Monday, November 19, 2012

Titles That Jump Off the Shelf



I took my daughter to a thrift store yesterday on a sweater-shopping spree. I strolled over to the used books while she checked the racks (she failed to find an acceptable choice from the hundreds of sweaters available) and wound up buying a used copy of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. (It's a novel, but was mistakenly stuck in the history section.)

There's so much that goes into shopping for a book, especially when you're just browsing the bookstore shelves. An unusual title is one thing that might get me to take a peek; it's what got me to take a look at a book I discussed awhile ago, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (since made into a movie with Ewan MacGregor and the lovely Emily Blunt). I'm a lot less like to pick up some book called A Blue House or The Lost Love or something.

I wonder about the science of picking a title. How often do agents and publishers require authors to change titles? Is there, in fact, even a science of title selection? Is there some old marketing report sitting in a file drawer somewhere at Random House-Penguin (or is it Penguin-Random House)? (And wouldn't "Random Penguin" be a great name for a publishing house -- or a rock band?) The same question applies to cover art, of course -- is there an actual science of this subject, or is it all seat-of-the-pants decision-making?

Anybody know the answer to those questions?

Any favorite title that you just couldn't resist?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Truth IS Stranger Than Fiction

Is this Petraeus scandal delicious or what? A perfect example of how "truth is stranger than fiction."

A woman gets some weird emails and goes to her friend, an FBI guy, who convinces his pals to open an investigation, even though there doesn't really appear to be a crime. This winds up uncovering an affair, which really ought to be nobody's business, that brings down one of the most powerful men in the country, a potential Eisenhower-like presidential candiddate. Then it turns out the FBI guy has some kind of relationship with the original complainant, because he was sending her shirtless pics of himself, and that he went to Republican congressmen because he had a political motive -- seeing some kind of Obama administration coverup under way, even though Petraeus is a Republican -- and so now he is now being investigated for unprofessional conduct. Meanwhile, the original complainant, having destroyed the life and career of one man she considers a friend, also appears to have set in motion a process which has now ensnared another four-star general, who has sent her 30,000 (!) emails. So the woman who is carrying on some kind of weird relationship with the FBI guy, and another one with the general, may have wrecked her own life and marriage in the meantime!


You couldn't make this stuff up. No agent or publisher would accept a query this bizarre. No one would buy the story. Too many coincidences. Characters acting too stupidly: everybody knows email isn't secure, especially the director of the CIA! C'mon.

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