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Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Changing the Title 

The Literary Saloon comments on how Andrew Taylor's latest novel, THE AMERICAN BOY will have a different title in the US when it is released early next year. Although I agree that it's thoroughly annoying that the title will be changed, from a marketing standpoint, unfortunately, it makes some sense.

I haven't read the novel, which is shortlisted for the CWA's Historical Dagger and currently favored to win, but as I said earlier, it looks to be my kind of book. Yet the first thing I thought of when I saw the UK title was the old radio serial Jack Armstrong, All American Boy, a staple of my father's childhood and something I'd heard of as a child (yes, this is what happens when you're a twentysomething with parents born before the baby boom. It makes for strange cultural references.) The point though is that the title wouldn't make a reader think of crime or mystery, but of adventure and teenage rambunctiousness. In context, the title makes perfect sense, as it is structurered around the young Edgar Allan Poe, an American boy living in London and mucking about all sorts of intrigue. But I'm sure the marketing people at Hyperion saw this and knew the book wouldn't sell.

Which is why titles get changed all across the pond. Carolyn Parkhurst's THE DOGS OF BABEL is called LORELEI'S SECRET in the UK, which confused the hell out of me when I saw it in bookshops over the summer because I thought Parkhurst had magically written two books in a short period of time. PJ Tracy's "debut" (since the mother of the team has written romance novels under another name) MONKEEWRENCH has the (much better) title WANT TO PLAY? in its UK edition. If the title is going to grab a reader's attention, it must be able to then hook the reader into picking the book up and buying it. What works on one continent doesn't necessarily work in another.

I only wish there was some synchronicity because readers can be a savvy lot. They don't always wait for the US edition if the UK edition is available. That's why there's Amazon UK or independent bookshops to sate their cravings.

Getting back to Taylor, unlike the Saloon lot I think the title change will likely do the man good. Up till now he has not been a big seller in the US, but judging from the marketing plan for this book, Hyperion has high expectations. A Dagger win will solidify these expectations even further. Publishers keep looking for a successor to the megaselling THE ALIENIST, and Hyperion has deemed Taylor's new book to be it for them. Whether it will be, of course, remains to be seen.

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