I have nearly finished the first draft of my book about polls and democracy: As of today, the only things left to do are to clean up the final chapter and rewrite a fair bit of my short introduction. However, I have been unable to settle on a final title for the draft manuscript — a puzzle that is occupying a lot of space in my brain and preventing some much-needed productivity.
When I first sold the book to WW Norton, we settled on tentatively calling it “No Margin For Error: Why We Must Save Political Polling.” Closer to actually doing marketing and publicity for the thing, I have reevaluated and come to the conclusion that this is not a good title. First and foremost, it’s not an accurate description of the book! The book is a history of polling and an explainer of how they actually work in practice, not only a case for why they are normatively valuable (eg to the press, the government, and the people). It’s also trying too hard to be clever.
A shorter and more descriptive title would probably be better. And, from a sales perspective, a good book title would evoke a sort of competitiveness or a feeling that you’re missing out if you don’t read the book. You want to play on peoples’ psychological drive to feel smarter than others, or to get a leg up on the competition. I think this potential title does a bit of all of that:
How Polls Work and Why We Need Them (no subtitle)
I like this one a lot. It’s simple, easy to remember, and does what it says on the tin. However, it’s not very creative. But it could potentially work rather well as a subtitle, with something pithier before it, like so
Strength In Numbers: How Polls Work and Why We Need Them
I like this a lot. It’s is clever enough without trying too hard, and has a title that connects well to the subtitle: both are improved by the other part. Plus, when you study polls, one tends to adopt a pretty populist pro-democracy worldview. “Strength In Numbers” is nothing if not pro-democracy. But it suffers a bit from not being novel enough and might turn off people who think it’s about math instead.
I might also call the book:
POLLS: How They Work and Why We Need Them
The Will of The People: Why Polls Matter, Why Some Go Wrong, and Why They’re Useful Even When They Fail
Polling the People
Margin of Error: How Polling Saved Democracy
How The People Rule: Polls and American Democracy in the 21st Century
Polls and Democracy
The Will of the People: How Polls Work and Why We Need Them
The Case for Polling: How Polls Actually Work, and Why They Make Democracy Smarter
What do you think? What makes a good title?