Britsh and American publishers seem to me to be one of the last bastions trying to hold back the tide of globalisation. Even though the technology exists to share any text anywhere instantly, they approach books as if they need to be positioned carefully in a local market rather than be loosed upon the world to stand or fall by their content.
Hiding behind archaic copyright laws to support localisation, they promote marketing practices based more on geographical boundaries than on an understanding of reader preferences and demographics.
One of the most peculiar, and I think least justified, manifestions of this the-book-needs-to-be-handled-differently-in-MY-market approach is that editors decide to re-title a book before launching it. They make no other changes to the book but they insist on the title change.
I cannot decide if this is because they have a low regard for the ability of readers to judge the content of a book or because they themselves never get further than the title or if titles are seen as the provence of marketeers rather than editors.
I buy my books from the US and UK and I have learned from experience that I need to take care not to buy the same book twice with two different titles.
Here are a couple examples where that almost happened to me.
Richard Morgan is a Brit SF writer who I’ve followed since he published “Altered Carbon” back in 2002. I read “Black Man” in hardback when it came out in the UK in 2007. Last year, I was looking for a book with thirteen in the title as part of a reading challenge and thought I’d found a new Richard Morgan book. Except it was the same Richard Morgan book. “Black Man” wasn’t a great title and “Thirteen” ties in with the content of the novel but I can’t help wondering if the original UK title was too resonant of race for the American Publishers.
The same thing happened with Barbara Nadel’s Inspector Ikman series about a Senior Police Detective in Istanbul. I’d followed the series since 2000 or so, reading a new book each year. Then I got an offer from Amazon in the US for a book in the series that I didn’t recognise, “The Ottoman Cage”, only to discover that it was book two of the series, which I’d read years before, under the title “A Chemical Prison”. I have no idea why the Americans thought this change was necessary.
After that, I started to look for and collect these strange decisions (I know, how book-geek is that?). Here are some of my favourites:
Why on Earth change “The Infernal Desire Machines Of Doctor Hoffman” which is intriguing because it’s poetic and archaic and proudly different, rather like Angela Carter’s prose, and the replace it with a haven’t-I-read-this-already? generic SF title “The War Of Dreams”? All I can say is that the US title and the cover deserve each other.
There was a time when the coming of age in the English countryside autobiographical novel “Cider With Rosie” was on every English school reading list. The cover shown here is the one I read in school. Yet, in the US version, the references to both cider and Rosie are removed, which I think is a shame, and we’re given the rather arid title of “The Edge Of The Day”. I do like the US cover though.
When I read Philip Pullman’s first “His Dark Materials” book, it was called “Northern Lights”, which makes sense, given the setting. In the US, it became “The Golden Compass” which is odd as the device, shown on both covers, is an alethiometer which does not point North and is not made of gold. It’s central to the story and is used to discover truthful answers to questions.
This year, I read “The Taking Of Annie Thorne”, C. J. Tudor’s second novel. For reasons that completely escape me, this was launched simultaneously in the US as “The Hiding Place” a title which doesn’t really fit with the story and which is not particularly memorable (although I like the cover).
My last example is an old favourite of mine. Like half the reading world in 1993, I fell in love with “Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow”.
Translated from the Danish, it was the first Scandinavian book I’d ever read. I loved it’s stark complexity and it’s ability to explore Demark’s colonial history while telling a whodunnit story. To me, the formality of the title made it seem exotic and accessible at the same time. I didn’t see the American version until the movie came out in 1997 with the title “Smilla’s Sense Of Snow”. I can appreciate the appeal of the alliteration but it seems too functional a title to me. The original Danish title was Frøken Smillas fornemmelse for sne. Bing Translator offers me sensitivity for fornemmelse so both titles have some logic to them but I don’t like the loss of title before the name. It’s’ way too Anglo.