The 10 Fastest Growing Independent Publishers

With the impending cuts to programs like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Endowments for the Arts, the future of many small press and independent publishers has been brought into question. However, even with the political turmoil, some independent publishers have risen above the rest and seem to be thriving remarkably over the past few years. Here is a list of the top 10 fastest growing small presses.

 

  1. Nimbus Publishing from Halifax, Canada has grown their revenue 31% from 2014 to 2016. Nimbus only released 32 titles in 2014 as opposed to 48 titles in 2016. Their step-up in international marketing and promotion is likely the biggest contributor to their revenue increase.

 

  1. Graywolf Press from Minneapolis, MN has grown their revenue 49% from 2014 to 2016 despite their number of titles released in 2014 as opposed to 2016 actually staying the same. With the increased revenue, they have gone from 11 employees to 13.

 

  1. Sasquatch Books from Seattle, WA has increased their revenue 55% from 2014 to 2016 despite only releasing 36 titles in 2014 as opposed to 27 titles in 2016. However, their launch of Little Bigfoot, the company’s children’s imprint in 2014 created a significant increase in revenue. With the increased revenue, they have gone from 16 employees to 19.

 

  1. Haymarket Books from Chicago, IL has increased their revenue 67% from 2014 to 2016, releasing 60 titles in 2014 as opposed to 79 titles in 2016 and going from 11 employees in 2014 to 14 employees in 2016. Their strategy has been publishing political and social justice titles. Given the present political climate, their sales have been understandably high.

 

  1. Diversion Books from New York, NY has grown their revenue 67% from 2014 to 2016 with their ventures in Ebook publishing and print distribution for indie authors. They released 60 titles in 2014 as opposed to 79 titles in 2016 and going from 11 employees in 2014 to 14 employees in 2016.

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  1. Page Street Publishing from Salem, MA has grown their revenue 117% from 2014 to 2016, releasing 21 titles in 2014 as opposed to 54 titles in 2016 and going from 6 employees in 2014 to 12 employees in 2016. Page Street maintains an optimistic outlook, upping its title count to around 70 for 2017.

 

  1. Greystone Books from Vancouver, Canada, now we’re getting into the big numbers, has grown their revenue 253% from 2014 to 2016. Like Graywolf Press, Greystone’s number of titles released in 2014 as opposed to 2016 has actually stayed the same at only 20 titles, but they went from 11 employees to 14.

 

  1. Europa Editions from New York, NY has grown their revenue 277% from 2014 to 2016. Like Graywolf and Greystone, Europa’s number of titles released in 2014 as opposed to 2016 has actually stayed the same at only 29 titles, but they went from 3 employees to 4.

 

  1. Callisto Media from Berkeley, CA has grown their revenue 286% from 2014 to 2016, releasing 36 titles in 2014 as opposed to 122 titles in 2016 and going from 24 employees in 2014 to 34 employees in 2016.

 

  1. And, finally, Cottage Door Press from Barrington, IL come in with a whopping 558% increase in revenue from 2014 to 2016, releasing 0 titles in 2014 as opposed to 82 titles in 2016 and going from 9 employees in 2014 to 19 employees in 2016. Their focus on high quality children’s books has given them a great boost in the market with their staff of experienced children’s publishers.

 

With all of the political and economic turmoil, it is certainly nice to see some small presses flourishing.

Roald Dahl: Magical Realism For Kids

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In my father’s collection, mixed with that of my mothers, are Bibles, a set of untouched Shakespeare plays, The Catcher in the Rye and other old high school texts like Paradise Lost, and, most importantly, a substantial number of Roald Dahl books. Together, we read The BFGThe WitchesFantastic Mr. Fox, both Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Great Glass Elevator, The Magic Finger. Suffice it to say: I was well-read in a particular author and, dare I say, genre.

These are books placed in the real world and enveloped with magic, books about misunderstood or impoverished children stepping out into a bigger, more fantastic world. They gave way to more intense, deliberate fantasy like that of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien as if Dahl’s books were primers for the kind of books I would read independently. The events depicted within these books are wild but ordinary–tasteful wallpaper, cunning foxes, dream-catching giants. Yet the fantasy Dahl presents always come through the lens of the child and is always tangential to the “real” world, allowing fantasy to mix with reality in a stew most commonly referred to as magical realism.

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The fantasy worlds presented in Roald Dahl’s children’s books aren’t fantasy at all. They are, for the most part, a version of our reality drenched in the surreal and the ridiculous, all of it presented as misunderstood fact. Sure, Fantastic Mr. Fox and James and the Giant Peach feature talking animals, arguably a total departure from reality,  but the events of those books occur, for the most part, away from the “real world,” almost within the imagination of our child narrators. In other works, “real witches dress in ordinary clothes and look very much like ordinary women,” there is a Big Friendly Giant who kindly and invisibly defends the world against bad dreams, and little orange men run a chocolate factory (and an not a country).

The magical realism of adult fiction is different mostly in that its intentions are far more, well, adult. In The Satanic Verses, Rushdie uses the genre to broach the subject of religious fantasy, Marquez uses it to obscure the passage of time and bind together the Buendía family, but Dahl, in a far more playful tone, uses it to replicate the child’s mind. His characters, in many ways versions of himself, are allowed to imagine themselves out of horrible situations and, in doing so, manifest that imagination.

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Take James, whose parents were eaten by a rhinoceros, for instance. He wishes for an escape from Aunts Sponge and Spiker and, voila, enter the mysterious man with the magic bag. The BFG‘s Sohpie finds herself awake at her orphanage at the worst time of night–that’s the Witching Hour–and is whisked off into an uncanny land of giants. Hopeless Charlie Bucket dares hope for a golden ticket and is rescued by chance from poverty. Dahl writes about escapism through the children’s imaginations.

The magical realism here isn’t anything like its older brothers in Marquez, Kafka, and Rushdie, but Dahl’s children’s books certainly represent a proto-genre for the larger world of almost believable magic. At the very least, Dahl’s fantasy is deeply entrenched in representative fiction. Which is to say, it isn’t fantasy for the purpose of writing fantasy, but to tell a particular story.

Certainly, growing up with Dahl informed my literary trajectory. Discovering Marquez in high school and that fiction layered with abstracted reality can often better represent reality than cold realism was an important step.

I wonder how many people have a collection like this. Shelves that are weighed down by children’s books that, consciously or not, inform their future interests. My parents, notably, were avid Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew readers and they grew up to read the thriller-mysteries of Greg Iles and James Patterson. Certainly, that isn’t an anomaly for their generation but Dahl’s age group likely reads different texts every generation.

You Won’t Believe How This Bookstore Tricks Millenials Into Reading The Classics

Over the last few years, there have been many valiant attempts to encourage younger generations to pick up classic books. Recently I took part in a project called Recovering the Classics. Recovering the Classics was started by the New York Public Library to get students to create new covers for books in the public domain. The response, while from a niche audience, was amazing and the art that came out of it was incredible. As a part of the project you could get a book with your cover printed and my local library ordered copies of the books that my classmates and I had drawn. Now, a bookstore in Dallas has a new idea.

Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 2.58.04 PM.pngThe Wild Detectives bookstore has been using Medium to create clickbait articles. They shared these articles on their facebook page and since then the project has gone viral. Each article has a title that beckons you inward. Everyone is guilty on clicking to see what the stars of a show look like now or checking out the Buzzfeed article entitled “Ten Pieces of Toast That Look Like Channing Tatum”; your curiosity simply gets the best of you. Wild Detectives use this to their advantage. The first article that they posted was entitled “This Italian politician makes Trump look like a saint.” Your average concerned reader might click on the article to see what Italy has to put up with now. They would be surprised when they were redirected not to a political essay on Italy, but to the full text of Machiavelli’s The Prince. Other titles are the same. “When It’s Okay to Slut Shame Single Mothers” leads to The Scarlett Letter and “Teenage girl tricks boyfriend into killing himself” contains the entirety of Romeo and Juliet. When people figured it out, the comments were mostly positive. People felt tricked, yes, but they were also happy to find a story they might enjoy reading.

The idea that millennials have to be “tricked” into reading is the subject of some debate. recent research suggests that more books are being consumed by people under 30 than by the older generations. However, millennials seem to spend so much time on the internet that it may seem hard to sit down and pick up a book. Making books that are in the public domain accessible on the internet could be a huge help to younger people who want to consume these books from their phones.

Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 2.57.51 PM.pngWhile many older texts are available, they are not in an easily consumable format. Full texts online are cramped with annotations, strangely formatted, or in unreadable PDF documents. I’m not suggesting that every book without a copyright be copied and pasted into Medium, but it is an aesthetically pleasing… medium. The large words, wide spacing, and the simplicity of the site makes reading easy, even from a phone or tablet. Is this the way that all books will eventually go?

As someone cultivating a library that has already reached more than 600 books, I am the last one to ring the “print is dead” alarm. I think that books are a significant part of all cultures and the best way to consume information and stories. But if a facebook post proclaiming “German doctor first to perform full body transplant” will get someone to read Frankenstein, I am all for it.

WGA Strike 2017. What does it mean?

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Writers_raise_signs_at_wga_rallyHistory looks to repeat itself yet again, or at least it could if the WGA and the AMPTP can’t strike a deal.

For those of you that don’t know, the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Programs are currently in negotiations for a new contract for film and TV writers to get funding for the guild, and possibly increase that funding. But the deals are starting to fall through, and if neither side can reach an agreement, the WGA will go on strike beginning on May 2. The guild stated that a if a strike occurs, then “writing for television, feature films, and digital series would cease.”

The last time this happened was in November of 2007 and lasted until February of 2008, when the WGA fought for increased funding in comparison to larger movie studios. While the film industry wasn’t hit very hard by the strike, television suffered as a result. Seasons of popular shows were cut short or delayed, other shows were cancelled, and there was a large uptick in reality-television programming. Late night TV was hit the hardest, as these programs had to air reruns due to most of their staff being laid off.

If another strike were to occur, we can expect some of the same results. Some of our favorite shows might have shorter seasons, and anybody looking for some sharp, late night political humor will be out of luck (though Trump supporters might be a bit happy about this considering their president is the butt of most of the late night jokes).

If anything, I think this strike really does illustrate how important writers are to the television landscape as a whole. While big name stars and high-quality productions are important, if you don’t have a team of good storytellers behind you then you won’t get anything done.

As much as I would love for my favorite shows not to suffer because of this, I would support a strike if it does happen. Writers should be equally compensated for their work as what they do is where every film or tv production starts. The AMPTP should never underestimate the power of a good storytellers, especially if they hope to keep their profits moving for the upcoming pilot season.

Why Every Small-Town Girl Should Read The Mothers By Brit Bennett

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They know what it’s like to lack privacy…

Any small-town girl can generally empathize with Nadia Turner’s predicament in Brit Bennett’s debut novel, The Mothers. After her mother commits suicide, Nadia adjusts to the frequent whispers as she walks by. She is pitied by everyone, especially the oldest generation of church-going women – the mothers.

Bennett uniquely uses he mothers as a frame to Nadia’s story, as they know all the town’s gossip and spread their knowledge to everyone, acting as a sort of moral police.  However, when Nadia finds herself pregnant with the Pastor’s son’s baby at seventeen, she struggles to keep her secret hidden.

Like Nadia, all small town girls come to the eventual realization that whether you’re playing hookie or kissing a new boy under the bleachers, rumors will fly and your secrets will never be safe.

They’ll do anything to adventure somewhere new, but eventually return home…

For Nadia, keeping the baby is not an option – she is too thirsty for travel and education, while being painfully aware that a teenage pregnancy will most likely deprive her of these opportunities. After deciding to secretly abort her baby, Nadia leaves for college at the University of Michigan and never looks back. It’s not until years later, for her best friend’s wedding, that Nadia returns to her hometown. After her father falls ill a few months later, she finds it surprisingly easy to abandon her new life and resume her place in the Turner household.  This leads to the dramatic revival of an old romantic fling and Nadia’s eventual assumption of a role among the mothers, herself.

Growing up in a small town can make a girl go stir-crazy… desperate to experience city life and venture to bigger and better things. While at a young age this seems thrilling, we eventually find ourselves either homesick for the comfort and familiarity that comes with knowing every passing face in town, or, like Nadia, forced to return for one reason or another.  We find ourselves distraught when we do return home over new buildings being built and old ones being torn down, exemplifying how we will forever be tethered to our small communities.

They are Eskimo sisters with at least one of their best friends…

“Eskimo sisters” most loosely describes two friends who have (at one time or another) been romantically involved with the same partner.  In a small town, without a large pool to choose from, most women find this to be inevitable.  My town is so small that I actually became Eskimo sisters with my own sister…but that’s another story entirely.

Nadia Turner is no exception to this strange occurrence. After leaving for the University of Michigan, travelling abroad, and finding a new love interest, Nadia receives a phone call from her best friend from home, Aubrey, ecstatic that her boyfriend has proposed.  Nadia is shocked to hear that said boyfriend is the Pastor’s son with which Nadia had conceived a baby years ago.  Not wanting to disclose the details of she and Luke’s past, Nadia returns home to once again become encompassed in the mothers’ rumors and gossip.  She finds her life suddenly spiraling out of control as she becomes painfully aware of details from her past that were previously hidden, while simultaneously trying to hide these details from the people she loves.

Why The Man in the High Castle Matters Now More Than Ever

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You’ve probably heard the buzz about Amazon Prime’s popular TV series The Man in the High Castle. The series is set in a 1960s dystopia with the Axis as WWII victors. The U.S. is divided into three zones: The Greater Nazi Reich controls the East, the Japanese control the Pacific states, and a neutral zone lies in the middle of the country. Hitler is still in power. Swastikas are everywhere. Americans are second-class citizens.

The story follows Juliana and Frank Frink, who become members of the underground resistance. Along with others, their goal is to distribute a movie reel across the country that depicts the Allies as the war victors. Making this video available to the rest of the country will portray how improved their living conditions would be if the Axis had been defeated. They want to dismantle the Nazi regime and what it stands for, even if it means risking everything they have.

The Amazon series premiered in January 2015 and the second season began in December 2016.highcastle Due to its extreme popularity (it’s currently the most watched show on Amazon), it’s been renewed for a third season.

So how did Amazon craft this interesting, almost too-relevant plot? The series is based on a historical fiction novel written by Philip K. Dick in 1962. Dick received the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1963, but the novel disappeared from the public eye until just recently. The Man in the High Castle book sales have increased since the TV adaptation – it reached No. 38 on the NYT Best Seller List on November 24, 2015. Due to high demand, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt published a hardcover reprint of the title in October 2016.

How was this forgotten book able to soar to the Best Seller List 53 years after its first publication? It can’t merely be because lots of people watch the show – many people watch TV shows and movies based on books but never pick up the literature. There must be something deeper here.

Some people may see a correlation between Dick’s alternate fascist reality and the current state of the U.S. government, as well as across the world. In Dick’s novel, Jews, the disabled, Americans, and even the Japanese are discriminated against as part of the Reich’s institutional racism. And for the most part, these groups of people accept this degradation because they believe they have no choice. While this smooth transition into fascism may seem far more like fiction than reality, I think The Man in the High Castle has become so popularized because people can relate it to implications of discrimination and racism in today’s society.

A psychotic world we live in. The madmen are in power. How long have we known this? Faced this?

Yet Juliana and Frank, among other characters, shine a light through the dimness of Dick’s alternate world. They pretend to be a part of the Reich while smuggling illegal items (books in the novel, films in the TV series) across the country – crimes that are punishable by death. Even though their actions probably won’t change the course of history, Dick’s characters risk their lives in hopes of bettering society.

Ultimately, The Man in the High Castle shows that resilience combined with art forms such as film and literature is a way to creatively combat the unjustness in the world. Although we can’t rewrite history, the book’s rise to bestsellerdom and the show’s popularity gives its viewers inspiration and faith in the future of our own reality.

New Power in Narrative: Diversity at AWP

The 2017 AWP (Association of Writer’s and Writing Programs) conference held in Washington D.C. this February made a big splash following the hectic presidential election, the call for representation in literature higher and more vital than ever. A protest of president Trump’s travel ban targeting Muslims took place right in the middle of the lobby, right in front of the only coffee stand so you couldn’t miss it. Tensions rose as strangers linked arms and chanted and anyone in the room with a working heart could feel the pulse of change within the literary community.

Generally, the AWP groupies, writers and readers alike, share a common blood of left-wing acceptance. Most writers were the kids who don’t fit in at school, and as a result, the literary community flourishes off the diversity of ‘weirdos.’ If that wasn’t enough, we’ve read classics like Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, all the way to modern novels, like Emma Cline’s The Girls, that have given us an abundance of empathy, putting us in the shoes of characters whose stories, otherwise, wouldn’t have been known.

For all the kids who never had a safe space, AWP is it. There’s collective acceptance, support, and in a new way, power.

Ashley Lamb-Sinclair’s “When Narrative Matters More Than Fact,” published in The Atlantic, explains the power of stories, because “Facts mean very little to people caught up in storylines.” In the context of the election, she explains, “For many Americans, Donald Trump is a hero on a journey; for others, he is a villainous stranger who has come to town.”

The literary community, the creators of so many stories, are in an interesting position. We can choose the narratives we create, and form waves of change with them. AWP was buzzing with that power this year.

Despite the traditional, brief sections of cultural awareness, this year’s conference displayed an array of new panels, diversity dominating the conversation. Panels like “The Politics of Queering Characters” and “Amplifying Unheard Voices” showed unity for change like no other. Given the current administration, there was a call to a responsibility of writers and literature. But even more surprising, there was discussion about how diverse literature itself is limited, for even when people create queer characters, they’re either “too queer” or “not queer enough.” This is obviously unfair because gender normative characters don’t have this issue. But the conversation felt encouraging. People are noticing, talking, and figuring out better ways to write non-conforming literature. All eyes are on us and AWP prepared for it.

Having attended many of the panels and readings, my favorite being “Women Writer’s On Writing Violence” (I’m in love with Robin Wassermann’s Girls On Fire), I noticed many sections interweaving. Race and gender. Sexuality and religion. Throughout all of it, there was one question people kept circling. Authors and attendees wanted to know: Where do we go from here?

In times where the NEA’s funding is threatened to be cut, writers must pave the way with narratives that capture people’s hearts.  The way we think philosophically and economically about the literary community will be tested. For me, simply a student who loves writing, reading, and what the literary community stands for, finding the answers is far from easy. But I do know the only choice we have is to move forward. So no matter what happens or who runs the white house, we will continue to provide a safe space, this small bright light, for a chance to grow in tolerance and representation.

Movies and the Standalone Novel

One of my favorite books in the world is The Time Traveler’s Wife. I’ve read it so many times that it looks like it’s been through a war, with dog-eared pages pointing to various paragraphs and bookmarks sticking out of especially memorable passages. Each time I read it, I’m struck by the way the author manages to recount events two or three times, in the chronological orders of both the protagonist and her time-traveling husband, in a way that seems fresh, providing new details that further the plot and enhance character development with each retelling.

I can’t often sit still long enough to watch a movie, so I didn’t pay much attention to the hype of the movie adaptation in 2009. Actually, it wasn’t until this spring break of 2017, after rereading the book for the umpteenth time, that I decided I was going to bring myself to sit down and watch it. I was so excited. I got in my pajamas, made some popcorn, dimmed the lights…

…And was massively disappointed. What did they do to Henry?! All the complexity and life that I loved about the book was sucked out, leaving a stale, generic romantic comedy that only differentiated itself from any other romantic comedy through the protagonist’s time-traveling ability, which was transformed from a diving board into the question of morality and religion into an entertaining quirk.

Watching this, I realized that this isn’t the only movie adaptation that has disappointed me. Some of my old favorite novels, such as My Sister’s Keeper, The Lovely Bones, and Dear John, were also turned into cringe-worthy movies that wrenched out every deeper motif of the novel and left the movie with nothing but the bones of the story, A-list actors, and overhyped commercialization.

Series with mass followings such as The Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter aren’t stripped down of everything that makes them worthwhile when they are turned into blockbuster hits, so why are standalone novels?

I think the movie industry misreads the success that drives novels. They may think these books sell because they’re new and exciting, and producers think they need to change the movie adaptations as much as possible to avoid boredom. They completely take for granted that the love of books runs deeper than the love of plot points. They ignore the complexities that drive people to like a book in the first place.

How can this be avoided? Personally, I think this is partially the fault of us as a culture. We give no indications that we love books because of their complexities, or that we want to see more than just the bare bones of the story in the book’s movie adaptation.

The back of The Time Traveler’s Wife lists three pages of questions for book club discussion. In 2003, there were book clubs. Maybe there are still some today that are just hiding from me, but I think we have transitioned primarily to reading as an individualized experience. Nobody knows how much we care about books or what we like about them, because we don’t share it outside of academic circles. The mass readership is so quiet that of course movie producers are going to think they’re getting bored and need things changed up.

Things may be changing for the better. I’ve begun to hear mass talk of The Handmaid’s Tale, the first series-less novel I’ve heard talked about in a long time. This book is getting a show, not just an hour-and-a-half-long movie. Shows have more room for complexity, and I’m more hopeful than perhaps I should be. So maybe I’ll show my support for the series if it turns out to be any good. Maybe I’ll start a book club. Or maybe I’ll just stop trusting Hollywood with the great task of bringing my favorite characters to life.

They did, after all, ruin Henry.

It’s Just a Story: Nitpicking and Accuracy in Media

In the Michael Bay disaster movie Armageddon, there is a scene one of the spaceships sent to land on the asteroid heading for Earth makes a crash landing. As the crew escape the wreckage, there are flames in the background. Obviously, fire doesn’t seem out of place shortly after a crash- except they are on an asteroid with minimal oxygen, thus there is no way a fire could be burning in the vacuum of space. Of course, this asteroid also somehow has the gravitational pull equal to Earth, even though it is much, much smaller than the moon. And there is the whole awful plot point that NASA thought it easier to train oil drillers how to be astronauts rather than train astronauts how to use a drill. Piloting a high-tech drill should be enough for astronauts to handle, right?

The inaccuracies and plot conveniences pile up the longer I think about it, which leads to complaining to whoever I’m watching the movie with about them. Cue the phrase I hear the most in those moments: “It’s just a movie.”

As a writer, I have always strive for accuracy and logic within my stories, relentlessly researching anything that I might not know. As a reader, my entire enjoyment of a novel can break when something feels illogical or-worse- when I know there is something illogical. Fantasy and science fiction are the worst offenders of this. Don’t get me wrong: I have always loved fantasy as a genre and I have no problem buying into the worlds there. Yet there are moments when I can’t help but find corrections.  While reading Harry Potter  and the Deathly Hallows, when Harry, Ron, Hermonie leap from the back of a dragon into a lake below, I remember wondering if jumping from so high up would have killed them. Perhaps the dragon was a high dive’s height from the water. Even so, the impact would have at least hurt a ton, especially if they weren’t making a practiced swan dive into the water. I spent so long thinking about this, I had to remind myself that I was supposed to be reading something.

Or take a book series I read when I was younger, Warriors by Erin Hunter. As a middle schooler, I was brought into the world of feral cats fighting for survival, but now, it is hard to deny how much anthropomorphism there is. Characters are named after lions and tigers when there is no way they would know what big cats are. They devote themselves to one mate. (Real cats often mate with multiple cats within a mating season. In fact, it’s possible for a cat litter to have more than one father.) Even the main character, Fireheart, would not have a striking red fur to the other cats, as cats do not have good color perception on par with humans.

Of course, a book targeted to a younger audience is limited and relating to cats would be hard if Erin Hunter had restricted themselves to accurate cat biology. Still, I cannot help but think about these inaccuracies. It’s fictional. In the fantasy genre, rules bend. But physics still exist in the world of Harry Potter. The cats in Warriors are still cats, even if they are anthropomorphized.

I know that perhaps I am being too analytical. I’m looking too hard and not just enjoying the more important elements, like the narrative. I know it is exceedingly difficult on the craft side to make a story believable. But to me, a story’s world should stand up to the test of scrutiny. An author should strive to be accurate within the worlds they create, otherwise they risk losing those of us who can’t help but think too much while they read.

 

The [Occupation]’s Wife or Daughter

One of a books key selling points is its title. The first thing a buyer notices when browsing the shelves or the internet is the cover, and from there, their eyes will be drawn to whatever dramatic script the publisher’s chosen to declare the name of the novel. That key phrase is what will make the buyer pull the book off the physical or metaphorical shelf, and if you don’t have a good title your book is doomed from the very beginning. So how and why do publishers pick a “good title,” and why do those titles appeal to the audience. There are clear trends we can analyze to try and answer that question.

Surely, there have been many formulas developed by big publishers as to how to write a compelling title. You can probably spot some of them browsing through any selection of Best-Sellers. There’s the one-word titles: Twilight, Atonement, Beloved, Pretties, It, Room, Holes. The simplicity of these titles is compelling and catchy, a one word summary of the heart of the book. Then there’s the reverse of that – the eccentrically long titles. Titles such as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, all sound quirky and different, intelligent and interesting.

There is a third trend, one that, for lack of a better term we’ll call “The [occupation]’s Wife or Daughter” title. Books with titles that follow this formula have been popular for years, but in the past several years there have been several that have been bestsellers. In 2003, The Time Travelers Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger debuted at number nine on the New York Times Best-Seller List. Part of that success was due to an aggressive marketing campaign by the publishers, but it rapidly became a nation-wide favorite, and was made into a (mediocre) film.  

Kim Edwards’ The Memory Keeper’s Daughter was published in 2005, and quickly shot to number one on the New York Times Best-Seller list. The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch was published in Germany in 2008 and was so successful it was translated and published in America in 2010. The series had sold over 800,000 copies by the time the 4th title in the series was published in 2013. And of course, the New York Times best-selling novel The Zookeeper’s Wife, though published in 2008, is slated to become a major motion picture in the next couple of years.

This trend has been noticed by others, and has spawned a long list of titles that follow the formula.  There’s The Shoemaker’s Wife, The Chameleon’s Wife, The Mermaid’s Daughter, the list goes on and on.  Another bestselling book My Sister’s Keeper, was at least smart enough to twist the formula a little. But what exactly makes this formula such a compelling one? The simplest thing to note is the rule of three. A three-word title has punch. Next time you’re book shopping, look around and count how many you can find. There is another, more complex aspect to it though. None of these books are in the same genre. Time Traveler’s Wife is a romance, Memory Keeper’s Daughter is a family drama, Hangman’s a historical thriller, and Zookeeper’s wife is a true story from WWII, set in Nazi Germany. What does connect them is human relationships. People are always compelled by stories of human connection and drama. If you can inject that relationship directly into the title, people are going to be interested.

An interesting detail to note is the gender bias of the formula. In searching only one title feature a male counterpart – The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson. And an instance where the title read “The [Blanks] Husband,” was nowhere to be found. Whether this is from some latent bigotry, or simply because publishers are targeting a female audience, I can’t say. But it does provide an unexplored niche, and an opportunity for a publisher to do something new. So, when you see the new bestselling novel The Slug Farmer’s husband, you’ll know who’s taken advantage of it.

In the end, these titles aren’t everything. A badly-written book is bad, regardless of the catchy title. But it does impact that initial interest, it can be the reason you pick the book off the shelf. Some people buy books based on title and cover alone. So, next time you see a good title, ask yourself why it’s good. It could be that a publisher’s using a tried and true formula to live off another books glory.