Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Name That Book

A book title is a tricky thing. You want it to be short and sweet so it’s easy to remember, but it also must convey what the book is about.

I had originally called my book Towers of Gold: Isaias Hellman and the Creation of California. But my editor decided the subtitle wasn’t descriptive enough. In particular, he wanted to convey that the book is the story of a Jewish immigrant who rose from modest means to great wealth.

After lots of back and forth, teeth-gnashing and hair pulling, a new subtitle emerged, one that pleased my publisher, St. Martins. I thought it was a bit wordy, among other things, but I will admit it makes people stand up and take notice. It also tells a lot about the book. So the new title is Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California. You can find it in bookstores on November 11.

Last night, a group of friends gathered at the home of Neil MacFarquhar, a New York Times reporter who has a new book on the Middle East coming out in 2009. Neil and his editors had still not settled on a title, so amidst lots of glasses of champagne, crab appetizers, and tiny bites of brushetta topped with heirloom tomatoes, about 15 people threw around possible titles.

I am not going to tell you what emerged, as that is something I will leave up to Neil. But lots of words floated around like fatwah, falafel, bazaar, oasis – in short – words that convey a positive or complex image of Arabic society. Words and titles were called out, followed by brief discussions about how they would fare in the marketplace. We steered clear of the words that just reflect the violence in the Middle East, as the book explores a different part of that society.

I have done these informal title-naming parties before, but never in such a formal manner. It was a lot of fun and I was impressed by people’s creativity and thoughtfulness over what a word can suggest.


Anonymous said...

Frances! Your book is so beautiful and impressive. WOW. Congratulations!!!!!!!

Peter Richardson said...

Yes, the cover looks great, Frances. I look forward to reading the book asap. I didn't realize you knew Neil. I've met him a couple of times, most recently at Christine Pelosi's. Thanks, too, for the comment on my blog. My office is starting to look like yours at the height of your proofing frenzy.