They’re the most important words you write.
I hit the jackpot in the thrift store’s book department. While the Goodwill at South Broadway & County Line Road is a nice establishment, they display their books spine out. So if a book wants to connect with a customer, it can do so only with the words on the spine.
That’s a tall order. But for me, three books nearly jumped off the shelf.
First, a hardcover with an intriguing title, Dragon Hunter. A photo depicted a 1920s explorer. Suspecting a novel, I pulled it from the shelf and checked the subtitle: “Roy Chapman Andrews and the Central Asiatic Expeditions.” That sealed the deal. The real-life explorer/naturalist was the prototype for Indiana Jones. A fan of his exploits since I was 10, I matched the target audience.
Next, a trade paperback on a bottom shelf. To me, The Bishop’s Boys didn’t mean much. Fortunately, the publisher found room on the spine for the subtitle: “A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright.” I like biographies, and I’m especially interested in inventions and early aviation. I quickly checked a few pages for the writing style. Another book to buy.
Still thinking about the Wright Brothers, I resumed scanning. Just to the right, another trade paperback’s title stopped me: Kill Devil Hill. Because I fit the target audience, that pretty much sold me. (It’s the place in North Carolina where the Wrights tested their gliders, then their first powered aircraft.) I checked the cover and found three more points of confirmation:
1) The subtitle, “Discovering the secret of the Wright Brothers,” made an intriguing promise.
2) The familiar name of the co-author, Martin Caidin, promised quality writing.
3) The writer of the foreword, Neil Armstrong, further confirmed the book’s significance.
There may have been other books I should have bought, but those three titles did their job.
What will prompt your target reader to pull your book from the shelf? That depends on your topic and your reader. But find a way to say it — in a handful of words.