Authors often agonise over titles for their books. Not just odd titles — any title. And finding the right title may be the very last thing an author does. Sometimes, authors never find their title at all; their publisher supplies one instead. (And the angst that process can create could be a subject for several blogs, on its own.)
Odd Titles Competition
There is actually a competition for odd book titles. It’s called the Bookseller/Diagram Prize for the Oddest Title of the Year. It was started by The Bookseller to provide entertainment at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1978 but has since grown quite a lot. The very first winner was:
- Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice
The most recent winner was by Michaela Giles and rejoiced in the title of:
- The Commuter Pig Keeper: A Comprehensive Guide to Keeping Pigs when Time is your Most Precious Commodity
Other splendid titles have won the prize (which is a bottle of champagne or claret, not a huge cheque). Whether the books themselves are splendid is immaterial; the prize is for odd titles not for odd books. Indeed, judges in the early years were discouraged from reading the books, just in case what was between the covers should influence their views of the titles.
Over the years there have been some great winning titles (and the full list, with authors, is on the Wikipedia page).
- Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop
- The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification
- Bombproof Your Horse
- The Book of Marmalade: Its Antecedents, Its History, and Its Role in the World Today
- Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers
(cover shown right — sadly the other covers weren’t available to show here.)
Odd titles in fiction?
Most of the winners appear to be non-fiction books, some of them written to be humorous. What about fiction? Why can’t we fiction writers have some fun with titles?
- A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian
by Marina Lewycka
- Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday
both bestsellers, in spite of (or because of?) their unlikely titles.
But neither of them won the Bookseller/Diagram Prize for the Oddest Title of the Year. Pity, eh?
Odd titles that never made it. Or titles still to come?
- The Sheikh’s Librarian’s Secret Billionaire’s Baby
or some permutation along those lines. Who knows, it might become a bestseller too. I’d buy it, just for the title, I think.
Myself, I have a few titles that I wish I could write. By that, I mean that I have a title, but neither characters nor story.
My fiction title ideas include:
- The Hunk Who Loved Horlicks
- They Call Him Wigan
and my indispensable non-fiction title might one day be:
- Birdwatching in Fog
Must admit I’m not at all sure what kind of illustration I would suggest for the cover of that erudite birding tome.
All suggestions welcome 😉
And odd titles that daren’t see the light of day?
Sometimes, of course, an author gives her book a working title that will never make the cut. I fondly remember Sophie Weston’s El Sodh, though Sophie does not remember it fondly at all. That particular Sheikh book for Harlequin Mills & Boon drove her to distraction, hence her title. It was finally published under a much more respectable title:
In the Arms of the Sheikh.
I remember, too, when fellow-author Louise Allen was writing her first (and so far, only) late Roman Empire book, in which the hero was not a Roman but a “barbarian” invader. The working title, known and giggled over by all Louise’s writing mates was: Gonad the Barbarian. Not only was the hero called Gonad, the heroine was called Viagra. For a while. That title still makes me laugh, I must admit. When Harlequin Mills & Boon published it, they called it: Virgin Slave, Barbarian King.
Not the same ring at all, really, though I believe it went on to sell extremely well.
Odd titles challenge — and a giveaway
Do you have real titles on your bookshelves that make you laugh?
Or do you have an unprintable working title for your wip?
Perhaps an off-the-wall title that you long to write?
If you have any of those, and are willing to share, please leave a comment and tell us about it.
We’ll send a natty little Libertà Books handbag mirror (as shown above) to the one that makes us laugh the most.
PS This is an equal-opportunities giveaway. Males and Females may enter. But if a bloke wins, the prize is still a handbag mirror.
PPS Thanks to everyone who contributed. We have laughed a lot at the titles you have come up with but we laughed most at The Rogering Rector, a wonderful odd title contributed by Elizabeth Rolls, historical author from Australia. Sophie will be presenting the Libertà handbag mirror to Elizabeth next week, since Elizabeth will be in the UK, Saved us a fortune in postage, too. 😉