I know that covers sell books, well, at least for now, before e-books run us over, but do titles do the same? Is it best to plagiarize an existing best-selling title, and modify it a bit to ensure that unintended searches will unearth your book and present it to an unsuspecting reader? I had some unasked-for success when my novel After the Flood came out in 2009, a few months after a more famous book called The Year of the Flood; readers kept sending me e-mails from around the world congratulating me on the great reviews the other Flood book was receiving. And, I did not plagiarize titles here, I had been toiling at my tome for over seven years and had a slew of publishers, rejections and other obstacles to wade through before I arrived at my launch party, late, as was to be expected.
Is it better to use the most unremarkable title like The (Something) or a longer one like the curious incident of when I went to buy groceries and met a long cool woman in a black dress? Or adapt one of those biblical passages that Hemingway was so fond of using even if it has no relevance to the story: I lay me down in green pastures (and fell asleep).
I have been struggling to find the title of a collection of linked stories that I would like to see published next. These stories cover the immigrant experience from both sides: the home country and the host country, and deals with the unfinished business often left behind, the emotional baggage that prevents the immigrant from making that final commitment to his new home, to what was originally just a leap of faith. I started with Unfinished Business, then I found out that there were plenty of titles under that moniker; also it could be mistaken for a poorly written business book. I fell upon Memories – too soppy and melodramatic. Departure Stains was next, but it sounded like someone had taken a dump on the old country and run away in a hurry seeking sanctuary in the new home (which is true of some shadier immigrants, but is not a general condition). From Both Sides Now is the name of a famous song, so I discarded that one. In desperation, I thought of Untitled but even that has been taken several times over. My Short Stories would be too immature, Immigrant Stories would be better as a sub-title, and I Can’t Find A Bloody Name For This Book would definitely sound paranoid.
Titles do get books noticed, that much I am sure. To validate my hypotheses in this day of “instantly read and instantly forgotten,” I recently published a collection of my once-published short stories on the popular reading site Wattpad, under the title of Lest They Be Forgotten, and hit the 100,000 reads mark in less than four months – ironic, eh?
Should I ask my publishers for my next title? After all, if they are going to market my book, let them do some work. But then I could see the rebound question hitting me squarely in the face: “You can’t even articulate the theme of your book with an appropriate title? Okay – Reject Pile. Next!”
Dear readers, you could be my last resort. If you have an idea, please let me know. Perhaps cyberspace will come to my rescue, and as Frasier Crane said, “I am listening…”