Do Odd Numbers Really Work Better than Even Numbers in Book Titles?
What’s in a Number?
When I submitted the proposal for one of my first career books to McGraw-Hill, I called it 300 Best Questions to Ask On Your Interview.
The acquisition editor immediately said she would publish it, but first she wanted me to change the title to “301 Best Questions to Ask On Your Interview.”
“Odd numbers work better for book titles,” she said.
I accepted that and, in fact, the book continues to sell quite well ten years later. Of course, there’s no way to know if an even number, say 302 Questions, would have made a difference.
But is it true that more books are published with odd titles than even titles, and does any research back up the theory that odd numbers are more effective in book titles than even numbers?
First, I did a little research by making a list of business books with numbers in the title. I could have included bestsellers in general (e.g., Slaughterhouse Five, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Around the World in 80 Days, The Three Musketeers, Fahrenheit 451, etc.). Goodreads tallied all books with numbers in titles and came up with 476 books.
But I’m a business writer, so to make the list more manageable, I’m sticking to the genre I know best.
Here’s a partial list of 15 best-selling books with odd numbers their titles or subtitles:
The One Minute Manager by Kenneth H. Blanchard
The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller
The One Thing You Need to Know: … About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success by Marcus Buckingham
The Three Signs of a Miserable Job by Patrick Lencioni
The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family by Patrick Lencioni
The Five Temptations of a CEO by Patrick Lencioni
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
The Fifth Discipline by Peter M. Senge
Next Generation Leader: 5 Essentials for Those Who Will Shape the Future by Andy Stanley
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
The Seven Levels of Communication by Michael J. Maher
Thinking for a Change: 11 Ways Highly Successful People Approach Life and Work by John C. Maxwell
The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork: Embrace Them and Empower Your Team by John C. Maxwell
21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership 21
Low-Hanging Fruit: 77 Eye-Opening Ways to Improve Productivity and Profits by Jeremy Eden
Selling 101 by Zig Ziglar
301 Best Questions to Ask on Your Interview by John Kador
It wasn’t difficult to find more bestselling business books (22 here) with even numbers in their titles or subtitles:
Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry
The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris
The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling
The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive by Patrick Lencioni
A New Brand World: Eight Principles for Achieving Brand Leadership in the Twenty-First Century by Scott Bedbury
Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon
Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon
The TenX Rule by Grant Cardone
Taking Charge Of Change: Ten Principles For Managing People And Performance by Douglas K. Smith
The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy by Jon Gordon
Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina
Today Matters: 12 Daily Practices to Guarantee Tomorrows Success by John C. Maxwell
Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street by John Brooks
Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup by Bill Aulet
30 Things Every Woman Should Have and Should Know by the Time She’s 30 by Pamela Satran
The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
80/20 Sales and Marketing by Perry Marshall
The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins
The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau
Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
Words that Sell: More than 6000 Entries to Help You Promote Your Products, Services, and Ideas by Richard Bayan
For both lists, I drew from Amazon’s list of the bestselling books in the business category. I don’t pretend this is a rigorous list. Maybe someone with access to BookScan can tabulate whether more books were sold among the titles with odd numbers than the even-numbered titles. That would be revealing.
What’s Your Number?
Odd number in the title, expressed as a numeral.
One thing is clear: titles with numbers, whether odd or even, are very important in marketing books. One blogger asserts, without any evidence, that odd numbers are easier to remember than even numbers. Maybe so. The Guardian recently ran a popular piece that revealed that the world’s favorite number is seven.
I think most people find that some numbers are easier to remember than others. Single digit numbers are easier to remember than two-digit numbers. But some two three-digit numbers are easier to remember than two-digit numbers digit numbers. A team of Dutch researchers published a paper called What Makes a Number Easy to Remember? The team studied over 500 people in their ability to recall numbers from 1 to 100.
The takeaway: the numbers easiest to remember followed this order: Single digit numbers (0-9) followed by teen numbers (10-19) followed by doubled numbers (e.g. 44, 77, 22) followed by numbers which factor and therefore appear in the multiplication tables, such as 49, 36, 60, 84, 27. While memorability for single-digit numbers was above 80 percent, the average memorability for other numbers was around 40 percent. No differences were reported for the memorability of odd or even numbers.
Does any of this persuade you that odd numbers are more effective than even numbers in marketing books? And is it better to use the number as a numeral (The 7 Habits) or spelled out (The Fifth Discipline)?
One thing is clear: selecting titles for books is more art than science. It’s certainly not something that can be determined by the numbers.
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