Title Me This, Title Me That


One of the treats I indulged in during my summer hiatus was a mini road trip to Woodstock, GA. This quaint little town outside of Atlanta is home to one of the most unique independent bookstores, The Foxtale Book Shoppe.

Its one of the those bookstores where you feel transported to the past when bookstores were curated with love and that oft missing personal touch. When shop owners knew their inventory and why they stocked precisely what was on their shelves.

One of the most engaging aspects of the Foxtale Book Shoppe is their events calendar. On any given week, they host a variety of author events from book signings to author readings and even author panels.

This June one of the authors they had scheduled was Lauren Willig. She was in town for the arrival of her new novel, The Summer Country. And, added boon for us attendees, her collaborator in Team W and author extraordinaire in her own right, Karen White, joined her.

During the discussion these two women hosted, an interesting topic emerged. The topic of titles.

Karen and Lauren were talking about the long journey that The Glass Ocean (see post here) undertook to receive its name. It’s a very funny story full of all sorts of terrible and hilarious titles. I wish I had been taking notes because some of those titles were laugh out loud bad. However, one of the things that Karen White said and that Lauren Willig seconded was how much of a grip publishing houses have on titles and even subjects.

For example, right now in the historical fiction community, there’s a big push by publishers to have their authors right about World War II. Sometimes they’ll let that stretch to World War I and the post periods after each, but they’ve got an algorithm somewhere that tells them that readers don’t want another time period historically. We readers, apparently, want World Wars. That observation on these authors’ parts was very funny to me as I had just been discussing with several of my fellow historical fiction loving friends how tiresome all the current releases were because they were all about the world wars.

But, back to titles. It was a natural segue in the conversation from The Glass Ocean by Team W to the new Tradd Street novel on the horizon from Karen White. Apparently the newest installment in White’s Tradd Street series had a dickens of a time getting a name. Karen was back and forth with her publishing house volleying ideas regarding the title. Finally, in a moment of frustration, Karen said, you can pick any title you like so long as it isn’t something cheesy like The Christmas Spirits on Tradd Street.

Well, dear readers, guess what the title of the newest Tradd Street novel is? That’s right. The Christmas Spirits on Tradd Street.

When someone in the audience asked why they were so gung-ho about the name, Karen said it was because publishers loved to sell books with Christmas in the title.

This remark opened an entire can of worms. Lauren and Karen ended up sharing some secrets of the trade when it came to keywords publishers loved to use in titles. Here are a few:

  • Summer

  • Beach/Beaches

  • Girl/s

  • Christmas

  • Stranger/s

  • Wife/Wives

  • Daughter/s

  • Mistress

That got me thinking. Moreover, it got me paying more attention to the book tables at bookstores. These ladies are spot on. There is an abundance of titles out there containing one or sometimes more than one of these keywords.

So, let’s play a game. Below are a series of photos I’ve taken from my local Barnes and Noble of their book tables and shelves in the fiction section. Let’s play a literary version of Where’s Waldo. How many titles can you spot that have one or more of the keywords? Do you notice any other keyword trends among the titles? And, if you’re really looking to play hard, how many of these books do you think are about one of the world wars? (I will say that since we’re moving into the autumn, the books tables don’t contain as many summer reads as they did between May-August, but you’ll still see beach-y and summery themes displayed.)

So, what do you think? Do you think these keywords make a different in selling titles or do you think authors should have more say as to what their books are called? And, since I brought it up, you historical fiction lovers- are you tired of the preponderance of new releases centered around the world wars?