Thursday, October 25, 2012

Titles--Part 1

    (This article was previously posted on Musa Publishing's blog, as well as on Sloane Taylor's blog.  I'm reprinting it because it will be new to most of the Coffin Hoppers.  Also, this version is slightly longer than the previous posted one, mostly more example of Funny and/or Strange Book Titles--kind of a writing version of deleted scenes, I suppose.)

     Like probably a lot of authors, I sometimes have problems coming up with titles for my stories.  Often I complete the tale first, then give it a title.  It’s a tricky thing—you don’t want to use a name that’s too obvious, or too boring, or too obscure, or too pretentious.  It can be an awfully fine line sometimes.  For my previous ebook (Dead Reckoning), I made another mistake—I chose an extremely common title.  A check on Amazon reveals dozens of other books by this name.  For this release, then, I chose a much rarer name—I couldn’t find any other books called Kaishaku, at least in English.  Kaishaku is the historic Japanese practice of a friend mercy-killing another friend who’s committing ritual suicide, or seppuku.
     Anyway, because of all this, today I’d like to post about titles.  Due to space issues this will broken up into two parts, with Part 2 being posted tomorrow. 

Original Titles of Famous Books:  It’s weird to see these, as we’re so used to the eventual titles, but it’s a reminder that even great, successful books went through some revisions.  In most case I think changing the title was the right choice.  Thanks in particular to The New Book of Lists, (2005) by David Wallechinsky and Amy Wallace.

1)      All’s Well That End Well—better known as War and Peace (1866) by Leo Tolstoy.
2)      Among Ash Heaps and Millionaires and Trimalchio in West Egg became The Great Gatsby (1925) F. Scott Fitzgerald.
3)      Twilight became The Sound and the Fury (1929) William Faulkner.  (Insert your own sparkly vampire joke here.)
4)      Jettison, Tote the Weary Load, and Mules in Horse Houses became Gone With the Wind (1936) Margaret Mitchell.
5)      Something That Happened was changed to Of Mice and Men (1937) John Steinbeck.  How generic!
6)      Before This Anger eventually was retitled, Roots (1972) Alex Haley.
7)      First Impressions became Pride and Prejudice (1813) Jane Austen.
8)      The Tree and the Blossom was changed to Peyton Place (1956) Grace Metalious.

An Amusingly Bitter Author’s Quote About Titles:
     “A writer who does cherish his title would probably do well to hold it in reserve and not present it until two or three others, all duds, have been duly rejected, leaving the editor with his editorial honor intact.”  Charles Portis.

     As my first ebook’s “relatives” were evidence for, you can’t copyright a single title.  The very rare exceptions to this are if it can be shown that an author is intentionally tricking the public into buying a book under false pretenses (i.e., another famous book).  You can, however, trademark a series of books, and this is recommended.  So give up your plans to put out your own Chicken Soup for the Soul or (Blank) for Dummies opus.

Longest Book Titles:
1)      670 words, or 3999 characters with spaces, for Nigel Tomm’s Selected Works of Nigel Tomm…. (2007).  Kind of a cheat, since this was obviously contrived.  Mr. Tomm also had a novel consisting of one 400,000 plus word sentence, so he has a pattern.  Even Fiona Apple thinks this title is a little much.
2)      290 words, or 1443 characters with spaces, for Davide Ciliberti.  Didn’t find much detail on this, but he might be the Italian version of Nigel Tomm.  (Also, the title was in Italian).

Titles Taken from Other Literature:  Some authors actually use passages from other books for their titles, which I guess is considered a homage (if folks like the book) or a shameless ripoff (if they don’t).
1)      Absalom, Absalom (1936) by William Faulkner, was taken from the Bible, 2 Samuel 19:4.
2)      The Waste Land (1922) by T.S. Eliot, was taken from Jessie L. Weston’s From Ritual to Romance (1920).
3)      A Confederacy of Dunces (1980) John Kennedy Toole, was taken from Jonathan Swift’s Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting (1706).
4)      East of Eden (1952) by John Steinbeck, was also from the Bible, Genesis 4:16.
5)      I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) by Maya Angelou, was taken from Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem, Sympathy (Couldn’t determine exact publication date, but between 1895-1905).
6)      Remembrance of Things Past (Put out in seven parts, between 1913-27) by Marcel Proust, was taken from William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30 (1609).  (This was the title given to the English translation—the French title was (translated again) In Search of Lost Time.)

Funny and/or Strange Book Titles:  Incredibly, these titles are all real.  And sure, some of them are intentionally humorous, but quite a few aren’t.  The British magazine, “Bookseller” has given out the Diagram Prize annually since 1978 to the strangest book titles.  Many of these were past winners.

1)      Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice.  Authors not listed, but published in 1978 by the University of Tokyo Press.  Not a bestiality treatise, but a medical study on mice with inhibited immune systems.
2)      Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality (1987) edited by Glen C. Ellenbogen.  Intentionally funny, it’s a book of humor/parody for psychiatrists.
3)      The Book of Marmalade:  Its Antecedents, Its History, and Its Role in the World Today (1986) by C. Anne Wilson.  This is a sincere, nonfiction book.  And here I was just spreading it on my breakfast toast, not considering its precursors, evolution, and how it shapes our politics.
4)      The Joy of Sex:  Pocket Edition (30th Anniversary Edition, 2003) by Alex Comfort.   Because Pocket Books reprinted this.  What did you think, pervert?
5)      Bombproof Your Horse (most recent edition, 2004) by Rick Pelicano and Lauren Tjaden.  Finally an end to those constant barn explosions!  (Actually the title is misleading, it’s about calming your horse down, and it apparently well respected.)
6)      How to Make Love While Conscious (1993) by Guy Kettelhack.  Wait, you can do that while you’re awake?  Who knew?  (Really it’s quite serious, it’s geared toward recovering alcoholics, and how to have sex while sober.)
7)      How to be Pope:  What to Do and Where to Go Once You’re in the Vatican (2005) by Piers Marchant.  I’m no marketing expert, but I have to figure that even if this book is awesome, there’s still kind of a limited market for it.
8)      The Novel (1992) by James Michener.  Jeez, James, show a little creativity, huh?
9)      Curbside Consultation of the Colon (2008) edited by Brookes D. Cash.  Call me a prude, but I think this should be done in a doctor’s office.  (It’s a serious reference book.)
10)  Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich (2009) by James A. Yannes.  You don’t often see such a weird mix of incredibly specific, lame, and yet bordering on the offensive all at the same time.
11)  Father Christmas Needs a Wee (2011) by Nicholas Allen.  Great Yuletide gift for the child who loved “Everyone Poops.”
12)  C is for Chafing (2011) by Mark Remy.  I’ll bet Sue Grafton is pissed.  (It’s a running book for kids and parents.)
13)  Smocks (1983, 2008) by Maggie Hall.  Am I missing something—aren’t smocks the aprons kids wear in art class and such?  There’s actually an entire book on this incredibly limited topic?  Really?
14)  English Smocks (1961) by Alice Armes.  Well, that shut me up.
15)  Your Three-Year-Old:  Friend or Enemy? (1980) by Louise Bates Ames and Francis L. Ilg.  Only by reading this book can you achieve détente with your toddler.
16)  Giraffes?  Giraffes! (2004) by Dr. and Mrs. Doris Haggis-on-Whey.  Love this one.  The title asks a (ridiculous) question, then answers it.  Plus the authors might have my favorite name ever.  I’m tempted to go to…Scotland, presumably, and get adopted by them so I can be Paul Haggis-on-Whey.
17)  Teach Your Wife to be a Widow (1959) by Donald I . Rogers.  So it’s a suicide manual for married men?
18)  All About Scabs (1998) by Genichiro Yagyu and Amanda Mayer Stinchecum.  Strong candidate for Grossest Book I’ve Ever Heard Of.  Hopefully it’s a coffee table book with plenty of color pictures.  (Really it’s a kid’s book.)
19)  The Joy of Uncircumsizing! (1994) by Jim Bigelow.  Remember how I said that How to be Pope book probably wouldn’t sell well?  I think it would still beat this.
20)  The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America:  A Guide to Field Identification (2006) by Julian Montague.  Is this like the book version of The Producers?  Otherwise, why would anyone, anywhere, and at any period in time ever want to read this?
21)  Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All (2008) by Christina Thompson.  Not really that funny, I guess, but as a horror fan I think it’s badass.  (Really a history/memoir detailing Maori/Westerner interactions.)
22)  Cheese Problems Solved (2007) edited by Paul McSweeney.  Maybe I’ve led a sheltered life, but all of my cheese problems have been solved by simply buying more.
23)  Do Dead People Watch You Shower?:  Questions for Mediums (2007) Concetta Bertoldi.  If the answer is “yes,” I don’t know whether to be terrified or really turned on.  Or both.
24)  Natural Harvest—A Collection of Semen-Based recipes (2011) by Paul “Fotie” Photenhauer.  Forget the scab book, we have a “Grossest” winner.
25)  My Duodenal Ulcer and I (1955) by Dr. Stuart Morton.  Not any info about this, so I’m going to choose to believe that it’s a sweet memoir, with lots of pictures of the author and his duodenal ulcer on vacation, having a romantic dinner together, etc.
26)  My Prostate and Me (1994) by William Martin.  Okay, ulcers and prostate have been done, but there are plenty of other body parts available to write books about.

That’s it for now.  Also, I should probably mention that I intentionally left off subtitles and didn’t reveal some books’actual topics for comedic reasons.


  1. This is a lovely, fun post! I had no idea Faulkner wrote the original Twilight. ;) Although I had heard the "Trimalchio in West Egg" debacle before, but with the added horrible flourish that Fitzgerald was toying with "The High-Bouncing Lover." I don't even ... okay, I do know where my mind takes that. He made a wise decision in going with "The Great Gatsby."

    Picking titles is horrible! I struggled with a title for my debut novel. The best I could do was STOLEN CLIMATE, which always makes me add the disclaimer, "It sounds like a bad romance novel, but it's really horror!" Names are difficult, no matter what.

    Happy Hopping!


  2. Aniko--hadn't heard about "The High-Bouncing Lover"! That would have been really weird, and a bad title. Thanks for stopping by, and good luck with "Stolen Climate." By the way, I don't think that sounds romance novel-ish--maybe slightly science-fiction-ish.

  3. Lord, some of those titles are umm...pretentious. Yes, always check. Hey, I wrote something called Coming Home. Got any idea how many Coming Homes there are on Amazon? But nothing else really fits the title. When you consider how important a title is, it's mind-boggling how difficult it is to be original but right on the button.

  4. Lord, some of those titles are umm...pretentious. Yes, always check. Hey, I wrote something called Coming Home. Got any idea how many Coming Homes there are on Amazon? But nothing else really fits the title. When you consider how important a title is, it's mind-boggling how difficult it is to be original but right on the button.