A Mt. Airy author tells all: how to create a best-seller

Local Life September 20, 2011 0 Comments

by James Smart

A print-on-demand book publisher commissioned a computerized study of number one best-seller book titles from 1955 to 2004 to look for a pattern that would show how to create a title that book buyers can’t resist.

Author James Smart is seen here with his newest book, “Adonijah Hill’s Journal: Diary of a Philadelphia Reporter in 1876,” in his workroom-den in Mt. Airy. The walls are lined with bookshelves containing history-related books, none of which is about trumpets or drums. (Photo by Richard S. Lee)

This is not a new subject. A similar study back in the days B. C. (before computers) found that books about Abraham Lincoln, doctors and dogs were the most popular. The conclusion was that the ideal book title was “Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog.”

A few years ago, the name Da Vinci was a favorite for book namers. Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code,” which seemed to have been the number one best seller since, maybe, the Coolidge Administration, stimulated the publishing industry to put out Da Vinci books almost daily.

In the book stores were such titles as “Cracking the Da Vinci Code,” “Breaking the Da Vinci Code,” “The Da Vinci Deception,” “The Da Vinci Hoax,” “Saving Da Vinci” and even “Da Vinci for Dummies.”

A web newsletter about books organized a roundtable of 11 authors of books responding to “The Da Vinci Code.” A succinct comment on the glut was a cartoon in “The New Yorker” that showed a shop with a sign, “The Da Vinci Book Store.”

Choosing a good title isn’t easy. A writer looking back at doozies like “War and Peace” or “The Last of the Mohicans” or “The Cat in the Hat” knows that he or she had better come up with something with some resonance.

There’s an old story about a novice telling a famous author that he needed a good title for his novel.

“Are there any trumpets in your book?” asked the author.

“No.”

“Any drums?”

“No.”

“Then, call it, ‘No Trumpets, No Drums.’”

That story has been kicking around for years, although nobody ever identifies that famous author. The title “No Trumpets, No Drums” has been used on articles, television series episodes, books, films, music, a board game and even an Israel-Palestine peace plan. Type the phrase into Google and you’ll get 2,730,000 results.

I don’t think the trumpet and drum deficiency ever created a best-selling work, however. Da Vinci did, however, and there was chatter among publishing practitioners about a search for “the next Da Vinci Code.”

That study of best—sellers produced a computer model. Authors can type the name of their book on the publisher’s website and receive an estimate of the percentage of chance that it will be a best-seller.

I tried it. “The Da Vinci Code” got only a 10.2 percent rating. The “No Trumpets” title and the Lincoln, medical and canine book both rated 14.6 percent. “Moby Dick” got 41.4, and “Huckleberry Finn” 45.6.

The successor to Da Vinci probably was Harry Potter. The computer analysis gave Harry’s name a 14.6 chance of being a best seller. So much for computer analysis.

Anybody who wants to devise an irresistible book title could just combine the Da Vinci or Potter names with a best-selling title of the past. How about “Huckleberry Da Vinci,” “War and Potter,” “Gone With Da Vinci,” “Moby Potter,” “Uncle Leonardo’s Cabin,” or “Five People Named Potter You Meet on Tuesdays.”

Long-time Mt. Airy resident James Smart, 81, has been a journalist, author and editor for more than 60 years. He has written several books, the latest of which is “Adonijah Hill’s Journal: Diary of a Philadelphia Reporter in 1876.” It is available at www.adonijahhillsjournal.com. For more on Smart, visit http://mysite.verizon.net/vze8mi77/ Or you can contact Jim at jamessmart4@verizon.net.

 

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