Thursday, 10 October 2019

The psychology of book buyers. Have you thought of it? Moira Butterfield

I’d like to recommend a book and some TED talks that may inspire you to think about your book title and might also help with pitching an idea to agents and publishers.

The book is fun to read as well as being thought-provoking, and it’s written in short entertaining user-friendly chapters (with a great user-friendly internal reading design).

It’s called Alchemy. The surprising power of ideas that don’t make sense. (WH Allen)

It’s by Rory Sutherland, an urbane and entertaining elder statesman of the ad industry who wants us all to understand the power of irrational thinking in the behaviour of human beings. It could get you thinking about the psychology of humans (in this case publishers and customers). Why might they want or reject your book?

Rory Sutherland offers lots of examples of very successful marketing ideas that on the surface don’t make rational sense but make use of psychology. For example why is the drink Red Bull so popular when market research shows that everyone hates the taste? Why do we prefer stripy toothpaste? Why do we think coffee shops with chairs on the pavement are better than coffee shops without them? How can some words change the taste of biscuits?

Conversely, there are examples where seemingly rational marketing bombed – such as the reasons why hoverboards didn’t catch on.

Trying to be super-rational and not taking feelings into account - possibly irrational but very strong feelings - can easily lead to marketing disaster.

It can in publishing, I think. I am sure there are plenty of examples of books that everyone thought would do well but bombed because their titles inadvertently put people off or confused them about what the book actually contained. I know of a novel that’s just been re-jacketed by the publisher because booksellers took one look at it, made assumptions and put it in the wrong place. Then people who might have liked it just didn’t find it.

 Certainly there are books that many thought would do badly but became bestsellers. The most famous and costly example concerns the many publishers who turned down Harry Potter because apparently they had decided en masse to assume that children would no longer like wizards and magic in the modern world, when in fact it turned out that children were longing for fantasy adventures that would give them an escape from modern life.

When you pitch your idea it is surely worth showing that you have considered why people would be attracted to your book. If you explain that you have thought about this, then your case must surely be stronger. For example, you might want to point out that the themes you address are very current and are likely to chime with people’s thinking. 

Is that title that you are suggesting going to appeal to buyers or is it going to confuse them or put them off? Have you really muddied the waters with it? I know that titles often change later, but when you're pitching you’re trying to sell your idea so you don’t want to make a big psychological mistake – making your book sound like something in a very different genre, perhaps, or perhaps even making it sound really boring.

I’m making up this extreme – but let’s say you wrote a picture book for bedtime reading and called it ‘The Dark behind the Door’ or ‘The Invisible Hand’. As a publisher and also a parent buying a picture book, I’d run a mile from that scary-sounding title.

Another example – If I was creating a big format non-fiction book for children it’s likely to be bought as a gift – ie: by an adult. But if it had a weird title that nobody could quite fathom, it might put the gift-buyer off looking at it in the first place altogether because they simply couldn’t be sure what was inside and might not want to give it to a child.

There are a few short online TED talks by Rory Sutherland which are fun to watch (link to one at the bottom), and his book is a great read. It’s not about publishing but it could get you into the right mindset to help you avoid some thinking errors that could doom your pitch and perhaps even your sales.

Moira Butterfield writes for ages from 3 up to 12, both non-fiction and fiction. Her latest books are non-fiction - Welcome To Our World (Nosy Crow) and Home Sweet Home (Red Shed). Next year she has books coming out with the National Trust, Quarto and Templar.

Moira Butterfield
Twitter @moiraworld
Instagram @moirabutterfieldauthor 


Unknown said...

Thanks for this recommendation, Moira - I've ordered it!

Stroppy Author said...

Good talk - will look out the book. Thank you!

Moira Butterfield said...

There are some other Rory Sutherland talks I haven't checked out yet. He's fun to watch and has a very positive attitude, which I like.

Penny Dolan said...

Enjoyed the talk - positivity is always an added value. Thanks, Moira.
And you're so right about the importance of the right book title.

Pippa Goodhart said...

Interesting ... particularly as my publisher, agent and I are struggling over a title just now. Thanks, Moira!

Moira Butterfield said...

Titles are so tough and i can get 'title-blind' after several changes. So perhaps worth thinking 'what would a person glancing at this book in a shop think'.