Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Book titles are funny things

I know many of you read that and immediately thought, “Great! Blechta’s going to give us a list of ‘unfortunate’ title choices for books. I need a good laugh.” Well, I could do that, but the title of this post is less on the fifth word’s meaning of “ha-ha” and more on its “strange” meaning.

Vicki’s post yesterday really got me thinking about how titles come about. We all know the importance of a book having the most compelling, buzz-producing title possible. It can be an hugely strong marketing tool.

Case in point: Top selling crime writer Peter Robinson had a book with two titles ten years ago. Two titles? Yes. One by his two publishers in North America and completely different one from his publisher the UK. Now, I know Peter reasonably well and know what his title preference was. I think you’ll be able to spot it at once. In NA the book’s title was Final Account. In Britain is was Dry Bones That Dream.

Now, which one is more evocative and memorable? Final Account is very North American. On this side of the pond, we want punchy titles of few words, generally nothing poetic. But is that necessarily a good idea? I would certainly pick up a book with the title Dry Bones That Dream simply because it has an interesting title.

Ever hear of Smilla’s Sense of Snow? The Mexican Tree Duck? The Concrete Blonde? Don’t their titles make you curious? I bought all those books simply because I was intrigued by the title. As an aside, Smilla was a translation from its original Danish and the title was the North American one. In Britain, they had a different translator and publisher and the title of that edition was Smilla’s Feeling for Snow. Not quite the same, is it?

I am sure I’m stating the obvious when I say all writers (and publishers) obsess about book titles. I seldom have any idea what I’m going to call a book when I sit down in front of a blank page, fountain pen in hand. (Yes, I do write a lot of my novels in longhand with a fountain pen. Call me nuts.) Having written enough of them, I know a title will present itself in the fullness of time. Usually it’s my characters who suggest something, a couple of times it’s been my muse (the lovely wife), and once it was a Viennese cop. The thing about a book’s title is that there’s something magical about it. Somehow they always seem to arrive, often in the most unexpected way.

Have all my choices been great ones? Sometimes I hit a home run. Do I have nightmares about missing something obvious and giving one of my literary offspring absolutely the wrong title? You bet. And I know I’m not alone in that.

At the very least, a book needs an evocative title, one that will pique a punter’s interest and get them to  pick your book off a shelf to glance at the covers, front and back. The real brass ring we’re all reaching for is a title that is so compelling and so memorable that you just can’t help wanting to check the book out. Was I overjoyed with the three titles mentioned above? No. One was a bit ho-hum, but its title at least got me to lay down my hard-earned cash.

And that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

Speaking of book titles, my latest novella was released today and is now available far and wide. (Don’t know how far that extends, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?) So go to Amazon or some other online source, or even more importantly, your local independent book store and ask for it. It’s called The Boom Room and it’s absolutely the finest novella I will be releasing this year. No guff!


Barbara Fradkin said...

I think "The HUndred-year-old man who climbed out the window and disappeared" takes the cake. I think NA publishers don't understand the power of curiosity. But you're right, Rick. Titles are terrifying and capricious. They arrive in their own good time, and sometimes they are wrong.

Eileen Goudge said...

My best titles come to me when I'm in the shower. Go figure. I've had a few copycats through the years, so I must be doing something right.

Rick Blechta said...

Guess we should all take more showers...