Thursday, February 19, 2009

If I Said I Read "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," Would You Point Me to the Loo?--What's WIth the Two Titles for "Little Bee"?

Why do books change titles when published abroad? For years, publishers bought rights, and they probably figured that they knew what title was best for their market. Perhaps the book was called I Left my Knickers in the Loo in Great Britain and that just didn't work stateside.

Traditionally this just didn't matter. The world was not flat, and we all couldn't order books that easily from other countries. Lately though, I think this causes more problems. When you're searching for a book, it's a bit confusing. Why is this still happening?

And if there's a movie version that's released internationally, what do you do then? In the Harry Potter example above, the film was released under two titles, and the audio of scenes were edited to refer to both the "philosopher's stone" and "sorceror's stone."

With Zoe Heller's last novel, the answer was to change the name of the book again. It was originally released in Great Britain as Notes on a Scandal. The American title became What was She Thinking? When the movie came out again, the book was renamed Notes on a Scandal. Here are a couple more notes on Zoe Heller:

1) We have some bargain copies of Notes on a Scandal left. It's a great deal at $6.99--the book was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, for goodness sake. You can't order it on our web site but you can stop by and pick one up, or reserve a copy by phone or email.

2) Her new novel The Believers is scrumptuous. It should be out in March. Expect a full-blown, enthusiastic posting on this one.

A good example of a book that was helped by a title change was Linda Olsson's Let Me Sing You Gentle Songs. There's no question that Astrid and Veronika is simply catchier. The title went on to be used for most subsequent publications.

Well, what do you know? Chris Cleave's book also has two titles, and just like with Olsson's (did I mention for the hundredth time she's appearing at our Mequon shop on March 27th?), the American publishers chose to go with the name of the character Little Bee as the title for Cleave's new novel.

What did he think about that? Let's ask him!

Daniel: Whose idea was it to have two titles? How did the publishers explain to you that one idea was better for the US and the other for the UK?

Chris: Actually both are big improvements on my original title for the novel, which was The Developing World. One of my publishers rang me up and said: “Which part of A NOVEL’S TITLE MUST NOT MAKE IT SOUND LIKE A GEOGRAPHY TEXT BOOK is confusing you?” I thought that was nicely put. In the end I like both the titles we came up with. The Other Hand is a good title because it speaks to the dichotomous nature of the novel, with its two narrators and two worlds, while it also references Sarah’s injury.

Little Bee is a good title too, because the novel is really Little Bee’s story, so it’s a straightforward and an honest title. Also I like it because it sounds brighter and more approachable – and that was my aim with this novel after all: to write an accessible story about a serious subject.

The titles weren’t chosen because it was thought, “Oh, the Americans will like this, and the British and the Australians will like that.” It was more about the personal taste of my respective editors. I like the fact that the novel has two titles. I like it when two apparently divergent choices are simultaneously right. I like complexity. While we’re on the subject, I like my name. I think “cleave” might be unique in having two synonyms that are antonyms of each other.

Daniel: It looks like despite the title, you used two very different jackets, but they seem to be by the same artist. True?

Chris: I see what you mean - they’re both outrageously orange, and they are both very elegant in my opinion. The US jacket was drawn by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich, a supremely gifted designer and typographer, who has among his many achievements a book called Men of Letters in which he recreates the faces of the famous writers of history using lovingly calligraphed letters. He’s also made a book of zoo animals formed entirely from the “Bembo” typeface. His website at is a thing of beauty.

The UK jacket was designed by the head of my London publisher’s art department, a genius and such a team player that he refused to take credit for it. The jacket had gone through several incarnations, and it still wasn’t right, and it had to be printed on Monday morning, and the man had a flash of inspiration and came in over the weekend and drew it to perfection.

The interview ends here, but I have a bit more to say (shocking).

There are so many jackets for the book that my head is spinning. The book is being published as Little Bee in Canada, but the rights are held by Random House Canada, not Simon and Schuster. It has a different jacket.

In addition, the paperback of the UK edition (the book came out in cloth there last year) was going to be the hardcover in a calmer shade of blue, but the new jacket seems to be that standard inspirational child picture that seems to be all over trade paperbacks of late. Sadly, if I saw that picture, I would have a bit of trouble picking the book up; it just wouldn't speak to me.

Just another reason to buy the book in hardcover, I guess.

Don't forget, the event is March 2nd at Downer Avenue, 7 PM.

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