“Getting a title is a lot like drawing cards in a poker game. You keep on drawing and they’re all worthless but if you can last at it long enough you always get a good hand finally.”
Titles. We talk about them a lot around the press. Well, we mostly discuss troublesome titles: those that refuse to be clear, concise, and clever (or the 3 c's of successful titles). Titles (which I made up)like All about Monkeys and Tall Chicks would stand out as particularly egregious, especially for a university press. What becomes difficult is when an author feels married to his or her Frankenstein of a title. All about Monkeys is clear and concise, but not very clever. Tall Chicks is clever and concise, but not that clear. Is the book really about tall chicks?
Some of the best non-fiction titles (Freakonomics, The End of Food, Loneliness as a Way of Life,and Hamlet on the Holodeck ) all follow the 3C rule. What Hemingway, in the quote above, alludes to is the process of title making. It is widely recognized that some of Hemingway’s best titles came from his combing the Bible and other old English hymns. But the single characteristic of a winning title is that the author (or publisher) stayed at the poker table long enough to draw “a good hand finally.”
The New York Times recently ran an article about books feeding off of popular titles. I sure hope the Freakonomics cannibalization stops soon.
What are some of your favorite MIT Press titles?