What’s In a Name? Lots, Says Literary Consultant

Brett Peterson wants to name your book. The Michigan native recently finished the international relations graduate program at George Washington University, and has started a business helping authors, publishers, and literary agents come up with titles for their books. The company is called Novel Title, and this is their Web site. Below, a short Q&A—edited and condensed for your benefit—about what Mr. Peterson’s up to.  

Why did you start this company?

I was always really good coming up with titles for my papers. That was the one thing my professors always thought was great. So I began offering my services to students throughout the country through a blog that I started. I set it up and people just emailed me a short summary of the paper they had to do, and I’d come up with a creative title for them. Then I started to think bigger and thought, you know, I might have a little niche here. My talents could be used. So I started seeking out literary agents and various publishing companies, big and small, across the country.

What’s your pitch?

People always said don’t judge a book by its cover, but obviously people always have. But now that people buy their books on Amazon or they’re searching on Google, they don’t see the cover anymore– they see the title. So the title becomes really key in whether the consumer is going to purchase the book.

What were some of the titles you came up with for your papers when you were in school?

There was one on the international wine industry and problems and competition that was going on between companies that I called “Sour Grapes: The Trials and Tribulations of the Global Wine Market.” The professor loved it. Another one I wrote for another student, just someone who emailed me, was on the Russian revolution back in 1917. That was “Hunt for the Real October: The Truth and Myths About the 1917 Russian Revolution.”  

Coming up with titles for books is probably pretty different from coming up with titles for academic papers. How have you adjusted your method?

Books are more complicated, because you have to think more about the business angle. Because that’s what people are paying you to do: come up with titles that are going to sell. So it’s kind of like an art and a science, I’d say. The art is trying to create a title that stands out and catches eyes, but the science is to have those keywords in there that are so crucial when you’re searching on Amazon or Google, so that it will pop up in your search. Also I’d say that it has to be a buzzworthy title, something that’s not too long, so that if you’re in a book club or something it’s easy to remember and not too much of a mouthful.

Can you give me some examples of novels you’ve titled?

So far I’m in discussions with literary agents. This just started this spring. So nothing’s been finalized yet. I’m trying to get it off the ground. It’s tough but I’ve had some positive responses from both agents and a couple publishing companies, the smaller ones. But you know, I’m just trying to work my way in. I have a sister web company called Slogan Says where I come up with slogans and tag lines for small business and organizations, which kind of relies on similar talents– to write copy that’s kind of memorable and crisp and meaningful. There I have success so far.

Have you ever thought about going into advertising?

I have. I’ve tried my darndest to try and break in. But not being in New York, and not being an advertising major or having the appropriate internships beforehand, it’s been tough to get real consideration from agencies.

Are publishers on the whole pretty good at naming their books? Or do you think they make mistakes?

I think with the big titles they’re doing a good job, because the ones that sell a lot that have the big authors behind them, I think they do invest a lot of time in creating a good title. But I think with a lot of the other books that they release that don’t have a big marketing push behind them, I think they do kind of neglect having a really standout title that will give the book some legs to stand on without a huge marketing push. It’s really its own marketing effort, having a great title. So that’s what I think that’s where they can improve—not the blockbuster titles but the smaller ones.

How much do you charge?

I have been contacted by aspiring authors trying to break in and trying to have something that’s going to catch a publisher’s eye or a literary agent’s eye. Those have been at $150. With a publishing company I would hope to have a retention, and when they’d have books come up that they find hard to position in the market that I’d just be at their service and title it for them. It’d be a monthly rate.

How have publishing people reacted so far?

I see a lot of surprise. Like one publisher said he thought it was a joke. He’d never heard of this before, and inquired more about it. And some people think, ‘wow, this idea’s great,’ especially a lot of the literary agents. About half of them say ‘well, we think we do a pretty good job ourselves so we don’t really need you but good luck in the future.’ And the other half say ‘well, we’ll keep you in mind.’  

  What’s In a Name? Lots, Says Literary Consultant