Recently I watched an author conduct a survey to help him decide which title of four he had thought up to use for a Kindle ebook he had written. I'm sure he thought running a survey was a smart way to get opinions that weren't tainted by his own beliefs and opinions. However, as you'll see below, a survey increases the risk that you overlook some pretty important considerations that should direct the selection of a book title but that don't figure into a voting process.
What's wrong with having people vote on book titles?
First, when you offer a limited set of title options, you may be asking people to pick the best of a bad lot. Even if you allow people to respond "None of the above," many people will be too polite to tell you that all of your suggested titles are unappealing or off-base. In the case of the survey I observed, all of the titles in the author's list seemed to me smarmy, vague and lacking pizzazz.
Second, when you run a survey, you are inevitably soliciting the opinions of people who might never buy a book on the topic in question or buy yours, whatever its title. People who take the time to fill out a survey simply enjoy offering their opinion. They might rarely buy books at all, never buy Kindle books and have no realistic interest in the topic or genre of the book in question. Therefore their opinions have little or no bearing on which of the four or five titles has more appeal for the actual pool of potential customers for that book.
Third, most people word such a survey as "Which of these titles do you like the most?" Liking a title has little to do with whether or not someone will buy the book. People can like a title and have no interest in the book; people can dislike a title and still enthusiastically purchase it. If you were going to run a book title survey, this question is more pertinent than asking about liking: "Which of the following titles most makes you want to know more about the book?" That type of feedback differs from voting and popularity and can indeed offer some useful perspective, even from those who are not likely book buyers.
Fourth, and most importantly, focusing on voting and opinions encourages you to overlook strategic considerations like these that should be part of your decision process for a book title:
* Does the title effectively indicate the intended audience for the book? (For instance, it's clearly for employers rather than for employees.)
* Is it clear from the title what the scope of the book is, or its genre? (For example, it's about website planning rather than design, or it's a memoir rather than a how-to book.)
* Compared to similar books, will it seem distinctive? (The title shouldn't seem imitative or be easily confused with a book by another author.)
* Will the title make sense to people who don't yet know your work? (Some titles contain references that make no sense to people who haven't yet delved into your work.)
* Does the title expose you to any legal risks? (For example, you wouldn't want a defamatory title or one that infringed on a trademark.)
* Is there anything in the title that could be misunderstood and create problems for you? (Normally it's best to avoid misleading or negative connotations in a title or phrases that could offend some intended readers.)
Feedback on possible book titles can alert you to important issues you had not thought about. So it's a good thing to ask other people, both intended readers and others who just have alert minds, what they think of titles on your list. Instead of asking them to choose their favorite, ask them which titles make them want to know more about the book and which ones might backfire for any reason. Then do your due diligence on the bulleted factors listed above. And if necessary, brainstorm all over again in search of a title that gets exactly the right readers excited about buying, reading and recommending your book.