Recently I had my first review of The Wife Of Freedom at Smashwords (Also available at Amazon's Kindle Store.) It was a five star review, and the only negative was "I liked the original title better."
Yeah, me too.
But for those of you who haven't been following the adventures in eBook publishing from the start, the original title was The Whore of Freedom. I debated with myself about using that title, and decided to go with it. It's provocative. It comes from within the story. Mary's husband, Jackie, writes a book about her after she leaves him. He's an anarchist and prone to say things he shouldn't, and this is one of them. Although he meant it as a compliment, "The Whore of Freedom" becomes Mary's scarlet letter.
But I couldn't get people to even look at the book with that title. If you haven't read the book, it just doesn't have the same connotations. I also couldn't actually name or list that title in a lot of venues. (Can you imagine mentioning in the company newsletter that you just published "The Whore of Freedom"?) Apple insisted on listing it in the iBookstore as "The W***e Of Freedom" -- which leaves it open to the possibility that it could have been The Whale of Freedom. (Which might be an interesting book....)
I decided to change the name when I had asked for some feedback on the cover, and I got the following response, "Oh, I ignored that because of the title, but now after seeing the cover, I want to read it!"
So I changed it. And now I get a trickle of sales, even without promotion, and occasional blog mentions.
J.A. Konrath has noticed that generic seems to sell in ebooks in particular. He challenged Lee Goldberg to rename and give new covers - going for a more updated but generic look - to his backlist books. Goldberg took him up on it, and by golly his sales improved considerably.
Titles are so important. They are a mini-logline, which tells the audience what kind of book it is at a glance. But I think, like with the cover, it really isn't enough to go on by itself. The audience doesn't really want to be challenged, or even intrigued that much. (Maybe a little.) They want to know if it's worth their time to click and look further. If the title is too provocative, they make exaggerated assumptions, and move on.
This is why publishers have whole committees working on titles. (And why they often don't let the author choose the title.) If you're an indie author, you've got to figure that out for yourself.