Saturday, March 25, 2017

Problems I'd have been happy to have three years ago: What the &$&# do I call my book?

The reader I always had in mind for this blog was someone like me: struggling to get stuff published, wondering if what you write is any good, deciding whether to keep struggling on or just give up. If that's you, then I hope this post isn't throwing my happiness in your face, like Facebook posts about some vacation you can't afford. It shouldn't feel like that: I'm one of the eleven thousand people this year publishing a book of short stories from a small press. If I'm insanely lucky, I'll sell 1,000 copies. So it's not like I just hit it big, commercially speaking, and can soon quit my day job and go live in fabulous Martinsburg, West Virginia.

Still, I've got a book coming out, which is a huge step in the right direction. Even if I sell only one copy each to my mom and my dad, I'll have a physical thing that shows that I did something. (There will also by virtual things out there in the form of an e-book version.)

There are a lot of decisions I have to make before the book comes out. The first one has to do with the title. It's a big joke in writing that publishers hate short story collections; they can't sell them. They're a little happier with it if the stories "go together" in some way--if they're all about selling drugs, or teenage angst, say. Mine really don't go together. Four are stories inspired by Ethiopian or Eritrean refugees. The rest are all over the place.

One typical strategy is to pick one of the stories in the collection, one you think is strong, and name the whole collection after that. That's what I did when I turned the collection in to the judges. I called it "Dogs and Days Don't Wait to be Called," which is a Tigrinya proverb I'm really fond of, and also the name of the last story in the collection. That was the name the judges used in the announcement.

I'm not tied to it, of course. We have plenty of time before the book comes out to decide, and a long editing process ahead of us. But what would I change it to?

Most of the judges, while all telling me how much they loved the book and that it was a unanimous choice, said they're weren't so crazy about the title. The problem, they said, was that they kept forgetting it.

In an earlier version of the manuscript, which I submitted to various places and lost, I had more stories in the collection that could be considered "bro lit." So I called the collection "Man Problems," even though none of the individual stories was called that.

There really isn't one unifying theme or idea behind these stories. So I don't think that strategy will work. I'm probably going to have to go with just naming it after one of the stories within the collection. I like the one that's there now, but the judges (who are also the editors, some of them with some impressive credentials) have advised against it. I don't really like any of the other stories as a name for the whole book. Somebody suggested "The Strongest I've Ever Been," the name of another story, but while I like it for that story, I feel like a book named that sounds like a self-help book.

It won't really make much difference for sales, by my estimation. The marketing choices for this are probably going to be inconsequential to sales. Even a sales difference of 25% overall between the right name and the wrong one might be 100 only books. At the magazine where I'm a reader, I see story titles I think are terrible come in all the time. I still read them. I figure if the story's good, it's easy to change a title.

So it's not the marketing that's making me think about the decision so much as what my choices say about me. The consideration of following my own instinct versus listening to professional advice seems to be perennial. I want to stick with my original title. But I'm finally getting a book published. Is my first act after that going to be to ignore the people who made it happen? They said it's up to me. I'll probably wait to the last minute and then flip a coin.

1 comment:

  1. Just called it "Stories" or "Farrago" or "Tatterdamalion." Something spare (which is always intellectually appealing -- and i mean that ironically) and vague. "Carmina"