Odd titles wanted: for books written and unwritten

old books waiting for odd titlesAuthors 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


Mice — but not nude at all, in this Rackham illustration

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 

champagne, the prize for the odd titles competitionOther 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).

I particularly like:odd titles prizewinner: Greek Rural Postmen & their Cancellation Numbers

  • 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?

odd titles in fiction: Short History of Tractors in Ukrainianodd titles in fiction: Salmon Fishing in the YemenIn the fiction stakes, we already have, for example:

  • 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?

two girls share a secret, perhaps odd titles for booksMy Libertà partner, Sophie Weston, tells me she has a yen to write the ultimate Mills & Boon romance, called

  • 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.

Explorer Ernest de Koven Leffingwell poses with cases of Horlick's Malted Milk on Flaxman Island, Alaska, circa 1910

Explorer Ernest de Koven Leffingwell poses with cases of Horlick’s Malted Milk on Flaxman Island, Alaska, circa 1910

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?

In the Arms of the Sheikh, by Sophie Weston, coverSometimes, 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.

Virgin Slave, Barbarian King by Louise Allen, coverI 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.

handbag mirror from Liberta books giveaway

Your funny title could win a neat Libertà Handbag Mirror

We’ll send a natty little Libertà Books handbag mirror (as shown above) to the one that makes us laugh the most.

Joanna Maitland, author


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. 😉

18 thoughts on “Odd titles wanted: for books written and unwritten

  1. Elizabeth Bailey

    Love this. Titles are both pain and pleasure to think up. I see some of the odd gems in writing mag and they always make me laugh.
    My offering off top of head is “She Found him in the boot bag.”

    1. Joanna Post author

      Must admit that I was laughing while writing this blog post. And your offering made me laugh too. You’re not limited to one entry to our silly giveaway. If you think of something else, comment again. xx

  2. lesley2cats

    Oh, gosh, I remember El Sodh. And that one of Kate Walker’s that simply had a Dune on the front – what was that called? I can’t think of any at the moment – my own are so boringly predictable. (Although Glovemaker’s Son made people think a bit.)

    1. Joanna Post author

      Yes, I remember the Kate Walker sand dune as well, Lesley. I think it was nicknamed The Blob but I might have misremembered. Feel free to comment again if you get some funny title inspiration. We’re always looking for a giggle, here in the hive.

  3. Beth Elliott

    Thank you for a laugh out loud moment with this post. I have a story that’s been sitting in the drawer for years, possibly due to its title, which is The Emerald-eyed Hawk. ’nuff said!

    1. Joanna Post author

      Glad we made you laugh, Beth. And I don’t think The Emerald-eyed Hawk is so off-putting. But is it a bird? Or a sexy man? I could imagine a story built around the latter…

    1. Joanna Post author

      Falling for her Doorstep made me laugh out loud Georgie. Brilliant. Thank you. Haven’t followed your link yet, but must clearly do so.

      1. Joanna Post author

        Have now followed and laughed my way through the link Georgie provided. It’s fantastic and very funny. Much recommended.

        I think my favourite, in addition to Falling for her Doorstep has to be The Prince’s Virgin’s Virgin which had my mind definitely boggling, amid the giggles.

    1. Joanna Post author

      The book you cite won the Bookseller/Diagram prize in 1992 and was immortalised further in a book about the prize called How to Avoid Huge Ships and Other Implausibly Titled Books published in 2008. I do like the subtitle of the Trimmer Book: How to Avoid Huge Ships, Or: I Never Met a Ship I liked

      As for M&B… my lips are sealed 😉

  4. Elizabeth Rolls

    LOL! I totally understand wanting to bombproof your horse. Just means you want him to stay absolutely calm while the world goes mad around him. But my favourite working title, that never saw the light of day, was The Virgin Vicar, a Christmas novella that finally became Christmas Cinderella. And I do LOVE Gonad the Barbarian!

    1. Joanna Post author

      You’re right about the bombproof horse, of course, but it’s still a great odd title. Pity The Virgin Vicar didn’t see the light of day. Could have been even better if the vicar had been male, maybe? 😉

      1. Elizabeth Rolls

        How to Bombproof Your Horse is a wonderful odd title. The Vicar was male of course, given the setting. I actually made him a Rector, but felt that sending it in under the title The Rogering Rector might have been a little bit much, even for Linda. And he was a virgin, which was a nice change to write.

        1. Joanna Post author

          Apologies, Elizabeth. Somehow I’d missed that story of yours. And of course, since you write historicals, the Virgin Vicar had to be male. Shows the unconscious biases in my own thinking, that I immediately made the virgin female and overlooked the Regency setting, doesn’t it? Shame on me.

          I’m sure I wouldn’t have missed your story if it had been published as The Rogering Rector. Really made me laugh. It’s almost up there with Gonad the Barbarian. Great stuff.

  5. Joanna Post author

    Just in case anyone is wondering, and hasn’t noticed the PPS added to the end of the blog, our winner is Elizabeth Rolls, for the wonderful and odd title The Rogering Rector. Thanks to everyone who suggested titles. They were all great.

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