Years ago, I learn from my web designer son, an important marketing strategy regarding book titles and product names. It’s this: make certain the first word of any title/name begins with the letter ‘A’. This puts the titled book/named item on the first page of any alphabetized list compiled by commercial outlets and/or public service organizations, like book stores, libraries and catalogs of every ilk. Not always, but often enough it’s considered a long-term truism by top notch PR agents, like my son. (Yes, dear reader, you did hear more than a hint of motherly pride here. Pardon me.)
Thus, my first two books (novels, both) hold that important edge: Away from Hannah’s Castle, and Another Giant World. The WORKING title for my debut poetry collection also met this advertising standard. I borrowed the working title, Akin to Anemic Cows, from one of the poems in the collection. Unfortunately, that name does not survive the first phone call with Atmosphere Press’ Acquisitions Director, Kyle McCord, for a very immediate-term reason.
This newly-released poetry book needs reviews, and Kyle states that some reviewers only read the one poem that carries the same title as the book. (Dang! Those sly dogs.) Sadly, the poem Akin to Anemic Cows is a cute little story about how I got my nickname ‘ike’ but lacks guts, glory, sparkle and pizzazz. Kyle assures me the manuscript includes many other book title possibilities. (Thanks, Kyle. Please know, you escape the temper tantrum I imagine throwing right then—on behalf of sickly cows cowering in barns around the world.)
During that call, Kyle further explains the Atmosphere Press publishing process, including the assignment of an editor who’d have great ideas about potential titles that might serve reviewer needs.
Enter stage left: Trista Edwards, Editor Extraordinaire. (Thank you, Cammie, chief-in-charge of everything authorly, for sleuthing out such a great fit, Trista and me, if indeed, sleuthing is what it took.)
On the day of our first meeting, I’m nervous, and break out with a bad case of the dreads. But in the hands of gentle Trista, I’m put right at ease. Straight out of the phone call gate, she emphatically states: “After reading your manuscript, I felt so joyful.”
Wow! What a great compliment. (Actually, her first comment sticks with me, and I stay alert to the remarks I’ve gained since, hoping they measure up to Trista’s enthusiastic response.) In that same phone chat, we immediately agree (without shouts or scuffles) on the most powerful, grab-the-heart poem of the collection. Giggling, (yes, editors can cut up a bit), we proceed to share our delight with, and mutual admiration of, that one specific poem.
However, I must burst our giddy bubble, and point out that particular poem’s title, The Summer in Between, would not, could not, work for the name of the book because every romance novel about falling in love between one life stage and another, commonly occurs during the summer season, and would’ve been used many times already. Instantly, Trista looks online for that poem’s given title. “Whoa!” she immediately sniffs out proof in the googly pudding.
So now we need a new title for the book, AND for what Trista calls its strong masthead poem. I love it! Just like that, we’ve gone from barnyard cows at center stage, to a vessel with a ship’s mast in the middle. She flips our mental dials, and the dialing will continue rolling forward to yet another image once we reach a new name. Lots of creative fun to be had, working with Trista!
Of course, I am required to make a list here. (Read on to learn about lists popping up, here, there and everywhere in the realm of book-to-market. The demand for lists seems to proliferate as the publishing train cars clang together and choo-choo on along. You see now, cherished reader, Trista does ships, I do trains. So, there you go! We find common ground in the shared arena of public transportation.)
Now back to this list request from Trista. For it, I need to yank out ten or so image-packed phrases, two or three words long, from the oh-so bluster-resistant masthead poem. Once gleaned, I turn the list over to Trista, in hopes our jaw-dropping new title shines out from the bunch.
This is the point where the poetry boat—or train—seems to set sail—or leave the station—and run smack dab into a fog bank. I turn in my list, Trista gets gears going under the hull—or the butt end of the caboose—and presto magic! She gets back to me with a new title, Whistler of Petty Crimes.
(What?! Where’d that come from?! Not from my list.)
(Sorry, son, master of advertising. W is as far away from A as all other alphabet letters, except for those laggers X, Y and Z. Too distant, I know, honey. So, let me buy you lunch to make up for this Whistler title tragedy.)
Dear Trista, I do believe your editor extraordinaire super powers include the sort of x-ray vision that leads you to read between list lines in order to chart a straight, smooth path for the manuscript under your consideration. Such an astonishing gift of sight you’ve honed while sitting on your editorial throne. (Thanks for sharing it with me.)
To this day, Super Trista claims the Whistler of Petty Crimes title IS somehow, somewhere, encrypted throughout the phrases on my list. In the end, there’s no answer to the question about the speed at which the title shows up. We don’t know. Or at least we can’t agree on the origins. It’s ships vs trains, depending on who you ask. No matter. After all, who can’t fathom—or chug up alongside—a titular mystery. (To that, I say “Choo-choooo”.)