A Tale of Two Titles

I’ve suddenly started to sell on Amazon after a several month stall. I’m not usually into sharing sales numbers, but I’ll say I was selling maybe 20 a month on Amazon since Dec 2011 and the numbers suddenly hopped up to 158 (not counting the 21 returns) in two weeks. “Why?”, you ask. What amazing sales tactic did I come up with?


I simply have the good fortune (or misfortune) of having a book whose  title is similar to another. 50 Shades of Grey, the new “indy-to-traditional” sensation that was originally written as a twilight fan-fic, is being haled as “mommy-porn” and is selling like mad. Much of it’s media coverage stresses the Twilight angle, so a would-be-reader could assume it has vampires in it – only it doesn’t. So the poor, misguided souls who go to Amazon and search for “Shades of Gray vampires” find me (in slot 1 or 2 depending on how they spelled grey/gray), instead. (Side note: If you do a search for simply “Shades of Gray”, you won’t find me until page two. This illustrates the importance of tags).

On one hand, this is good. It’s 158 sales, 30 of which went on to buy book two, and 21 of which went on to buy book three. However it’s also BAD because, of those 158 people, most – if not all – were NOT looking for that book, which means it did not meet their expected criteria (hence 21 returns). And though it hasn’t netted a bad review yet (or a good one, for that matter), it can.

Why? When customers are confused or don’t get what they expect, they strike back by leaving angry reviews. For instance, I have a freebie called 101 Tips For Traveling with a Vampire. The description clearly says “this is a list of 101 tips, nothing more.” However, because there used to be a three page intro, people STILL expected it to be a “real” book with a story, plot, etc. When it wasn’t, they left one star reviews and the complaint, “this is not a book! It’s a list!”.  True, if someone takes the time to read the description AND the review they might think “Duh, it SAYS it’s a list” and discount the review, but few people do all of that work. They glance at the star ratings and if they’re are low, they skip off the page without giving your work a chance. In an effort to correct that problem, I reissued a “revamped” version that has a very short intro which basically says “This is who i am. this is why i have this list. yes, this is a list. it is not a book and the series it is attached to is not for teenagers.” Sure, it’s not as fun as the old intro was, and not as long, but hopefully it will fix the confusion.

As for Shades of Gray, I’m not going to do anything. I had the title first, so I’m not going to change it, and I’m not going to add a note in the description that says “This is not the BDSM book you are looking for. You will probably be disappointed”. Yes, I will probably end up with some bad reviews out of it, but that’s life.

So what is the lesson here? No matter how much you double check your titles BEFORE you publish, someone may come along and use them anyway. When I published Shades of Gray only three hits came up on Amazon at the time and none of them involved vampires OR romance (two are Civil War dramas). Now, I’m on page two and most of those above me are not only romance, but also vampires. I guess it proves vampires and grayness go together 😉

Have you had a similar experience? Did you find books with the same title as your after you published? If so, did having a similar title as someone else effect your sales/reviews?


  1. I have a trilogy out with an unusual name – Zellie Wells – but each individual book (Glimpse, Glimmer, Glow) shares the same title as a number of other YA books. With Glimpse, I just didn’t know better. With Glimmer and Glow, they were titled before I was done with them and came out just before other books of the same title. It really hasn’t been that much of a problem. I believe I’ve had two reviews for Glimpse where the reader mentioned that they thought they’d bought a different book (which is trad. pubbed. contemp. YA) and didn’t like the paranormal aspect of my Glimpse.

    For the next trilogy, I got a clue and did a Google and Amazon search of the titles before I officially settled on what to call them.

    Now if I could only stop buying covers with the same stock photos as other authors and not find out about it until after I’ve published. 🙂

    1. LOL! Yeah, I’ve run into that with stock photos, too! I always joke that as soon as I use them it makes them popular and everyone leaps in their time machines and makes their covers with them 😉

  2. I haven’t had that experience, but I have found that titles make a difference. I’m convinced that my novella Guardian Vampire sold so many copies in Jan/Feb of 2011 because people liked the title. And I’ve sold a lot of Haunted Lake. And yet, none of the rest of my books have sold nearly as well as those two. I think that’s why I have such a hard time choosing a title…I agonize over what will catch someone’s interest.

    If I were you, I would just enjoy the ride. Even if people were searching for the other book, I think many of them will read yours and enjoy it for what it is. Obviously, people aren’t returning ALL the copies. LOL. Incidentally, I’ve really had no desire to read 50 Shades of Grey. I have, however, read your book, Shades of Gray.

    I’m having a little bit of a stall in sales, too, lately. Maybe I should change the names of some of my books….. 🙂

    1. I hear you! I hate thinking of titles. I agonized for months over the last one (Ashes of Deceit) and am STILL not happy with it!

      Well, so far I only ended up with one two star review out of it, but it made some sale,s so yeah, it was nice while it lasted 😉

  3. Strayer says:

    The names in my two titles are Mara and Jane and Murkan. No one is going to steal Murkan. I don’t know why anyone would use Mara and Jane.
    I think it’s good that people found the books, even though the title had some similarity to other titles.
    This next thing is quite different.
    There was a thread over at B&N boards about some titles using a famous author name with a modification to fool readers into thinking they were getting a book by the author. They were self published and B&N took them down. They were put there by a place that uploads self published ebooks. Not Smashwords.

    1. Ugh! I have run into that too, , where people pick pen names that are almost identical to a “big” author but spelled slightly different, so at a glance you will think it’s another author.. I don’t see the point in that. I guess for the quick buck, because no one is going to get a following that way.

  4. I recall that the title of my book is shared by a John Jakes novel from twenty or so years back, but the genres are so different.

    1. Yeah and that’s a lot of years in between, too 🙂

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