August 4, 2016

Don’t judge a book by its… title?


Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 12.44.44 PMWe’ve all heard the old cliché “don’t judge a book by its cover.” But how about judging a book by its title?

As publishers, we spend long, agonising meetings brainstorming title ideas (“I know… let’s include the word ‘girl!’”). And book titles do seem to rise and fall in waves, as noted by Emily St. John Mandel in The Millions:

There was a time a few years back when it seemed like vast numbers of books were being published on the subject of secret lives, as in The Secret Life of Bees, The Secret Lives of Buildings, The Secret Lives of Words, etc…

But no trend that I’ve ever noticed has seemed quite so pervasive as the daughter phenomenon. Seriously, once you start noticing them, they’re everywhere… The Hummingbird’s Daughter, The Baker’s Daughter, The Calligrapher’s Daughter and The Murderer’s Daughter, and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

And today’s trend, as we’ve written, really has to be ‘girl.’ (I’m looking at you, The Girl on the Train.)

But our perennial favourites, the classics of old, they got it right… right? Eventually yes, but Jonker’s rare books has recently put together a handy visual listing, explaining the reasons for title changes by books from Frances Hodgson Burnett to George Orwell.

Here’s a list of my top ten favourites, with a bit of help from the Huffington Post.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember this book for its picturesque seaside settings.


Sounds a bit like a self-help manual.


Ummm… is this describing a different book?


Let’s not miss out on her adventures! They’re the whole point!


The possible title for literally ANY book.


A new career twist for Mary.


Many. Things. Wrong.


Not terrible, but not as menacing.


An accurate description I guess.


Just no.


So remember to think carefully when naming your new book! And check out Melville’s The Girl in the Red Coat  it’s a good ‘girl.’

(Thought for new novel: The Secret Girl’s Daughter…)



Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.