One of the most interesting aspects of the publishing business is the titling process. I’ll briefly detail how this is done and then emphasize that titling a book is probably the only moment of pure fun that a publishing staff enjoys.
Usually, the process of titling a book is really about community, to use a term much-loved by “moderate” or left-leaning groups. As Hillary Clinton might say, it does take a village to title a book.
It bears mentioning, too, that the “working title” sent in by the author is often … not good. I’ve seen some ghastly titles in my day. It has never made sense to me how a writer can craft a really terrific manuscript, but butcher the title. This is one area where a publisher/editor/agent usually has much better judgment, due to experience alone.
A great training ground is the gritty world of a newspaper office; the legendary ones don’t exist so much anymore – think “The Front Page” – but the pressure of writing headlines under the withering glare of a cigar-chomping old-school editor, as I did, has a way of focusing the mind. After you do several of those, the experience gained and the creative juices will flow together. It is a good skill for a book editor to learn.
It’s my hunch that in the majority of cases, a working title is not the final one. Publishers have too much time and money invested in a book project to allow sentimentality or soft author feelings to stand in the way of re-titling a book. Often, in a book contract, the working title is used, but then changes.
A title like “The Manchurian President,” or “The Roots of Obama’s Rage” are quite good. So far as I know, those were the original titles. But let me give a hypothetical, to illustrate how the process often works.
For “The Manchurian President,” let’s say that the original working title was “In the Shadows with a President Who Is Not What He Seems.” Believe it or not, I’ve seen many such hideous titles over the years. That is the point that a genteel editor (oxymoron?) suggests that the editorial board might like to take a crack at the title.
Sales and marketing people will tell you that you have .00000000016 seconds to “grab” a book shopper. Okay, you have about two seconds. If the title doesn’t grab them – and remember, books are usually spine-out in a store, making the author’s job even harder – they move on to one that will. It’s just that critical in selling a book.
As I’ve said many times, there are simply too many books being published, glutting the market. A title is a critical component.
Well, more could be said, but the real point of this week’s Writer’s Bloc is that in a world so rotten, it is important to find something that’s fun. Having a healthy dose of fun is critical to navigating each day. To that end, I have laughed all week about the news that a book entitled “Managing a Dental Practice the Genghis Khan Way” has won an award for oddest book title.
The book was awarded the “Diagram Prize” in London. Read the following blurb about the award, and try to stop laughing, just try:
The book by former dentist Michael Young offers a guide on how to build an empire in the dentistry field, and it includes chapters on managing conflict situations, team building and “planning for disaster.” The prize was decided by a public vote on The Bookseller’s website. In his book, Young argues that despite the western world viewing the legendary warrior in negative terms, his warmongering tenacity is required to build a successful business.
Last year’s winner, “Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes,” saw its sales soar by 1,500 percent within a month of winning the prize, which has been running since 1978. This year’s other shortlisted titles were “What Colour Is Your Dog?,” “The Italian’s One-Night Love-Child,” “Myth of the Social Volcano” and “The Generosity of the Dead.”
“I am delighted that in economically troublesome times publishers the world over have continued to publish incredibly niche titles with powerfully obscure titles,” the BBC quoted The Bookseller’s Horace Bent as saying.
That led me to uncovering a wealth of other weird book titles. Of course, we have the fake titles for fake projects, that are still very funny: “Robots,” by Anne Droid, or “Hot Dog!,” by Frank Furter.
Yet, get a load of these legitimate book titles:
- “How to Avoid Huge Ships,” by Captain John Trimmer
- “People Who Don’t Know They’re Dead” by Gary Leon Hill
- The History of Lesbian Hair
- Bombproof Your Horse
- Cheese Problems Solved
I simply don’t have words for this kind of brilliance. And of course, I checked on Amazon to see that these real titles (after all, if you were on fire, wouldn’t you check first with Amazon to see if in fact you are on fire? I would).
Another Amazon search turned up this gem: “Pooh Gets Stuck,” by Isabel Gaines, Disney Press, 1999. It is no longer in print, evidently. I wonder why?
Then there are the titles by Cynthia Heimel, a multi-talented writer whose book titles are somewhat the stuff of legend. Just three that I can mention in a family setting:
- “But Enough About You: Avoiding Fabulousness”
- “When the Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’ll Be Me”
- “If You Can’t Live Without Me, Why Aren’t You Dead Yet?”
Well, sometimes the pursuit of a great title becomes the only point of a book project, and that’s not good either. But let me tell you something: in a world as challenging as ours, if you can make people laugh, you are a wonderful person indeed.