A Just Job for the Thirsty Murphys

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 layeredOne for the Murphys
  • 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.)
  • 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.



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13 responses to “A Just Job for the Thirsty Murphys

  1. L.B. Schulman

    My YA debut is called League of Strays, but it used to The Losers’ Club. I liked the original title and had a hard time changing it. But a) some of my friends said it sounded too middle-grade, and b) there was another book, written several years back, with the same title! So I always tell people, check out Amazon first to make sure your title hasn’t been used before.


  2. Cynthia Levinson

    I’d say another book with the same title would be dispositive. I forgot to mention in my post that I almost didn’t use “We’ve Got a Job” because it’s also the title of a song, Audrey’s favorite civil rights song, and we weren’t sure about the copyright. I checked several times with a copyright lawyer, who said that the subtitle changes it sufficiently that we’re probably OK. So much goes into naming. It’s like our babies!


  3. J. Anderson Coats

    Titles are hard! I’ve never been particularly good at naming things. I always wanted to be like Emily Dickinson and number them instead.


  4. Cynthia Levinson

    But your title is so fantastic, J!


  5. Cynthia, I’m sorry to be bidding you farewell from our little blogging collective. I think your book would be doing fabulously with any title, but I certainly think the one you picked is perfect! Don’t be a stranger here at EMUs Debuts as you go on to bigger and better things out there in the world!


  6. Cynthia Levinson

    Thanks, Jeannie. But, there’s nothing better than EMUs. This was my launching pad. And, I have you to thank for it, as you were the brains, the braun, and the imagination behind it. In any case, I’m not going away entirely. I promise to return for the launches of the charter EMUs, including J’s, which is in 10 days!


  7. “So, it seems that some book titles succeed because they’re evocative and others because they’re true. Perhaps the most successful are both.”

    Love this!

    And I, too, am sad to see you leave Emus, Cynthia–although I know you will still be around. With J.’s launch in ten days and mine in a month, I guess Emus will go through changes–left in the creative, capable hands of the new Emus and some of the old. I, too, will return for Lisa, Natalie, Mike, and Jeannie’s launches. This is an incredible group of people–talented and generous and headed for great things!


  8. Natalie Dias Lorenzi

    Knowing that you’re leaving EMUs, Cynthia, must be akin to how I’ll feel when my kids go off to college–so proud of their success and yet sad to see them go! But like you said, we know you’re not gone from EMUs for good–you’ll be back some weekends to do your laundry and eat some home-cooked meals. 😉


  9. Cynthia Levinson

    LOL, Natalie. I’d do your laundry any time, especially since you cook up such great books and teacher guides.


  10. Although our official time together as Emudebuts only overlapped for a short while, I feel fortunate as a reader of this blog to have watched your journey to publication. Your book is off to a wonderful start and I’m eager to see what comes next for you!


  11. Cynthia Levinson

    I’m curious to see what’s next, too, Jeanne. In fact, I’m talking with my editor this week. I’m also eager to see YOUR debut!


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