out there swimming about all-but-invisibly in the ether.

Finally, here's my 1999 debut novel, appropriately title-stuffed for today's online marketplace:

Song Quest: The 'fascinating and poetic' Branford Boase Award winning debut fantasy, chosen by Jacqueline Wilson and published by the original editor of Harry Potter.
by Katherine Roberts
All fairly true, if rather clumsy and breaking just about every rule in the KDP guidelines. The 'fascinating and poetic' quote came from Joan Aiken, not Jacqueline Wilson - but 'Jackie' was one of the judges in the year my book won the Branford Boase Award (2000), and the manuscript was picked off the slush pile by Barry Cunningham, the original editor of Harry Potter, who later went on to publish my book on his own list at the Chicken House. So you can see how this works... although anything with 'Harry Potter' in the title and not written by JK Rowling is unlikely to get past the title police!

Fun, isn't it?

Why not try stuffing one of your own titles in the comments, and watch your book rise magically up Authors Electric's bestseller list... though, be warned, you'll probably see it sink just as quickly when our algorithms change!

Katherine Roberts is an award winning author of fantasy and historical fiction for young (and older) readers.

or, in AE title-stuffed tradition:

Bone Music: SEX ON THE STEPPES! The most original werewolf story you'll ever read!!!

(I'm still not sure about all those exclamation marks...)

 Find out more at


Nobody up for the challenge? Guess you all got sidetracked by those mega-bestselling titles :-)
Susan Price said…
Kath, I find it hard enough to think of a plain, ordinary title without trying to extend it to half a page.

Though that makes me think - that must have been what all those really long titles of the 18th Century were about. You picked up a book in St Paul's churchyard and its title was one long attempt to get you to buy that book rather than the one next to it. Nothing changes...
Yes, I agree titles are tricky enough, yet strangely the longer they get, the easier they become. (Can't say it in two words? Try ten or twenty...)

Popular posts

A Few Discreet Words About Caesar's Penis--Reb MacRath

A writer's guide to Christmas newsletters - Roz Morris

Irresistably Drawn to the Faustian Pact: Griselda Heppel Channels her Inner Witch for World Book Day 2024.

Author Newsletters by Allison Symes

Margery Allingham and ... knitting? Casting on a summer’s mystery -- by Julia Jones