The Power and Profit in a Fiction Title By Marion Cuba

As a writer, I am constantly barraged by Internet advice on how to market your book. Unfortunately, most of the suggestions are geared to non-fiction. Many also urge me to “research the market” to find the perfect subject.

I dismiss – and delete – these ideas as NA: not applicable. They hold no interest for me. Nor would they be of any value.

No, I wish to pour my efforts into fiction. And, I wish to pour heart and soul into themes and issues that I feel passionate about. Or why do it?

Recently, an e-mail came in, asking if I had tested my title out on the Internet. No, I had not. But it got me to thinking. I realized that I’d successfully developed a strategy on my own for choosing a fiction title.

Here are the facts. I wrote a historical novel about a little-known, fascinating chapter of WWII when 20,000 Jews escaped Hitler to Shanghai – the one place that would have them without a visa. (Wow, this was good stuff.)

I researched the period thoroughly, and chronicled that time – 1938-45 – in the “history” part of the novel by means of a diary. The “fictional part” of the book probed the generational clash that ensued between a mother (a refugee) and her American-born daughter.

The name of the character of the mother was Hannah. When sending out the original manuscript, I chose the title HANNAH’S HOUSE.

I thought it had a ring to it. In fact, several agents remarked on how much they liked it. Though, interestingly, none of these bought the book.

This is what I came to realize.

1) Fiction is a harder sell than non-fiction. Period. You have no handy “how to” hook. You can’t use the long descriptive title using a colon that zeroes in on your subject, and thus your audience. And, most important, your title, however descriptive of the book you know you wrote (!), comes out of left field to a prospective publisher or reader. It means nothing to them. Nor will they take the time to delve into its meaning.

2) Many more women than men buy fiction. Huge numbers of men read non-fiction, heavy on history.

Somehow – at the last moment – I saw my title, HANNAH’S HOUSE, from a distance. What was once “my darling,” suddenly appeared naive and weak. I had to think more globally. I had to play hardball.

I changed it to SHANGHAI LEGACY.

I now seems like the most natural, wisest thing I could have chosen because I snagged a bigger audience:

+ History buffs were drawn in by the little-known subject.

+ World War II aficionados were fascinated by another chapter of the era.

+ A refugee story – though about Jews – appealed to all nationalities.

+ The exotic city name added a “glamour factor”

Now there were other factors besides the title that helped. This is a self-published book – by my gurus at And, I did contact publications for reviews; authors for blurbs; associations for book readings and signings; and any venue remotely related to China, Jews in WWII, refugees, along with book groups whose members would enjoy the relationship drama while learning something new.

The result? I did get many speaking engagements, even a TV interview. No doubt my dogged activities helped. But I am convinced – seeing there is still interest in the book more than two years later – that changing the title was the action that turned the tide.

HANNAH’S HOUSE? Well, you can read all about Hannah’s house in my book. But I don’t think this title would have been nearly enough to get you there!

As I work on my next novel, I am keeping this in mind.

MARION CUBA has worked as a writer in advertising, promotion, and nonprofit fundraising. Shanghai Legacy was a 2007 Benjamin Franklin Awards Finalist. For many years Marion served as an Adult Literacy Tutor. She attended Brandeis University and the University of Michigan, earning a B.A. in English. She is at work on another historical novel, also about a little-known chapter of the Holocaust. Visit her at her website: