Saturday, March 21, 2009

You Don't Want to Read This (you can tell from the title)

How much weight does a title hold in a query?
I ask this because I find that even though I LOVE my manuscript I have yet to name it (and I feel that maybe I'll know my title by the time I hit the turning point so I'm being patient). In order to find it easier in Word I gave it a really basic name that I am totally unmarried to. But when I select a name that I totally love, I realize it may be a 50/50 shot of still being the title by the time it hits the shelves (maybe the odds are even less). Plus something I may think sounds FANTASTIC may be really nauseating to the agent.
I see a hell of a lot of bad titles. And that's ok! In the realm of 'things we can fix' this is an easy one.

But occasionally I see a title at the top of a manuscript that's so ill-conceived and promising of all the skin-crawling wackiness that the slush can offer that... I'm done reading.

My readers-- who are very imaginative-- could not come up with any title more awful than what I see in slush. As clever as they are, they have the handicap of sanity.

But if anyone would like to attempt to come up with a truly slush-worthy title, have at those comments!


Anonymous said...

For a picture book:

Hephaestos Catches Aphrodite and Ares
(In a Net!)

Secretary Geitner and the Big Bad Bankers

Kooky Kamel Kapers

Fluffy and the Fantastic Farting Flamingos

Fastidious Feline's Fabulous Fishing Fiasco

The Leaf That Ate Me

My Toes Turned Into a Piano and Then I Woke Up

All About Suicide

Little Bobby's Briss

I'm not sure these are all awful (I think I might read some) but I do believe they are mostly insane.

Anonymous said...

Bedazzling Boobies!

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm...bad titles? How about;

The Rash That Mommy Doesn't Talk About


The Skinning Of Peter Cottontail

I could think of more, but I'm a little nauseous right now.

NanU said...

"The Earthworm Queen"
This is the actual title of the second volume of my cat's biography. Which exists as a single, handwritten, copy (have no fear; I won't be sending it to you!)

Gary Corby said...

Cutesy Wootsey Teddy Bear and the Toy Box Brigade Versus Alien. Book IV in the Trilogy.

Diarist said...

"New ways to read tea leaves"
"Moondust and Sparkle"
"Poison at Midnight"
"A Tale of Three Sheep"
"A Tale of Three Sheep, a Dog, and a Man in a Meadow"

Well, that's for starters.

A.L. Sonnichsen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Here are a few books I will never write:

Rambling Thoughts from a Dirt Field in South Dakota

Why Do I Pick My Nose?

Amoebas in Verse

Anonymous said...

I recently blogged about some translated picture books (referencing a post initially on Cheryl Klein's wonderful blog) and they had some cracker titles! Like: 'Where is my Leopard-dots Panty' and 'A Girl Born with a Sound of Fart' and 'Are they all Drunken?'

Full of skin-crawling wackiness. Love it.


Chris Eldin said...

"Monkey Pee, Monkey Poo"

A picture book for potty training.

I'm almost afraid to type this because someone will steal my idea.

Joseph said...

Mary Cotter and the Kidney Stone

(See, it's about this orphan girl who gets magic powers, but it's also about teaching children to deal with horrifically painful medical conditions! I smell a bestseller!)

Anonymous said...

A is for Antidisestablishmentarianism

Saundra Mitchell said...

Two Cheek Highway: A Colonoscopy Picture Book

Sam said...

Bobby Bopperly Learns to Hold A Pencil Properly

eluper said...

I am going through title turmoil myself. I recently sold a YA novel to HarperCollins and my editor feels the title I've been using all along won't do. Ugh. It's a painful process. But I understand.

However, the good news is that the book sold, even with the "dreadful" title.

Deirdre Mundy said...

"The Snuggly Bunnies bake a pie: A book so incredibly original and amazing that you probably won't appreciate it, but I already have an offer on the table from publishAmerica, So There!!!"


Unknown said...

So you'll be glad to see my pride and joy, Snodgrass the Ninja Pirate: Reckoning's Revenge, right?

Aubrey said...

Could I leave you my title that is the only thing I can come up with that I think is not so good, for votes to see if it is one of those ick titles? Because seriously I am dying!

Editorial Anonymous said...

Early favorites:

My Toes Turned Into a Piano and Then I Woke Up

Cutesy Wootsey Teddy Bear and the Toy Box Brigade Versus Alien

Two Cheek Highway: A Colonoscopy Picture Book

Chris, you clearly haven't seen Little Monkey's Big Peeing Circus

Aubrey, sure, if you want to.

Aubrey said...

The only thing I can think of for my MS is "Sydney in London" but I am not attached to it at all! Is it too hoaky?

Merry Monteleone said...

Some of these are awesome! I particularly loved this, Gary:
Book IV in the Trilogy.

Let's see:

Barry Totter and the Stone that does Stuff and Stuff (about a boy who's a wizard that finds a stone... yep, exciting)

Bellybutton Fuzz and Other Hygenic Problems: A Memoir

Tales From the Monkey Pit (as told to me by the monkies at Lincoln Park Zoo and is a story specifically for monkies and they tell me you publishing houses are REALLY underserving their demographic)

Tin Foil Hats and Open Toed Shoes (a fashion guide)

Jolie said...

My Snot Is More Colorful Than Your Snot: What Your Mucus Means.

I had to do something with the word "mucus." It is my least favorite word ever.

@Anonymous 8:06-
P is for Pseudoantidisestablishmentarianism. (Oh, snap!)

Editorial Anonymous said...

No, that's fine, Aubrey. It will probably be changed, but it's not going to stop anyone from reading.

Sheila JG said...

Oh, you do have imaginative readers! So funny.

This reminds me of that old post about crazy children's book titles, which you've all probably seen, but I'll share it anyway because it still makes me laugh.

You're Different And That's Bad
Some Kittens Can Fly
Strangers Have The Best Candy

I named my adventure book with a gullible hero "There's No Such Thing As Polar Bear Repellent Spray," which some loved, some hated.

Is it better to be bland, or to try to be original and risk being hated?

Aubrey - Sydney in London is a fine working title, but it doesn't tell me anything about the book, other than Sydney is in London. Maybe you could throw some action in there - Sydney Smith: Homesick in London. Sydney Smith and the London Bridge, Both Still Standing.

Good luck!

Aubrey said...

Well its good to know that it doesn't rank up there on the stink factor along with something like...

"Anorexia for Toddlers"

Sheila, that is my issue, it tells me nothing, but I can't think of one that conveys the nature of the novel that is more clever. Oh well. It's my place holder for now!

Anonymous said...

If You Give a Cookie to Walter the Farting Dinosaur Wizard Pirate

debra shirley said...

Pearl the Squirrel and Her Grandma Adopt a Warm and Fuzzy Love Puppy.

Criss L. Cox said...

Aubrey, my YA's working title is "Senior Year." HOW LAME IS THAT. Your title at least lets us know Sydney is visiting London. My title? Who knows!

Jamie Pogue said...

Pete and Repeat - Part 97

Anonymous said...

I think the title does make a difference. I had a PB turned down by ten publishers. After I changed the title (to one that was definitely better), the eleventh made an offer. Coincidence?

Aubrey said...

It is so good to know that I am not the only aspiring author who struggles with titles! I don't think I've ever read a published book and tought "that title sucks". In fact, more often than not I think, "Oh I get it! Double meaning, cool!"

I hate things like this though because they nag at my brain and inhibit my writing!

Bryan Russell said...

A Dark and Stormy Night

TheOneTrueSue said...

I think it's important to try to come up with a title that fits your manuscript.

I just started working with an agent who told me my query letter was a little dullsville, but the title of my YA manuscript made her laugh, so she took a look at the pages - which also made her laugh. (In a good way.) (I think.)

Anonymous said...

I thought The Moose With Loose Poops was pretty bad -- until I looked at it's Amazon rating.

Anonymous said...

I can't keep a straight face when I read HOP ON POP by Dr. Seuss. I think it was one of Lisa Yee's blog contests that changed my perspective. HA! HA!

Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) said...

Speaking of titles I was on a total... okay, death-kick sounds too morbid, but two deaths within a month had me brooding on Updike's "Perfection Wasted" poem until I realized it was the *perfect* title for one of my WIPs and I started going through my poem books looking for other good novel-titles in the index.

(I settled on "Let Evening Come" just because my previous working title was horribly uninspiringly depressing every time I clicked on it.)

Titles are like character-names to me: if one starts bugging me I can't focus on working till I've fixed it.

Editorial Anonymous said...

There's certainly a long tradition of mining poetry for novel titles. My favorite is A Swiftly Tilting Planet.

Anonymous said...

I would read "The Leaf That Are Me." I'm tempted to write it! Most books about fall are far too uneventful.

Jo Treggiari said...

Creamed and Coddled: the story of an unlucky egg

The Princess and the Popper- a young woman finds love in the unlikely arms of a drug addict

Blow my Whistle- a history of referees

note to self- I sort of suck at this!

Christian H said...

I would actually read a lot of these. The Earthworm Queen? I'm hooked already. 1001 Poems about Flies? I'd buy that. Maybe.

Word verification: hostappi

Anonymous said...

Titles from poetry.
Just think how many there are from just Yeat's 'Second Coming,' alone.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem
What Rough Beast
The Center Cannot Hold
The Blood Dimmed Tide.

acpaul said...

Mutant Space Squirrels And Timmy Go to Dr. Horrible Dentistry

Anonymous said...

Don't forget Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe.

Anonymous said...

nw...that is required reading for
9th graders in our school system.

Chris Eldin said...


I'm not sure if Blogger ate my last comment, but in case not, I just wanted to let you know I was only joking!!!! I don't write PBs (they are too difficult for me), hence I had no ms to tear apart...

I hope I put a smiley to indicate a joke....if not, my bad.

:-) (Smiley meant to indicate cheerful mood and not joking)

I'll be quiet now...

Anonymous said...

Wonderful thread!

Picture Books:

Jesus Bear

Two Boys and a Ferret

Casper Carrot and his Carroty Friends

Hell and Damnation (Illustrated)

The Holocaust As Viewed Through The Eyes of a Stoat.

Everybody Poops by Gillian McKeith (only joking - well about the author anyway)

Anonymous said...

Things My Mommy Told Me Never to Put Into a Wood Chipper


One-Armed Henry

Bob Schechter said...

"The Only Book You Will Ever Need to Own"

"How I Defeated the Schoolyard Bully, Stole His Lunch Money, And Made Him Quack Like a Duck for the School Assembly"

"Tommy's Secret Cigarettes"

shell said...

"Was there bacon involved?"

Anonymous said...

What about doing a #titlefail day on Twitter? Would love to see some of the worst titles ever to cross a slush pile.

Mary Hoffman said...

The Tidy Nun.

houndrat said...

Why My Mama Loves Coors Light More Than Me...and Boones Farm, Too

Boogers and Private Parts Don't Mix

Okay, so I'm not even good at naming bad titles, let alone good ones. Sigh......

David Dittell said...


I have a private blog with somebody else where we try to "out-do" each other in coming up with terrible, meaningless titles for each post, inspired by academia. Things like:

The Progressive Leanings of Intravenous Lead Poisonings


The Infinite Expansiveness of the Mind's Eye, and Other Short Stories


Bloodsport: An Interdisciplinary Look at Hierarchical Melancholy

I think they'd make excellent children's picture books as well.

Editorial Anonymous said...

I agree.

Anonymous said...

Kiki And Her Sick Appendix: A Trip to the Hospital.

Tara said...

Aw, I think Sydney in London is kind of cute, in a YA/chick flick sort of way.

I've seen some bad published titles, but mostly when I was, you know, eight years old... the ones like "Help! I Swept Out The Cats With My Uncle's Broomstick". They're more unsophisticated than straight-up bad, I guess.

By the way, I'd totally read the blog posts David mentioned. They could probably get published, too-- I mean, The Catcher in the Rye did.

Jane said...

Slightly off topic but in the new Adrian Mole book, his mum Pauline is writing a made up misery memoir:

A Girl Called Shit

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