Renaming Pay Me, Bug!?!!???

Submitted by C B Wright on

Should an author rename a novel they've already published? More specifically, should I? That's what I'm thinking through right now, and I thought it was worth thinking through out loud.

Last Monday I was feeling whimsical. I was looking at book covers and noticed a the ones that featured the name of the author at the top of the page frequently had “HUGO AWARD WINNING AUTHOR” or “HUGO NOMINATED AUTHOR” or “NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER” placed under the author’s name. It made perfect sense from an advertising perspective, but I thought it would be cheeky and amusing to see something similar for authors who had no awards whatsoever, so I did this:

And then I laughed and went on my merry way.

But a few interesting things happened. First, the response I had to the cover change was mostly positive, with people thinking the “Not an award winning author of any kind” tag was something worth actually putting on the book. Second, at the same time, I got into a discussion with someone whose opinion I tend to respect about the problems both the title and the cover create for me getting people to give the book a go.

And that conversation, combined with a slow but steady string of comments I’ve seen in the past, has got me thinking seriously about whether I need to:

  • change the name of the book, and
  • commission yet another cover for it.

So here is the dilemma: I genuinely like the name. I think “Pay Me, Bug!” is a great name as long as you know what the book is about. It doesn’t directly allude to the plot, but it is illustrative of how the protagonists in the story deal with the plot—equal parts trying to figure out how to win and betting on whether or not they survive. It’s anarchic and enthusiastic (it has an exclamation point!) and a little silly and it lets you know the story has a bug in it. These are all important things to convey.

HOWEVER, the name is definitely divisive. As a general rule it appears people either find the name intriguing or off-putting. I’ve read more than a few comments from people who said “I was kind of put off by the title, but when I started reading it, it made sense.” Which is, from a certain perspective, vindication for the title (“When I started reading it, it made sense”) but from another perspective, it’s this:

“I was kind of put off by the title...”

Just so you know, I've heard this a lot. I heard this when I was initially trying to find a publisher for it. I heard it the one time I was told that the publisher had taken it out of the slush pile and forwarded it to the editor (specifically they said “... even though we hate the name”), and I’ve heard it from people who are enthusiastic readers who want me to finish writing the sequel (yes, I am working on it, I promise). And it makes me wonder, since there is a not statistically insignificant number of people who were put off by the title but read it anyway, how many people were put off by the title and never bothered to read it in the first place.

This is an important question to answer, because I want people to read this book, and as much as I love the title, if it’s a roadblock to people picking up the book and turning to the first page then I will change the name and never look back.

The thing with me and writing: I’m perfectly willing to write a story people don’t like if it’s the story I want to tell, but I’d prefer to minimize roadblocks up to that point. If the reader doesn't like the story I told, that's the unavoidable result of me making the decisions I made clashing with the preferences the reader has... anything that keeps the reader away before they get to the story is the result of bad marketing, and that's something I need to fix.

So: there is a chance that I will be retitling Pay Me, Bug!, at which point a new issue with a new ISBN will be released, and—probably—a new cover.

The new cover thing is harder, because I love Garth Graham’s art, and I love the way he drew Ktk. However, the people who have talked about the title being a roadblock also talked about the cover as well, and each case the comment has been the same. I paraphrase below:

It’s not that the cover is bad. It’s not. But it doesn’t reflect the story.

Jefferson Smith, who has actually reviewed the book twice, summarized his issue with both the title and the cover art very well:

The only blight on the entire experience was the odd choices for title and cover art. Once you’ve read the book, the title makes perfect sense, as it’s a reference to a running gag in the story, but it sets entirely the wrong tone for what the story is actually about, which is probably causing a lot of potential readers to skip on past it. And the cover art, while professional looking, fails to convey the frenetic drama of the grown up action adventure that lies inside. (Review of Pay Me, Bug! On Creativity Hacker)

Another comment I received branched off in another thought-provoking direction: because the book cover has a comic book feel, it sets up the expectation that the reader is going to get comics if they buy the book. I can see the logic behind that. Sure, don't judge a book by it's cover, but the cover is there and it's going to inform the overall aesthetic of the book. It's marketing, and if you do marketing wrong you piss off your prospective customer. So if your book is a space opera, and a reader wants to buy a space opera, it helps if your cover effectively communicates the idea that your book is a space opera.

Does the cover actually do this? Apparently not as thoroughly as I'd like. So if I change the title, I’ll probably wind up getting a new cover. This will actually bother me more than the title change, because coming up with the title was free and I paid for the cover, and—this is the more important part—it was money well spent. Garth gave me exactly what I wanted... I just wasn't wanting the right thing.

I’d love to hear from readers and other authors on this. Those of you who have read the book: what are your thoughts on the title and cover? Did they distract you? Do you see a marketing advantage in a change? Those of you who are authors, have you been in this situation? How did you deal with it?

Comments

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I...  hunh.  The interplay of

I...  hunh.  The interplay of Ktk and the humans, exemplified by the fact that they bet on EVERYTHING and it always loses, IS a main theme of the book, in my mind.  And since when have novels had to be entirely about the main story?  I don't quite get that rationale. 

I like the title.  it asks a question of the reader, and, to me, invites exploration.  I think anyone put off by the title might need a bit more spoonfeeding.  free short story out of the first chapter with a more high concept title?

 

as for the cover, maybe a framing around the image, so that it looks like an image being viewd on a screen?  

 

I will say that a new title

I will say that a new title that provide titular continuity with "Rake by Starlight" would probably be good. 

Do not change "Rake by Starlight", however.

Also, the cover thing is odd. I mean, many/most scifi books have sort of uniform crap covers that tell you very little about the story. They just say "Hey, this is a book about space", and that's pretty much it. Even really visually distinctive ones just produce an image of a particular moment in the book, which may or may not be infomative. A lot depends on how perceptive the person looking at it is. 

The current cover says, hey, this is a book about space, and weird aliens that are part of a group of humans. 

Maybe people are beefing with the style, in which case I think maybe they snobs. 

The Anono in your El.

I don't disagree with your

I don't disagree with your comments on the title, except that the understanding of the title as you describe it requires foreknowledge of the book. If there are people who would legitimately enjoy reading (and, um, you know, buying) the book who aren't because the title puts them off, it's hard to defend the title.

Free samples are not a universal solution, because I can't do free samples on Amazon, and that's where I sell most of my copies. (Can't do free because I can't do KDP Select.)

--
Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

Absolutely. Most people*

Absolutely. Most people* these days do not have enough time to explore the vast field of low-key authors and unknown books when there are so so much out there already easily identifiable by cover and name. 

If someone is in a mood for a space opera, they will look for a space opera. If something about a book looks strange or out of place they will just skip until something that looks and sounds like what they are looking for appears. 

The three years when I bought and read most of my books I went soley on title and cover. There were so many and I knew that the kind I liked to read would focus on a spesific kind of cover image and title anyway so it would be difficult to "mis-buy". Using that method made me buy a lot of great books, and some not so good books. 

I read Pay Me, Bug! because I was bored and no new Ubersoft comics had been published for a while btw. 

*by most people I mean people like me who are at my age, my job and life situation and from my cultural background. I have no idea what other people are really like. 

"Don't judge a book by its

"Don't judge a book by its cover" is widely misunderstood. Book stores used to re-cover unsold stock with new covers. Since covers didn't have pictures you wouldn't know it was done, so there was no guarantee that the book you got would match the cover.

Today publishers require stores to send back the covers from overstocks. And the covers are specifically designed so that you can judge what's inside.

I don't know that it's

I don't know that it's misunderstood as much as its original meaning has changed over time.

--
Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

As somebody who likes you

As somebody who likes you comics has them in rss and looks forward to them all , the title of the book put me off reading it (to the point I haven't read it, or any of your other literary work). I don't mean to sound harsh there, its not a judgement of said works. After all I haven't read them. But the need to have the comma in the title to make it work makes it feel like the whole book is going to be a hard thing to read. It just doesn't "flow"

On the cover art, I do like the look of it, it wouldn't put me off picking it up, but it does make it feel more like a "young adult" book. 

All those other books look like they do for a reason I guess lol.
A book with a spaceship on the cover, perhaps with an alien or two will immediatley get picked off the shelf by me for further investigation. I do judge books by their cover mainly because there are a buttload of books in the "sci-fi/fantasy" section (how you can combine those two is totally beyond me) and I'm only interested in a paticular subsection.

An issue with retitling that

An issue with retitling that nobody has raised: how are people who bought the book going to feel when a 'new' book comes out, they buy it, and it isn't new?  It is very annoying to me to find that I already own the novellas in a 'new' collection- and I usually manage to figure it out before I've spent my money on it.  Since we're waiting on a sequel, a lot of people are likely to buy the retitled book thinking that it is the sequel, and be upset to discover that they already own it.

From my perspective, I looked at the book _because_ of the title, and bought it because of the blurb (which was very good as blurbs go) and the price- affordable and reasonable, unlike most of the traditional publishers.  The cover didn't really make an impression either way.  However I am biased very heavily in favor of the written word.

I know that Kristine Kathryn Rusch has written a lot of blog posts about the writing business- some of them may speak to these issues from a different perspective.

On the sample issue:  If you want to do it, there are three ways I can think of to do so.  1) a short story, maybe describing how they got saddled with the Captain's incompetant nephew?, for free on Amazon and at any other vendors; 2) The first few chapters published separately on Amazon and with any other vendors, 3) the first few chapters here.  All of these would be served by a link in the blurb for the book to the free content.

I approve of free samples.  Giving everything away for free is stupid.  Giving the first book of a series, or a short story involving the main characters, or the first few chapters of a book away for free is going to get you readers.  When I can try something without having to commit my book money for the month, I'm much more likely to have it stick in my mind, and go and buy it.  The blurb is generally insufficient bait. 

Well, the way I would

Well, the way I would approach a retitled work is to acknowledge the previous title on the cover somewhere (i.e. "Formerly 'Pay Me, Bug!'" or something) as well as on the title page and a sheepish forward or afterward explaining it, as well as a short piece of text in the item description on the book listing page also referring to the old title.

I do understand there are people who were intrigued by the title and discovered it that way. I had hoped there would be more people who reacted the same way. I like the title.  In fact, when the title was first suggested to me I immediately grabbed it, discarded all other suggestions, and forged on ahead.

But here's the part that I need to figure out:

  • what percentage of the people who see the name are intrigued by it?
  • what percentage of the people who see the name are put off by it?
  • what percentage of the people who see the name are neutral to it?
  • of these three groups, which is the most important?

Right now I know that some people like the name, that at least one person was intrigued by the name and it turned into a sale, and that a number of people were put off by the name -- some of whom bought/read it any way, despite misgivings, and at least one who did not. Since I have no way to actually do a focus group thing on the name, it's all speculation and guesswork.

The sample issue is not a bad compromise, assuming I did it right. The first five chapters of the novel do stand rather well on their own as a short story, would require less investment in terms of time commitment for a reader, and I could try to focus on a proper cover and title treatment that is "marketing friendly," which (in theory) makes the name of the full-length more palatable. But... I can't do freebies on Amazon, because nothing I publish qualifies for KDP Select. I suppose eventually Amazon would notice that it was free elsewhere and lower it to match but there are no guarantees...

--
Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

"not YET an award-winning

"not YET an award-winning author"  covers that possibility that you may achive that at some point and shows that you are aiming to create award worthy works.

I haven't read "Pay Me, Bug!" yet, but that is part just having so much to read(looking at stack of dead tree editions next to me, nevermind all the ebooks), part the one time I went looking at buying something tripped me off of the options available at the time which I see are now fixed. I've been intreaged by what I've seen so far in part because it is somewhat different. My gut feel was it was something in the space opera side of things and that I would be reading it some point.

I think one of the challenges with titles and covers is finding that balence between too bland and too extream. I think the current title is just a little bit past center line towards extream, but that does sell books as well. So I don't know you will sell more by changing the title/cover than if you kept it the same. On the other hand, as you become better known with more titles to your name, people will keep tripping over it and eventually really looking at it, and those who will enjoy it will go for it.

Do you attend SF cons? I didn't find an appearance shedule on your site like I've seen other authors such as http://www.schlockmercenary.com/pages/2014-appearances   Participating at such events is another way of growing your following. And if I met you at such, I would most certainly be wanting some dead tree editions of your works for you to 'deface' with an autograph.

typo found, 'peole' instead of 'people' a bit after "The new cover thing is harder..."

I've followed the comic strip

I've followed the comic strip Ubersoft for a long time, and as "Pay Me, Bug!" was by you I gave it a chance.  At first blush I did think it was an odd title, but certainly not so odd that if I didn't know your previous artwork I wouldn't have read it.
I believe you should keep the title.

A sub-title might be the

A sub-title might be the better choice - Keep the title and if you really feel the need to clarify, do a sub-title.

Keep 'em both. "Pay me, Bug!

Keep 'em both. "Pay me, Bug!" has a proven track record to which you can compare "The Bug Who Would Be King" (I haven't read it yet, so what do I know about alternate titles). In the industry we call this "A/B Testing", and will give you valuable info about titling your next work. You wouldn't be the first author to have the same story out under multiple titles.

When I go to acquire my dead tree edition, how should I make my purchase to maximize your profit?

Speaking of "A/B", is there another Old Skool Web Comic on the horizon?

--Bob.

For no real reason other than

For no real reason other than being lazy, I have resisted your book for many years. But it was actually the title that kept calling me back to it time and time again. English being a second language to me, perhaps there's a negative vibe to this title that fails to resonate with me. For what my vote is worth, it never put me off. But, in the end, it was the introduction of the illustrated cover that got me, and I bought the paperback. I love this cover, and I found myself turning back to it many times while reading.

I think, the determining factor in purchasing this or any book ought to be the back-cover summary. In the case of Pay Me, Bug! this is well written and, without giving much away, quickly establishes the initial premise of the story, helping the reader to get to grips with the plot of the first few chapters (or at any rate, long enough to succumb to the charms of the crew of The Fool's Errand!)

By the way, I was sad to let go of all those great characters when the story was over. So I am now glad to learn you have a sequel in the works. Suffice it to say it won't take me that long to buy a copy this time!

I agree with Andy Konecny: technically, you are not an award winning author yet.

Oh btw I find the "not an

Oh btw I find the "not an award winning author" hilarious it puts me in the mind of Douglas Adams and other such british comedy.

IMO, keep the title, keep the

IMO, keep the title, keep the cover.

The issue with KDP Select is exclusivity, right?  Amazon has enough market share that they really oughtn't to be doing that anymore; it's the kind of thing monopolists aren't allowed to do.  I recommend you file a complaint with the FTC and issue a news release about it - I bet it gets you some sales :)

Why not A/B test it? Offer

Why not A/B test it? Offer both options in series and see which sells better. 

A/B Testing in a live

A/B Testing in a live environment is tricky. If someone buys and A and then buys B thinking it's a different product they'll be kinda pissed, and legitimately so.

That said, there's no reason I can't make minor changes to this cover while I think about what I might do with a new cover and title.

--
Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

Only thing I would say is

Only thing I would say is that the title seems like it is being said to the antagonist, in an unfriendly manner.

I haven't read it so I don't know if the cover gives the right impression. It gives of the vib of low paid grunts of some spaceship.

Now, take this opinion for

Now, take this opinion for what it's worth, because I haven't read it.

I think Pay Me, Bug! is an awesome title. It's distinctive and memorable, and it sounds like humorous space opera (with a Douglas Adamsian sense of humor). I like the cover, too; it looks fantastic.

(As a sidenote: So Long, And Thanks for All the Fish doesn't exactly tell you anything about the plot of that book, either. It's not about the dolphins. But it's catchy and humorous and memorable.)

Maybe it leaves an inaccurate sense of the plot, but I don't think it leaves an inaccurate sense of the feel or genre (which are the most important things it needs to convey). In anything, it was the title that enticed me, and the synopsis had me shrugging, and that was the reason I haven't read it. (That doesn't mean there's anything wrong with the synopsis; it might mean that it's not my kind of story, and yet the title got my attention *anyway,* which is a good thing.)

hey there. love the title Pay

hey there. love the title Pay Me, Bug! coudl not imagine the book having another title. It immediately puts me in mind of beting and gambling, which, as you say, are important to the whimsical side of the characters. I don't know what I would call it except "the fool's errand" is my only alternate title. But Pay me, Bug! is origianl and it is you. Bottom line: It's your book, man, don't let people tell you what to call it!

I found Pay Me, Bug! via Web

I found Pay Me, Bug! via Web Fiction Guide, and I think it's a fine title - I expected an energetic, lighthearted read and that's what I got. Fwiw, however, it is not a great title to speak, awkward to insert an exclamation point into conversation; I had to repeat it and spell out the punctuation to my husband when I was telling him about it.

This is my first time seeing the cover, and I don't think it's good, to be candid. Knowing the story, I can identify that this is a scene which happens often, and Cyrus is probably speaking the title phrase...but there's no action, Ktk looks like a surrealist insertion rather than a crewmember (if you told me the title of the book was Kafka In Space!, based on the picture I'd believe you...maybe he needs a bandolier or a collar or to be holding a data tablet, something to identify him as a person) and Grif and Amys are conspicuously absent....seriously, you wrote a sci/fi novel with a sexy female fighter and *didn't put her on the cover,* what's wrong? What if this Cyrus-Ktk interaction were happening in the background on one side, and the bemused Cutter and Vod on the other side, with the captain and first officer in the middle celebrating living through whatever? Because that's what the titular phrase comes to mean: somehow, we made it through that. Anyway, just a thought.

I haven't read past the first

I haven't read past the first couple chapters - by the way, do you want comments on those? Last I saw it was disabled - but I can say the name put me off a little. Then again, that was probably the correct reaction; the name came off as decidedly irreverent, and judging by the first couple chapters... ;) That didn't seem too inaccurate. I can't say whether it accurately reflects the book in full, not having finished the book, but it did - correctly - warn me that it wasn't my usual line in science fiction. The reason I started reading it anyway was that I'd been reading and very much liking Curveball, and I generally go by author, not cover or title - if I really like one book by a given author, I start checking out the rest. Very rarely a title will snare me, but... only very rarely, and usually only in fantasy.

The cover I can't comment on. It looked normal-science-fiction-book-cover-y to me. I was actually impressed by its quality, for whatever help that is, but I don't really look very closely at covers, so... probably not much. ^^

Hi Rebecca,

Hi Rebecca,

I try to shut off comments on posts more than a month old in order to cut down on spambots. For some reason the tool I use doesn't work consistently across the site so it's kind of random whether you can comment in old posts or not. If you want to you can create a topic in the Pay Me, Bug! Forum to post there but I believe you need to have a site account to do that (again, to try to discourage spambots.)

Thanks for your comments!

--
Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.

Forget about whether you

Forget about whether you 'should'.

Think about the business. If you re-title it and it works - i.e. more sales, perhaps to people who already bought the book - then you've got a new source of income! You can keep re-titling and re-covering your own stories for more income! You can hit that new book every 6 months metric without the additional hassle of writing things! It's an opportunity!

But if you did change the

But if you did change the title, "The Fool's Errand" would also make a cool title.

I'm not sold on "A Rake by

I'm not sold on "A Rake by Starlight"; "rake" to me has a strong sexual connotation that I just haven't seen here.

There’s no point in acting

There’s no point in acting surprised about it. The name has been on display at your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for 50 of your Earth years, so you’ve had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint and it’s far too late to start making a fuss about it now.

:-D

--
Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.