Unlike Melanie, I have the advantage of reading the responses she got to her post, brilliantly titled “Horseshoes and Hand Grenades,” in which she asked for readers’ favorite book titles. Interestingly, no two, so far at any rate, are the same.
To save you the trouble of scanning and collating the Comments, the winners are:
- A DROWNED MAIDENS HAIR because it is layered
- FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON “because you have to read the book to understand it, and when you do, it’s heartbreaking”
- A WRINKLE IN TIME, “where you don’t really know what you’re in for until you dive in head first”
- THE WICKED AND THE JUST, by EMUs’ Debuter J. Anderson Coats,because it “is a fabulous title!” (Melanie said that, not J.)
- THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE, THE MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE, THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING, and WALK TWO MOONS because they come with “the promise of a journey.”
- Another reader likes titles with royalty “because it will inevitably be either fantasy or historical,” which she likes to read.
The title for my own debut book (as of today, I am a former EMUs Debuter, a gratifying but, nevertheless, wistful state), WE’VE GOT A JOB, never wavered. Like Lynda’s, it’s layered because it refers to both what the “main characters” (I call them that, even though they’re real people) had to do—go to jail—and to a civil rights song from that period. Surprisingly, the title came from a nine-year-old girl, Audrey Faye Hendricks. Although she was one of these main characters, Audrey never read the book, alas, because she died before it was published. However, the moment that she told me this song was her favorite, I knew it had to headline the book.
So, it seems that some book titles succeed because they’re evocative and others because they’re true. Perhaps the most successful are both.
What kinds of success do we want titles to produce? Sales, certainly! For this reason, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s editor, Maxwell Perkins, evidently directed him to come up with an alternative to TRIMALCHIO IN WEST EGG. And, not just sales of the finished product but the original sale—to a publisher, some of whom are said to toss manuscripts if the title sounds “dumb.”
What Melanie is seeking, though, is not only a title that will help sell her book but also one that speaks to her. WATER spoke up successfully enough to get and keep her editor’s attention (as, undoubtedly, the text itself did). But the title didn’t resonate. Since I haven’t read the book, I can’t offer suggestions. But, I’m sure it will come, not just to her, but from within her.