The Diagram Prize is a literary award handed out in Great Britain each year for the most bizarro book title. A few days ago, this year’s winner was announced: Crocheting Adventures With Hyperbolic Planes. The runner-up is What Kind of Bean Is This Chihuahua? (Bean is actually the name of the canine hero.) A stipulation for the award is that the titles be genuine and pertinent to the actual content of the book.
Ask any author or editor; they will tell you that the title is the hardest part of the book to create. Novels are easy. But a tiny little title? Think what those few words have to accomplish:
Sum up the theme, plot, and tone of the book
Make a reader pick up the book
Roll smoothly off the tongue (so readers and reviewers can easily recommend the book to their listeners)
And (a book designer will add) be short enough to fit on the book cover
And (young boys will add) not be embarrassing to be seen with
Titles have to accomplish so much in such a short space and time. It’s a daunting feat. No wonder authors quail and editors weep.
Most readers have their favorite titles. A few of mine are Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close as well as his Everything Is Illuminated. Either he’s a genius at coming up with titles or his editor is. And I love the bewitching, bookish, and mouth-watering titles for the Flavia de Luce mysteries: The Sweetness At the Bottom of the Pie and the new The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag (inspired by an 18th-Century English poem).
Titles are in the air at the moment here in the Stone Arch offices because we are working on two future seasons, Spring and Fall 2011. We need titles to accompany those terrific manuscripts that will inspire our cover illustrators. Many authors supply their own. And many of them are perfect. But there are always those titles that need a little help, or might sound too similar to another title and therefore need to be re-imagined.
Someone, somewhere is going to title a new children’s series with just the numbers. Can’t you see it? They’ll give the series a name, like, ZOMBIE PIE MAKERS and then call the first book, Number 1 and so on. And then we’ll all wish we’d thought of that.