Titles: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

I have to admit it. Lately, I've become a connoisseur of book titles. I admire the witty and evocative: from Leslie Langtry's 'Scuse Me While I Kill This Guy to Andrew W.M. Beirle's The Winter Of Our Discothèque and Ursula K. Leguin's classic The Left Hand of Darkness. Intriguing titles have enticed legions of potential readers to pick up the book and take a peek.

But recently, I've been noticing bad titles. Horrible titles that, were they inflicted upon one of my manuscripts, would cause me to boycott booksignings, change my name, and refuse to admit to this bastard offspring of my imagination. Please notice that I use the word "inflicted," because in any number of cases, that's what happens. The book's editor or someone from the marketing department takes one look at the title the author gave the manuscript and thinks, "That will never sell."
A new title is concocted, with or without the author's blessing.

Often, the folks from the publisher are right and the author is saved from her own stupidity/naivete/what-have-you. Gone with the Wind was originally called Pansy (urgh!). I'd meant to call my book Night Winds Futile the Winds, from a line of the Emily Dickinson poem, but everyone "heard" it as "Feudal the Winds," or some other nonesensical phrase. My novel Fatal Error (not the most original of titles) fits the book well and was chose after my idea, Heart Drives was batted down as "too romancy". And rightly so, for the book was more mystery/suspense and would have driven off that type of reader (as well as most straight men) with its original title.

But sometimes, you see a title and wonder, "What the heck were they thinking?" Harlequin and Silhouette have been the wellspring of some incredible clunkers of the "Having the Boss's Baby by Force" or "The Pregnant Cowgirl and the Prince" variety.
"Virgin" seems to be a common theme in some of the most excruciating titles, with terms such as "Bride", "Bought by", "Sheik", and "Passion" bringing up the (ahem) rear. I dunno, maybe dumb titles (and before you start flaming me, I'm calling some of these titles and not the books or authors dumb) sell, but it embarrasses me to see romance made into a caricature of itself when so many authors have labored so long to help bring the genre some respectability.

More recently, however, publishers of erotic romance have begun to put out (okay, I confess, there was a little pun intended) books with titles that make those above sound like Atlas Shrugged by comparison. Some are politically incorrect, some are offensive-but-wickedly-funny but all (or most, I gather) are selling pretty well.

The book business has to remain profitable to remain in business, but has it gone too far in terms of titles, covers, and content? What are your nominations for the best or worst titles you have seen of late?

And to rate the title of your manuscript (just for fun), you might try the Lulu Titlescorer. This rating engine gave my upcoming novel, The Salt Maiden, a 35.9% chance of becoming a bestseller. We'll see!


Kimberly Frost said…
I laughed out loud at this post. The first one you mentioned reminded me of that Sly Stallone movie title: Stop or My Momma Will Shoot. Hee hee. What were they thinking?

I personally love your title, The Salt Maiden.

(aka Kimberly Chambers WH RWA )
LOL on that Stallone title. Urgh.

And thanks for the kind words on The Salt Maiden. I thought I'd have to change it because it sounds so unlike any other suspense or romantic suspense novel. But maybe that's its appeal, because I've had a lot of positive response to it. Cross your fingers that that carries over to the marketplace as well!

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