I've just been through a massive rebranding process: re-titling and re-covering the first 3 books in my ARKANE series, and updating the back matter for all the other books.
A hefty amount of work!
Here's why and how, just in case you want to go through this sometime. It's quite a long, confessional style of post. I'm ‘fessing up to my mistakes, so be gentle with your comments!
First up, here are the awesome new covers: Stone of Fire (previously Pentecost), Crypt of Bone (previously Prophecy) and Ark of Blood (previously Exodus), designed by the wonderful JD Smith Design.
So, why change my fiction book titles anyway?
Basically, none of us know what the hell we're doing when we start writing 🙂
Here's how my first book title journey went.
In November 2009, I joined NaNoWriMo in an attempt to write something fictional. Amusingly, I videoed the process – here's Day 1, and you can follow the whole journey here. The working title for the book on Day 1 was Morgan – and Morgan Sierra is still the name of my main character and alter-ego, so that hasn't changed.
Then I started to incorporate aspects of Carl Jung and psychology of religion into the book, and the working title became Mandala, after the patterns in Jung's Red Book which I was reading at the time. As I continued to write and edit over the following year, the title changed again to Pentecost – based on the pillar of fire that (in my story) empowered the stones of the Apostles.
I have a Masters in Theology from Oxford University, and although I don't adhere to any religion, my interest in all things religious/supernatural/paranormal/spiritual/psychological drives my writing. Oh yes, and my favorite movie is Con Air, which explains why I blow so much up in my books 🙂
“From the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona to Castle Houska in the Czech Republic, no one destroys landmarks better than Penn. Despite her penchant for demolition, Penn's GATES OF HELL is a must read. I enjoyed every page.” Amazon review from i Love Reading
I then decided that I would write books with titles that began with P in this series. So the next book was Prophecy – based on the prophecy in Revelation that a quarter of the world must die … (cue dramatic music) … and then I wrote Exodus, which doesn't even begin with P … you're getting the idea now that I didn't really have a clue back then!
At the time, I didn't do any kind of market research into the niche or my audience, or what the covers might look like, or what my target market would expect. I just ‘had a feeling' about the type of books I wanted to buy and read, and I buy anything with faintly religious sounding titles.
Back then, I knew a lot about non-fiction marketing, but nothing about how to market fiction.
I published Exodus in December 2013 and I started questioning my titles at that point. I was getting some 1 star reviews saying that the books weren't Christian (they're not, even though they are respectful to all religions). I wanted to target the Dan Brown market – but I should have realized that his breakout book was called ‘The Da Vinci Code,' NOT ‘The Jesus Code.'
While my books are based on biblical history and archaeology, they are about as Christian as James Rollins, Simon Toyne, Steve Berry and others who write mainstream conspiracy thrillers/action-adventure. I have a lot of Christian readers who enjoy the stories, and I am respectful to all faiths in my books, BUT I am not a Christian and I don't write books that are specifically Christian.
So the next book I wrote was: One Day in Budapest. A much more mainstream title that encapsulated the fast pace and also the geographic element of the book. I've continued to write ‘Day' novellas and am very happy with those.
I make up titles for new books as I am getting ideas, and usually change them at least once before publication. For example, Day of the Vikings started out as Ragnarok. Gates of Hell started out as Inquisition.
I changed my ARKANE covers again in March 2014, after a number of articles about using people on the covers convinced me to do the same.
We added a Lara Croft style figure on the first 3 books, and also changed Desecration from a white, artistic, literary cover to something more befitting a crime thriller (as below).
All of this demonstrates how hard titles and cover designs can be when you do this alone.
As for the title change – essentially, I've been considering a change since Exodus came out and recently I signed with a new agent. We have lots of ideas for potential foreign rights markets and changing the look and feel of the series now will help with pitching. So I bit the bullet, made the changes and despite the pain, I'm really happy with the result.
So, what's the conclusion from all of this?
It takes time to get to know your own voice as a writer
It takes a few books to really get to grips with what you're writing, who you want to be as a writer, how you want your brand to look and also what your books even mean.
It also takes time to understand what your readers think about your books. Who do THEY compare your work too?
My VA, Alexandra, and I recently went through over 1000 reviews on my books to work this out. My readers compare my ARKANE series to Clive Cussler and Indiana Jones, as well as Dan Brown & Steve Berry – with a hint of National Treasure, James Bond, Daniel Silva, Matthew Reilly and Kate Mosse. I'm happy with that 🙂 and so we used those authors as models for the new covers.
Surprisingly, the whole process of working through what the ARKANE brand is has made me more comfortable in my thriller writer skin. Taking a step back has enabled me to evaluate where I am, where I'm going, what I want to write next.
Although I've talked previously about my shadow side coming through in my fiction, about how I am two people, I am finally feeling that I am becoming a more integrated soul. To illustrate this, I've just changed my JFPenn.com site and made the whole thing a lot more smiley. My books are actually really fun – yes, a high body count – but pacy and full of adventure. Just like Con Air 🙂
It's time I embraced the entertainment side of being a writer and stopped being so serious! (I'm going to blame Oxford and my literary upbringing for that!)
So how does all this apply to your author journey?
Best practices for book titles
For non-fiction – unless you are super famous/have a platform and people will buy anyway – use SEO/keyword research for some part of your title, either the main title or the sub-title. Read more on this here, when I retitled my first non-fiction book and sales jumped 10-fold.
Also, listen to this interview with Tim Grahl about using PickFu to test titles. This is also a great article on the truth about picking non-fiction book titles.
Fiction book titles are really difficult – so difficult that there are very few blog posts on it on the internetz. Fiction titles need to:
- Communicate a promise to the reader – which is further aligned to the cover images – which mesh perfectly with what the customer expects in the book. If there's anything that jars the reader in any imperceptible way, they won't buy.
- Resonate with genre – for example, literary fiction author Roz Morris commented on our podcast interview about a book she was originally calling Comeback, but actually that title was more like a thriller movie featuring Liam Neeson, not a literary masterpiece. So she changed it to Ever Rest.
Ultimately, the title, cover and description are your primary marketing materials for your book.
Yes, you need to write a great book. That's always the first thing. But if you don't nail those 3 elements, no one will pick it up or download a sample.
This is one of the mixed blessings of being an indie author – creative freedom means you get to title and cover your book how you want. And yes, you might get it wrong. Luckily, we get to change things if we want to.
One other thing, there is no copyright on book titles in English, so you can use a title that others have used. But I wouldn't publish a book called The Da Vinci Code or Jurassic Park. There is copyright on book titles in Germany and potentially other countries, so be careful with your titles in translation.
OK, let's get into the nitty-gritty details.
Won't changing the covers and titles confuse readers?
Readers can't download the same ebook twice, so as long as you keep the same numbers on the various stores e.g. ASIN on Amazon, then there won't be a problem. Also, you can add ‘Previously published as …' in all the important places.
The main issues have been print copies, as they require new ISBNs – but I gave the change a positive spin and did a giveaway of signed First Editions to my fiction email list (signup and free book here!) It was really popular and I got lots of positive feedback about the new covers and titles too.
Yes, you may end up annoying a few people but to be honest, I'm only 40 and I have many, many years of writing ahead of me. I want to position myself for the long term so I needed to do this now as I have more coming in the ARKANE series. Better to do it now rather than later, when of course, I become a 10 year overnight success 🙂
How to change ebook titles and covers
You don't lose reviews or rankings if you keep the same ID numbers on the various platforms e.g. ASIN on Amazon KDP. Just change your source files and metadata and republish. Add in an extra line ‘previously published as' so people don't get annoyed.
If you have lots of books, you will have to update the back matter and sales descriptions of all the other books as well to reference the changed books. It took me several days to do all this and it was extremely painful – BUT hopefully worth it! I also took the opportunity to add teasers about the next book in the series so hopefully that will also increase sell through.
Here's some more specifics per store.
KINDLE – It takes a couple of days for the cover to update even though the interior files will update really fast on the store. This meant that there were a few days where the title didn't match the cover and I held my breath expecting bad reviews. No way to get round that though and everything was fine. My author page looks awesome now 🙂
KOBO – No issues at all. Changes went through fine.
iBOOKS – No issues at all. Changes went through fine.
NOOK – The key field is on title, so you'll need to ask for their help. My sales have been so low at NOOK recently that I just went ahead and lost my history and reviews. If you have a huge audience on NOOK, then this might make you think twice about re-titling, but re-covering is no issue.
SMASHWORDS – No issues at all. Changes went through fine.
How to change print book titles and covers
Unfortunately, a title change means new ISBNs which means new files. You need to unpublish the old ones. Make sure you order a few copies for posterity. You never know, they may be valuable one day!
I use Createspace and free ISBNs so I created new projects for all 3 books, changed the interior and cover files and republished.
Link the new versions through Amazon Author Central and ask them to unlink the old ones. You can never get rid of the older editions in that they will be available as secondhand, but you can make sure the new books are linked to the Kindle version with all the reviews on.
I also updated the print files for all my other fiction books with the name changes as part of the series in the back matter and took the opportunity to update my Author Bio and other small things while I was there.
How to change audiobook titles and covers
My audiobooks are published through ACX and it has been a bit of a pain. It should be simple enough. Contact the help at ACX and ask for changes to the projects. Send them the updated cover, opening and closing credits and that should be it.
Unfortunately, because I sent 3 at the same time, the helpdesk got confused and loaded the wrong title and cover to the two of the books. I'd suggest this wouldn't be an issue with just one book – and it worked out fine in the end.
Was it all worth it?
Yes, indeed, although I suspect I will be updating links on this site for years to come. I needed to take a good look at my fiction brand and the new covers and titles give me a good base going forward. As the first 3 books in the series, they are super important and STONE OF FIRE is my permafree title, so it needs to look good. I'm confident that my agent will be able to take these to foreign markets and overall, I am super happy with the changes.
What do you think? This has been a megapost, so please join the conversation and let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
mark wayne mcginnis says
… have I mentioned I think you are fantastic? this post was super helpful for me and I’ve read it twice through. I’m in the process of writing my 17th novel – mostly Scifi (several series) and I’ve been blessed with wonderful sales geared to my selected genre. With that said, I’ve made two blunders with book titles and cover art. What was I thinking? One of the books hardly sold anything compared to my others … the cover truly sucked – the title was worse. But the book is one of my very best–my very favorites. Here’s the question … in your experience … is it possible to resuscitate a book that was DOA? I’m all for changing the cover and title – but have you ever witnessed an actual ‘rebirth’ of a 2 or 3-year-old book … have its (amazon) sales rankings do an about face? So far I haven’t but I’m hoping you have … kind regards, MWM
Joanna Penn says
yes, of course 🙂 My ARKANE boxset books 1-3 hit the USA Today list in August 2016 3 years after publication – it is possible 🙂 Chris Fox has a new book coming soon on relaunching a book, so keep an eye out for that 🙂
Leslie Miller says
I pitched my first novel to a top agent who hated the title. Even though she didn’t represent me in the end, I became insecure about the title and racked my brain to come up with a better one, eventually using a title I didn’t love . . . and have even gotten flak from reviewers about it. (Long story!) I’ve been trying to decide whether or not to go back to my original title which I still believe is stronger. . . and this post helped me decide to definitely do it, along with a (hopefully) better cover.
Thanks Joanna for all you do for your fellow authors!
You’re so the bomb, Joanna. Published my first book just 6 weeks ago and I already know I need to change my book title. I’ve even been told too. Ha! Of course, I’m here for advice but I realize what I really needed was validation. It’s hard to be a noob somedays, but I’m not giving up. So, thank you for the share and inspiration…I’m off to re-title.
Timothy L. Knight says
Thank you for posting this! I am about to finish the third book in a series I’m writing and NEED to go back and change the title of the first book (for several reasons) as well as re-do the cumbersome subtitle of the series. I, too, use Create Space and Kindle. I am now encouraged to go and do it.
Amy Joy says
Thanks so much for all the tips, Joanna. My husband and I co-author books together and over the past year have been working on our own re-branding. It has been a ton of work and is still a work-in-progress. I appreciate getting to hear your story going through the same process.
I also wanted to say that I love the new covers and the new JF Penn website! I’ve followed your work for years now, and the new branding is really fantastic. I’ve watched your YouTube videos and listened to your podcasts as well, and as you say in your post here, you are quite a bubbly, smiley person. With that in mind, I wondered: why not add a smiley profile pic to your Amazon author page as well? Just an idea…
Thanks again and keep up the great work!
Joanna Penn says
I do need to update my pics – thanks for the reminder 🙂
Donna Cook says
Thanks so much for yet another helpful post. This one is also pretty timely for me since I’m in the middle of a rebrand for my romance pen name. Like you, I’m changing my pen name, but instead of full name to initials it’s going the other way around. Do you have any tips for how to do that as seamlessly as possible? Will changing the name change the ASIN? Can I change the author name on my Amazon and Goodreads Author pages, etc. The author name change makes my head spin a bit! 🙂
Also, my new covers won’t be ready until late July. I don’t know if I should do the name change now, to get people used to it, or wait and do it when the new covers come out.
Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
Joanna Penn says
Changing the author name won’t change the ASIN. Goodreads is a pain in the neck – I had to create a new account.
Well what do I say, I am reading your book about publishing and feel that I have wasted thousands of $, but then I did not know about your book when I started off. With your help I had such a huge eye opener and the vibes are also extremely encouraging , I am excited now rather than dead scared to Self publish.
Thank you so much for this great book and just simply for who you are.
Love and Blessings
Joanna Penn says
I’m really pleased to have helped on your author journey!
D. Takara Shelor says
GREAT post. I came here looking for what to do now that I’ve decided to republish one of my nonfiction books with a new cover and title. I was seeking help on where to make those changes … like what to include on the Title Page and where else to do it. I’m still not clear about that even after reading the post.
However, I was so intrigued by the post and your description of your books, their evolution, and your particular background and slant on things … now I want to go out and read your series. LOL.
Excellent article. I am in the early stages of writing a six novel series for middle grades that has been floating around in my head for five years. My previous writings were musicals, so novels are a major jump. I still have the same title I thought of years ago. I still like it, but have not tested it with kids yet. I would be afraid to change it once I publish the book.
My question is this: Have you ever received bad reviews from someone who thought they were buying a new book only to find it was one they already read with a new cover and different title?
Joanna Penn says
I just put inside the front of the book, and in the description – Previously Published As. I’ve never had any issues.
Windsor Queensborough says
Great help as always. Just published a short story. When I searched for the title on Amazon it was in with some completely unsuitable books! Luckily ebooks only, so going to change name and cover.
I have followed your example and used initials for fiction, but how do I get that to show on my existing Amazon Author page for non-fiction ?
Joanna Penn says
You will need a different Amazon Central author page for a different name.
Jeff Borkoski says
Does anyone know which order to do this in? My book is on Amazon in both paperback and ebook. My best guess is I unpublish the paperback version first, change ebook source files through Kindle, wait for ebook updates to go live, and then link “new” paperback to the ebook. Is that correct?
Thank you Joanna for this post and thanks to anyone else who can help me!
Joanna Penn says
Jeff Borkoski says
I appreciate it 🙂
Thank you for sending me this link to the blogpost, Joanna via Twitter. I’m currently writing my 3rd Kammbia novel due to be published the 1st quarter of 2018. Like you, I’m interested in spirituality with my fiction. And I’m one of those Christians who enjoy your Arkane books too. After writing my first two Kammbia novels, I thought I wanted to write Christian fantasy novels but I’m realizing that is not my true writing voice. I’m more into secondary world fantasy books that are colorful and exotic with aspects of spirituality and religion in them. I know there’s not an exact genre for my type of books but I really feel that’s my natural writing voice and I have to embrace it. Thanks for sharing your journey about changing titles and finding your fiction writing voice. I needed this encouragement in my life right now.
Joanna Penn says
I’m glad you found it useful – and I think that part of the discovery of being a writer is finding our voices – but we also change over time. With covers, I am being careful not to get too attached these days, because I KNOW I will change them later, once I discover what the hell the books are REALLy about! All the best with your changes.
Great tips! Thanks Joanna. I create comic books and am confident of the quality of the content (when 11 year old readers I’ve never met in my life endorse it, it’s got to be true…), but reading your article makes me rethink of the title.
Jessi Gage says
I LOVE your new covers. You’ve created a really strong brand, and your author page looks amazing. Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned through the retitling & rebranding. I’m doing this soon and your insights help me know what to brace for.
Stacia Leigh says
I suspected my clean, YA romance had the wrong title and cover when I got a one star review from someone who reads biker erotica! Thanks for the article…it was a helpful and encouraging read.
I was concerned about changing covers too many times but after reading this I’ve made a decision to change mine again. They are not cohesive enough and if I wish to continue my series The Snuggle Up Romance Series I definitely need to do it. Studying other covers is good advice. I’ve realised readers buy books that look the same because essentially they want to read the same book with some differences…same kind of characters, same kind of heroine, same kind of conflict…but with a different location and a different problem to overcome. Thanks for this article. I’m a bit late to the party, but nothing is wasted.
Stephanie Clarke-jennings says
hi thanks so much for this. My question is i want to change my author name- ive self published with Amazon createspace can i do this without legal ramifications? Im re editing and want to publish a second edition with a new pseudonym due to personal reasons.
I look forward to your response
Joanna Penn says
You can always use another pseudonym – just make sure it’s not taken 🙂
John Hunter Farrell says
Can I add a subtitle to a kindle ebook. I didn’t put it in when I created the book account. If I add a sub title will it threaten my sales figures (and ranking) and reviews
Joanna Penn says
You can add a sub-title and change other things on your KDP page, like description – no worries!
Amelia Boggan says
Thanks for your wonderful work. It’s a great help! I am thinking of re-branding my non-fiction book but not sure if it will not be a problem with the publisher. I am supposed to be self-published. Please advise me.
Joanna Penn says
If you are self-published with one of the recommended companies, then there should be no issue.
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