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Here is how you should title the next book you write.

I was talking with someone about book titles. I thought Red State Blue State Rich State Poor State was a good title, but the book did not sell as well as I hoped (not that I thought it would sell enough to make me lots of money; I’m just using sales here as a proxy for influence). The trouble was that this title was a way to signal that the book would be a fun read—but, let’s face it, for most people a book full of graphs is not so fun. The appeal of the book was that it had lots of analyses that had never been done before, along with some that were not new but helped us understand what was going on.

Look at Bill James. He called his book the Baseball Abstract. Can’t get much more boring than that. But people wanted to read it because it had the facts. We would’ve been better off calling it the Voting Abstract or Crunching the Election Numbers or something like that.

A general principle

So this got me thinking about a general principle for titling your books.

Bad title: This Book Will Be Fun to Read.

Good title: This is the Book Your Competitor Has Already Read.

The idea is that people should read your book because otherwise they’re missing out.

Regression and Other Stories as a counterexample?

But is Regression and Other Stories a counterexample to the above principle? It’s on a try topic but has a fun title and it’s been successful, or so I think. The difference, I think, is that the title of Regression and Other Stories is just not so important. We could’ve called it Regression, or Applied Regression, or Applied Regression from a Computational Perspective, or all sorts of other options, and I think it would be selling just as well. Maybe even better, who knows. Knowing the authors of the book gives enough of a sense of the content that people will buy it (or not buy it) for the right reasons. Red State Blue State was a different story because at the time I was more of an unknown, and we were trying to reach new groups of people, so the signal sent by the title was more important.

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