Monday, June 13, 2011

Personal Branding VIII: What Was That, Again?

My brother and I were driving south on Interstate 71 when I noticed a sign on a building: “Retirement University.”

“Look at that,” I said, wondering what it meant, and in the same breath: “Hip, Hip, Hooray: Intro to Replacement Surgery.”
“Cat Food One-Oh-One,” Joe said.
We were two retirees, having a little fun. But really, what was Retirement University? Was it an institution to teach people about being retired, or a school meant to attract retirees? I supposed it was the latter, a university for senior citizens--that supposed leisure class interested in lifelong learning, but no exams: Tired of golf? Try our evening courses. No class runs past 8:00 p.m.
I was wrong. Retirement University is for learning about retirement, primarily the financial side of it. The school is sponsored by an investment advisory firm, but it also offers workshops on leisure activities such as photography and book clubs. Most students would be those interested in retirement topics, but that wouldn’t limit the population to seniors.

You might be asking, “Just what is her message this time?” Well, the point is that we need to be clear in branding ourselves. For instance, if you’re an author and you haven’t hit upon the ideal title for your book, you’ll soon understand this concept.
The first title I gave It Started with Dracula: The Count, My Mother, and Me was Cold Moon in August. That was early in the writing process. Later I came up with It Started with Dracula—because it did. The subtitle was A Travel Memoir of Romania. Then, not wanting to limit the scope of the book, I shortened the subtitle to A Travel Memoir. When my publisher questioned whether we wanted the book to be placed in the Travel section of the bookstore, it became A Memoir. Once we began writing promotional copy, the whole game changed.
Whether the main title would even survive was a cliffhanger. It all depended upon the potential for sales. Would the bookstores go for a book with that title—meaning, did the sales reps think the bookstore buyers would consider it fascinating enough to attract customers? I fought to keep it--well, I didn’t fight; I hoped. After all, I’d already told people the name of my book. I’d grown used to it and liked it. My publisher knew how I felt, but sales potential would drive the final decision. It Started with Dracula squeaked by.

“You’ll need a subtitle for your book,” my publisher said, and that prompted another round of suggestions. We chose The Count, My Mother, and Me because it’s intriguing and it gives the reader further information about the topic.
Every word in a title counts, so to speak. And we writers aren’t just pleasing ourselves. If you want your book to be a commercial success, you’ll need to put on a marketing hat, for when it comes to the business of publishing, the question that always persists is how to catch the fascination of the public. There is a place between literary loveliness and cha-ching that you’ll need to explore, as I did. The goal of that exploration is a final product that you and your publisher can be proud of as it flies off the shelves.
Names should communicate clear messages. That’s my point, returning us to Retirement University. The name on the building did send me to the Internet for more information, so in that regard, it’s a success. I wish the institution well; maybe I’ll even show up there one day. What was that about book clubs, again?


  1. Good post, Jane. I read somewhere that a book title should actually be in the text of your book. You would certainly know more about that than I, but that's what I did with my self-published effort. The title is a line from one of the stories in the book. I admit I have a lot to learn. My book isn't being marketed, as yours will be. I truly did it for myself, my family and a few friends. It was a lot of fun, so it was worth every minute I put into it! I'd do it again.

    You write beautifully! You will be famous!

  2. Thanks, Peggy. My brother told me the same thing about a book title appearing in the text somewhere, and often when I read a book, I see it. Mine almost does; I think one word is different. I didn't know you'd written a book. That's awesome!