Has anyone else had this? Someone meets you for the first time. You can see the excitement in their eyes when they hear what you do. They eagerly demand to know the title of the book you’re currently working on and you tell them. The smile wavers and the light goes out in their eyes. Nah, you hear them thinking. Not so much.
What is it about book titles? Take virtually any out of context and it immediately sounds dull and uninspiring. ‘Emma’? Nah, not so much. Titles can be too long, pretentious, misleading or obscure. They can also be fantastically intriguing: By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept, Tender is the Night, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. (Do I have a weakness for long book titles?)
If you want to peruse a laugh-out-loud collection of titles, I can heartily recommend ‘Bizarre Books’ by Russell Ash and Brian Lake. ‘Frog Raising For Pleasure And Profit’ anyone? No. ‘The Wit of Prince Philip’? What about ‘Shut Your Mouth And Save Your Life’ by N Trubner and Co, 1869. I could think of a few people to give that to...
No wonder we all agonise over the names of our books. Only for agents to suggest alternatives and publishers to email about a conversation they’ve been having with Marketing. I’ve learnt not to give a fig what any of my books are called; I know someone will suggest something different.
That conversation with a stranger can get worse. I can’t pitch to save my life. I dread the moment someone asks me what my book is about. I can feel the blush rising in my cheeks. ‘Erm, well...’ Silence. The other person isn’t going to fill it for me. ‘It’s about this girl and, like, she goes out one day and there’s this really big thing that happens and...’ Panic takes over. I can’t actually remember what happens. I start to question my plot (again!). If I can’t sum it up in a couple of sentences, it can’t be working, can it? I have to remind myself that other people are much better at the pitch. Agents, for example.
But I can’t tell all this to the person sitting opposite me. Not because they wouldn’t understand, but because they’ve already turned their back on me and are talking to someone much more interesting. My opportunity to impress has been and gone and I’m left in no doubt that I failed.
It doesn’t really bother me; I didn’t start writing in order to have something to talk about. My boyfriend recently supplied me with the best story summary in the world: ‘Once upon a time. Something happened. The end.’ That'll do me.
Which book titles do you love?
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