Introducing the book titling strategy that sells like wildfire
Naming strategies that move book units, plus a few words about death
Hello and Happy Hump Day,
A few words about death before we move on to the cheerier topic of book titles that sell.
If you are a “Succession” fan and you’re not caught up or you want to watch the hit HBO show but haven’t started yet, skip the next two paragraphs because there is a spoiler ahead.
Logan Roy—rainmaker, media mogul, patriarch, grudge holder—is dead. He’s been dead for the last two episodes, but last Sunday, he was buried in a 5 million dollar neoclassical mausoleum that he got in a deal with a Pet Food titan: a peak Succession coup. During the funeral, the writers and directors made a risky move to film not just one of the surviving relatives’s eulogies, but three from start to finish. Have you heard the word “meager” used recently? I haven’t—and after the absolute barnstormer of a speech delivered by actor James Cromwell (who plays Logan’s estranged brother Ewan Roy), you’ll develop a new respect for the word meager and its own sibling, “meagerness.” Ewan’s eulogy to a complex person who, in Ewan’s point of view, inspires men to be the worst versions of themselves, is an absolute feat of dramatic writing and goes very far to explain the dark night that Donald Trump released upon our souls.
Last Sunday’s episode has left me in a state of mourning because 1) Logan Roy was quite the character and his absence is viscerally felt and missed, but also because the powerful show is coming to an end this weekend. There are a lot of reasons not to like this TV show: it’s about unfettered greed and the absolute cesspit of values and politics that capitalism has created—but I freaking love it. I love Succession and I will miss the twisted imbunche1 Roy siblings who have been fighting for their father’s throne since episode 1.
I’m also in a state of mourning because we’ve lost one of my favorite-ever writers. The English writer Martin Amis died of cancer last week in Florida. In 2003, Martin Amis’ 1995 novel THE INFORMATION fell into my hands, I don’t remember how. I do remember that I tried over and over to read it, but it was too intelligent for me, too dense, I couldn’t understand what the hell was going on.
Somewhere around my 7th try, something unlocked for me, and for the first time, I was able to make it past the second chapter. Much like running—where after a certain period of time, your body surrenders to whatever distance you want it to run—everything slipped into place from chapter two: the book became accessible, brilliant, heartrending, laugh-out-loud funny. THE INFORMATION changed my writing life: I credit it with the writing (and publication) of my first novel “I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You” because Martin Amis was the compass that led me to my author voice. His work changed the way I think about humor and it opened my eyes to the cutting power of satire—a genre that Amis wrote the literal hell out of.
I am in mourning over Amis’ death because I don’t have any friends who read him and loved him like I did, so I feel alone over here with a hole in my admiring heart. Martin Amis was a man who had all the nihilistic darkness of Bret Easton Ellis paired with Tom Wolfe’s competing lust for life, the comedic generosity of A.M. Homes and the black humor (and intelligence) of Joshua Ferris. If you’d like to discover his work and you have the stomach for it, THE ZONE OF INTEREST will prove why Amis was the greatest satirist of the last half-century, while MONEY2 makes “American Psycho” look tame.
Anyway. My heart is a little broken. I’ll miss Amis so much. If there are any other Amis fans out there, find me. We’ll hug it out.
Now onto our regular programming.
The certain kind of book title that sells, sells, sells
If you’ve been here for a while, you’ll know that I've worked on the side as a corporate namer for nearly 15 years, which means I’m obsessed with names and titles. A while back, I wrote an article called How to Name Your Book: Insights on Titling Strategies from a Corporate Namer for Medium that I am planning to revise, update and bring on over here to Substack, but in the meantime, I want to introduce you to a certain titling strategy that moves a lot of units.
It’s a naming strategy that works particularly well with nonfiction, but I’m also seeing it making waves in fiction. I’m calling it the “oxymoronic titling strategy.” Would you like to learn what it is? We’ll also have a chance for paid subscribers to try this strategy out on their own book titles, and I’ll weigh in!