Attended an intriguing talk by Jonathen Williams, the well-known literary agent, recently on the subject of book titles. A good title is a crucial part of getting your book off the shelf and into the hands of a prospective buyer. That’s an important stage on the road to it’s being bought. Lots more in the same vein from Jonathen and all of his talk a salutary reminder of the demands of the market place, all of it plain common sense but liable to take a back seat as we (poetasters especially) brood about the ‘shape’ and ‘style’ of our creations.
A title I always thought was a good one was ‘The Diary of a Nobody’ (by George and Weedon Grossmith, 1892) the word ”Diary’ gives the impression of a relaxing read (which it is) and the ‘Nobody’ bit arrests the interest because… well, how could there be anything of interest about a ‘nobody’? Again, I think there’s a good chance a browser (not the internet kind) would pluck the book from the shelves and look inside.
On the other hand ‘The Diary of a Nobody’ is a ‘classic’ and therefore might probably be avoided
by many on that score. Besides, most bookshops have shelves reserved fo rthe ‘classics’ way down at the back of the store where the hand of man rarely sets foot. What about a more up to date example? What about Dorian Lynskey (no relation, unfortunately)? His book ’33 Revolutions per Minute’ is very well-titled. Of course, unless you know that the subtitle is ‘A history of protest Songs’ and you remember that vinyle LPs (long playing records) had a speed of 33revolutions per minute, you might not get the message. Still, I think it’s a great title. It’s also a great book and a must for anyone remotely interested in the way the protest movement of the late 50s and 60s cascaded into song and the way that protest-song ‘genre’ was finally snuffed out by commercial exploitation. There’s a great chapter in it on Bob Dylan’s great song ‘the Gates of Eden‘, by the way.