Tricky little title changes

The Guardian has recently published an article about why American publishers sometimes change the titles of books. In fact they don’t only change titles, they will also change names, places and spelling. The writer from The Guardian doesn’t really have an answer to why this happens, but happen it does and can be confusing for library users – and librarians!

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon is a good example. It was originally published as Cross Stitch. Then there is The Northern Lights by Philip Pullman which became The Golden Compass, and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone became Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Looking at these titles, it is hard to understand why they were changed. It is a tricky business though, as often it can look like your favourite author has published a new book only to be met with disappointment when the story starts to feel very familiar!

When a new title is given to a book, our wonderful cataloguers always add an entry to the catalogue record that lets you know that the book has two titles.

Notes: Also published as: Cross stitch. London : Rowan, 1992.
Notes: Originally published as: Northern lights. London : Scholastic, 1995.

And whatever title you type in will take you to the correct book.


Hatchets and Hodge: Quirky facts and figures from the publishing world

A hatchet is taken to Morrissey

You might think that most literary prizes emphasised the positive but the British have a snarky prize that is firmly based on negatives. It’s the Hatchet Job of the Year Award and it’s for the best slag off review from a book reviewer. This year the nominees included Peter Kemp (Sunday Times) who slapped down Donna Tartt’s The gold-finch, Frederic Raphael (Times Literary Supplement) who launched his vitriol at John Le Carre’s A delicate truth and David Sexton (Evening Standard) who wasn’t awed by Man Booker winners and took issue with Eleanor Catton’s The luminaries.

Cover of AutobiographyBut the winner was A.A. Gill for his ‘expert caning’ of Morrissey and his Autobiography:

The first quarter is devoted to growing up in Manchester (where he was born in 1959) and his schooling. This is laughably overwrought and overwritten, a litany of retrospective hurt and score-settling that reads like a cross between Madonna and Catherine Cookson.

Patricia Hodge

Fans of Miranda Hart will understand why Patricia Hodge, who plays Miranda’s mother, has called her forthcoming autobiography, My life in, what I call, a book.

Z for Zachariah

Cover of Z for ZachariahLately Hollywood has latched on to YA (young adult) titles for the big screen treatment. Previously, a number of YA novels made it to the screen but in the format of a television movie (such as Z for Zachariah, now being remade as a biggish Hollywood film on location in Port Levy with a Home and away name in the cast). Major reasons for the number of film versions of YA novels are the enormous success of the Hunger games and the Twilight franchises. Upcoming are adaptations of Veronica Roth’s Divergent, John Green’s The fault in our stars, Lauren Kate’s Fallen, Tim Tharp’s The spectacular now, Lois Lowry’s The giver and more.

There is another reason which has been under-played: YA novels usually can get in under the rating radar as PG in America as the R rating can limit audience numbers. There is, as well, to be fair, the fact that they have strong storylines.

Publishing picks

Publishers Weekly gives overseas bestseller lists from time to time and it’s interesting to see whether the US/UK/downunder market is echoed by titles in other languages. Recently Stephen King is up there in the top three for the French and the Spanish while the biggest seller in Germany for some time is the new one from the author of that eccentric novel about the 100 year old man who jumped out of the window. Top Spanish title is La vida es un regalo, the autobiography of a Spanish racing driver who died just before the book was launched while German readers can’t get enough of a style manual by designer Guido M. Kretschmer.

All over Europe the mania for crime novels is the same as in the English speaking world but Scandinavian crime, while still big, is not as big as it was and every country is fielding a crime writer to try and equal Nordic crime.

James Patterson

Cover of Private LAIn the time it took me to write this there’s probably been two James Patterson novels produced. Many of them these days are by other authors (24 have been used now it seems) as Mr Patterson “defines the brand” and lets his sort of co-authors go to it. Stephen King, who actually totally writes his books himself, called Mr Patterson “a terrible writer” but every airport bookshop around the world can tell you they sell more of James P. than anyone else as you know exactly what you are going to get.

Philip Tew

Are we not witty and intelligent?

Making books go beep this afternoon in my wee library, I happened to catch a few lines of a back cover publisher’s blurb.  I had a bit of a rant a few weeks ago about blurbs, and Jane’s recent post about New Zealand writing has also occasioned lots of comments.  This one has really left me scratching my head, so I’m sharing with you.

Thing is, I’m not actually going to tell you the name of the book, or the author, but I AM going to copy out the offending sentence from the back cover.  Because I think I kind of feel insulted – on behalf of New Zealand authors, at least.  I think.  Unless I should feel proud that we DO produce good writers.  I’m confused.

Note that I am not in any way questioning the quality of the book itself, and in fact when I was waving it around another librarian said that it WAS in fact a beautifully written and fabulous book – so good that she went and bought her own copy after reading it in the library.

Read the blurb yourself, and let me know what you think.  And for an extra challenge, identify the book and the author.

These are glimpses from the memoir of a distinguished senior civil servant written in a tradition of wit, elegance, learning and intelligence more familiar in Europe than in New Zealand’s own literary history …

Bad words and prejudice

The only acceptable type of 'bittersweet' ...

Putting books back on shelves this morning, I picked up a title that sounded interesting, and turned to the back cover to read more.  It only took a second to change my mind about taking the book home: the first three words in the publisher’s blurb were “A bittersweet exploration…”

As much as the cover is the first thing to catch our eye, the next thing that many of us judge a book by is all the stuff on the back – summary, blurb, review quotes, author recommendations – there seems to be no end to the ways a publisher tries to entice us to try a book.   Sometimes it works really well, and I am off to the issues desk with my library card; other times it’s an instant turn-off:  bittersweet is great if you are talking about chocolate, but I HATE the word when used to describe a book.

Likewise, the following collection of words and phrases:  astonishing, inspiring, tour-de-force, luminous prose, enfant terrible, profoundly moving, rip-roaring, roller-coaster, homage, award-winning, groundbreaking, debut …  ICK!

And what about those jacket quotes by other authors?  Sorry, publishers, if that Twilight woman is involved anywhere, it’s the kiss of death for me (hur hur).  Likewise, Mr Patterson and Ms Roberts – you can’t tell me they have time to read and recommend ANYthing, given how many books they are churning out themselves.  And how do publishers figure out which authors to mention?  And when?  Big-name authors of 2011 may not survive into 2012, and if their fame is of the trendy and current variety, who knows how readers will feel about them in another five years?

Having said all that, however, there are also words, phrases and authors that will just about instantly propel me to the issues desk.  Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Cory Doctorow, China Mieville – if YOU recommend a book, I am absolutely going to read it, no matter what it’s about.  Fairy tales and magic realism; words like steampunk, quirky, alternate; publishers like Angry Robot, and anything at all related to that odd sub-genre “New Weird”:  all these are definite trigger words for a Yes! reaction, at the very least.

And yet these words and signals are all peculiar to me alone.  For other readers, the very mention of the words “magic realism” are enough to make them run screaming to the exit, while a list of all the fancy-schmancy highbrow awards a book has won will make some swoon with delight (ooh, see my prejudice showing …).

Each to his own, though, I guess.  And as long as Neil and China and Cory are recommending, and AngryRobot is publishing, I will be happy.

What words and phrases make you happy on a book cover?  Are there authors’ names you look for in the recommendations?  Or do you take no notice of all those words on the back, and just dive straight in?