Monday, November 09, 2009

Judging a book by its title

This past July, I wrote up a review of the historical novel at left. Although 2009 isn't anywhere near over, it seems safe to say that it'll easily make my top 5 list for the year, if not the top spot altogether. (I don't want to make any pronouncements, as I haven't started Wolf Hall yet, and I've heard... maybe a few rumors that it's supposed to be good.)

And so I was extremely pleased to learn that it will be published in the US next year. Jude Morgan is a novelist who, I feel, has never received the wide acclaim he justly deserves, although this will be far from his first book to be published stateside. If I'm to believe Amazon as well as Baker & Taylor, it will be released as a trade paperback on April 27, 2010.

However, there'll be a change of title. Instead of the poetic and thematically appropriate The Taste of Sorrow, the US release is currently going by Charlotte and Emily. No cover art available so far.

This puts two of the main characters' names up front. Famous names sell books, and readers can easily guess who they are. Maybe the original title was too vague? Too much of a downer? (Does anyone expect a novel about the Bront√ęs to be a pleasant walk in the park?) I'm all for increasing the potential sales of a novel of this caliber, but the new title is bland, it's overly generic, and it misrepresents the content to some degree. There are three viewpoint characters in the novel, and the revised title omits one of them.

At the All About Romance blog in June, Lynn Spencer talked about this phenomenon in the context of romance novels -- how imaginative titles are being tossed out in favor of generic ones when the books are reprinted. Her post, along with the comment trail that followed, is worth reading. Another example: Susan Wiggs's historical romance Vows Made in Wine has been re-released as The Maiden's Hand. One reader made a comment that stuck with me: "I think that they’re really sucking the poetry out of book titling with this generic, keyword-driven approach."

This may very well be a smart marketing tactic, but I can't help feeling a little sorrow for the poetry lost... as well as for poor neglected Anne.


  1. While the generic titles may tally more hits on the internet and instantly signal the reader as to what the book is about, ultimately I think it makes the titles of those books less memorable. We all remember titles like: The Grapes of Wrath, The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird. But Charlotte and Emily? Hmmm.

  2. I totally agree about that title change. And speaking of poor neglected Anne, you have seen this comic, right? My students loved it.

  3. Hilarious!! I'm glad I'm not at the reference desk now because people would wonder what I was laughing at.

    The new title isn't memorable at all, even in comparison to other recent Bronte novels. Even in "The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte" you'll get an idea of tone and focus.

  4. Pity. "The Taste of Sorrow" is an intriguing title, that would make me pick up the book just to see what it was about (although thanks to your blog, I've known about it for a long time and already have a copy). "Charlotte and Emily," aside from leaving out poor Anne, might actually serve to narrow the book's audience by preventing those who aren't particularly interested in the Bronte sisters from giving it a second look.

    Loved the comic, by the way!

  5. I just about peed my pants at this. Title change or not I want to readdddd. But the title is quite stupid, Charlotte and Emily. I must admit I often find boring titled books boring.

  6. This new title is far less intriguing. I've also disliked the changes of some of the old Plaidy titles. "St. Thomas' Eve" actually had something to do with the book and was more accurate than "The King's Confidante" which is the new title.

  7. Anonymous9:58 PM

    I much prefer the poetic titles. Maybe publishers could compromise by using both, with keywords first for search purposes, and the evocative title as subtitle to attract readers in the store. "Charlotte and Emily: The Taste of Sorrow."

  8. Shame. I much prefer The Taste of Sorrow.

  9. How sad! The Taste of Sorrow is a beautiful title. I like a title that raises a question, and this one does. The U.S. publisher could have opted for a subtitle: "A novel of ... " if they wanted to be more content-specific.

    It's often said that publishers know their markets, but I don't think this is always true.



  10. What a limp title. It could be 19th-C chick-lit. I'd rather have "The Taste of Sorrow: A Novel of the Brontes" or something like that. "Charlotte and Emily" doesn't tell me anything to make me want to read it, whereas "The Taste of Sorrow" does. But I would have read it anyway. It's a moving and perceptive triumph - and Sarah's review here on her blog does it full justice.

  11. That's a good way of putting it, Sandra - a title that raises a question. I agree. A little mystery that persuades me to take a closer look at it.

    The subtitled version would've worked for me too.

  12. I love Sarah C's suggestion of Taste of Sorrow, A Novel of Charlotte & Emily Bronte. Since Morgan's other titles gave you no clue who they were about unless you flipped it over to read the back, I have a feeling this new title is to help him sell books here in the US.

  13. I came over to comment that I felt the smae way about the Plaidy titles, but Jen has beaten me to it.
    I definitely understand the sense of something lost when something original and as improtant as a title is tampered with, when it is something that is near and dear to your heart.
    I have heard of Jude Morgan before, and I have the books on my wish list on paperbackswap hoping at some point something with become available. They all sound wonderful! I am glad though, despite the name change, that the book is being reissued.

  14. I agree with Sarah's comment above--the title does have a chick-lit bent to it (I envision Charlotte and Emily taking a whirlwind trip together in which they discover life, love, and a pair of magical pantaloons that fit anyone).
    On the bright side, I am glad that this will be available stateside!

  15. I'm not happy about the change in the name, either! I really like Jude Morgan. I think it's an alias for a well-known author whom I can't think of at the moment. But I'll buy the book under whatever title it may be sold :-)

  16. Yes, it is wonderful that the book will be available more widely. Morgan is a pseudonym for Tim Wilson, who has also written as T.R. Wilson and Hannah March. Excellent writer, regardless of the name he's using.

  17. How annoying- I think 'Taste of Sorrow" works really well as a title. The suggestion of a sub-title to make the subject clear is a good one. And I have to say-- some readers may not actually be clear about who "Charlotte and Emily" are-- it never pays to make assumptions.

    Love that cartoon about Anne B., btw, brilliant :)

  18. Anonymous9:12 AM

    Katherine, the cartoon is a great hit!

    Pity about the title. I've also been told my titles were too long or too something. I don't think most readers want or need the dumbing-down that publishers seem to think that they do. It's symptomatic of the entire approach of the industry to the reader.