Dangling the bait and fishing for readers

[Full disclosure: this is mostly an excuse to yak about the fact that the 4th Applied Topology book is live now. But who knows, maybe the topic will be of a little interest beyond that.]

Earlier this year, Pam pointed out that chapter headings may catch a browser’s eye on the “Look Inside” feature at Amazon, or in a downloaded sample, and I’ve taken that advice to heart in my last few indie books. I try to come up with a pithy line for each chapter, hopefully something that’ll make a reader want to know what the chapter’s about. Anything that lures them into the story is good, right?

I don’t even try to copy the baroque majesty of chapter titles that I dimly remember from childhood, with writers who seemed determined to squeeze a short story into each heading. I’m coming up blank on actual examples right now, but I could swear that I have seen books where the actual chapter headings are things like, “In which Pip meets the Golden Goose, with startling consequences leading to an affair of the heart for Esmeralda and the revelation of secrets concerning the Tinker’s mother and a member of the Hungarian royal family.”

Oh, okay. A bit rococo for modern tastes. I generally keep it to one line.

Consider the first few chapter headings of The Prisoner of Zenda:

  1. The Rassendylls – With a Word on the Elphbergs
  2. Concerning the Color of Men’s Hair
  3. A Merry Evening with a Distant Relative
  4. The King Keeps His Appointment
  5. The Adventures of an Understudy

The first one’s not so great, but the next four hint at interesting stuff coming.

A Tapestry of Fire, the fourth Applied Topology book, starts similarly:

  1. A particular talent for seeing hidden connections
  2. Two truths and a lie
  3. Something fishy
  4. Practical demonology
  5. The ice princess and the floozy
  6. The imminent prospect of being unmasked

… and so forth and so on. (Complete list posted here, if anybody’s interested.)

Does this actually work as a marketing ploy? I have no idea. It’s fun to think up the titles, though, and I don’t think they do any harm, so I’ll probably keep doing it.

Beyond having a great blurb, a great cover, and a great title… what are your favorite tips for luring readers into the story?



17 thoughts on “Dangling the bait and fishing for readers

  1. Eric Flint had a group of lice go overboard in Forward the Mage. One can almost read it as a separate story. I doubtit would have attracted readers by algorithm.

      1. Right? Reminds me of the DeCSS code being printed on T-shirts and the like.

        And you -know- which side of the DeCSS fight all these Silicon Valley nerds were fighting on.

        In the linked article it mentions that Amazon hosts a book on how to build a nuke. But a one shot zip-gun? NOOOOOOO!!!!!11!

    1. I wager that they are going to claim, if they try to justify it in detail, that because the book says that it is not done with the code developer’s permission, it infringes on the public domain et cetera clause in the terms of service. (See last two paragraphs of article.)

    2. To be fair, one of their reasons for de-listing is “poor customer experience”. Since the book was just the printed CAD file, I think most customers would find it a poor reading experience. Even worse than reading raw PostScript.

  2. I like that style of chapter title. Adds a certain flavor, tho also an expectation of at least approaching classical storytelling.

  3. Sometimes a line or paragraph at the beginning of the chapter can do a *lot* toward setting tone or filling in backstory.

    Alfred Coppel is almost forgotten nowadays, and his best books were written under the pseudonym “Robert Cham Gilman” for some reason that doubtless seemed like a good idea at the time… but his novel “Starkhan of Rhada” is one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of using chapter headers to fill in backstory.

  4. this is mostly an excuse to yak about the fact that the 4th Applied Topology book is live now

    Is it just me or does anyone else expect “yakking” to include “linking”? Not that Amazon search is that much of a hardship. It’s here.

  5. I did this for my wife’s most recent book. The chapter title were the standard ‘Chapter 12’ format, and she provided a short descriptive subtitle. With just a little work, I was able to make Microsoft Word show only the subtitles in the table of content, and this carried through to my ebook.

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