a poem, a title, and how all this works in publishing

A very quick note on book titles. When I pitched the Los Nefilim series, I wrote a proposal that consisted of the first ten thousand words of the first book, a three-page synopsis (roughly … okay, three and a quarter, so what?), and two very brief proposals, meaning a paragraph each, for the how I envisioned the next two books in the series to play out.

As part of the proposal, I gave titles to all three books. That is because this is usually how proposals are submitted, although I’m sure some authors list Book #2 and Book #3, as well, who knows? I’m just speaking from my own experience.

Ask any author, and they will most often tell you that they hate coming up with a title for their books. It’s serious torture. We’re trying to think of something unique enough to stand out while remaining brief enough for readers to remember. It’s a lot like writing poetry, except you only get to write one line and it can’t be too many words, because it has to fit on the cover of a book, and it also has to essentially capture the essence of your story and SURE THAT’S EASY! NOT!

In my case, the original titles that I proposed for the Los Nefilim novels were: Where Oblivion Dwells; Carved from Stone and Dream; and A Song with Teeth. These are the titles that wound up in the contract, for yea, this is how contracts are written—with titles, because publishers and agents and writers and editors and lawyers love details, because legal and binding and all that.

Of the three titles, I’m only going to talk about the first book for the purposes of this post. I got the title from a poem by Luis Cernuda entitled: “Donde Habite el Olvido.” I’ve seen the title translated to both “Where Oblivion Dwells” and “Where Oblivion Lives,” depending on the translator.

For those who are unfamiliar with Cernuda’s work, the poem is:

I

  Forbidden Pleasures: Luis Cernuda New Selected Poems [1924-1949] , translated by Stephen Kessler. Boston: Black Widow Press, 2015.

Forbidden Pleasures: Luis Cernuda New Selected Poems [1924-1949], translated by Stephen Kessler. Boston: Black Widow Press, 2015.

Where oblivion lives,
In the vast gardens of darkness;
Where I will be no more
Than the memory of a stone lost in spiky weeds
Where the wind goes to escape its insomnia.

Where my name leaves
Its body destined for the arms of the centuries,
Where desire has ceased to exist.

In that great realm where I love, terrible angel,
Doesn’t slip its wing
Into my chest like a knifeblade,
Smiling airily as my torment grows.

Out there where this passion demands a master in its own image,
Submitting its life to another life,
With no more horizon than a face with other eyes.

Where sorrows and joys are nothing more than names,
Native land and sky around a memory;
Where at last I’ll be free without even knowing it,
Mist in the fog, an absence,
A light absence like a child’s flesh.

Out there, far away,
Where oblivion lives.

The imagery and themes Cernuda expressed in this poem simply ignited my imagination and heavily influenced some of the ideas in my novel. Which made this a rare time when choosing a title wasn’t difficult at all.

When I first read the poem, translated by a different individual, it was entitled “Where Oblivion Dwells.” I loved the sound of “dwells” and decided to go with that as my initial title: Where Oblivion Dwells. I did all the due diligence of running the title through Google, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble and I couldn’t find another similarly title novel in their databases. This proposal was submitted to and purchased by Harper Voyager in April of 2017.

MEANWHILE, ELSEWHERE IN THE UNIVERSE, COMPLETELY UNBEKNOWNST TO ME, SOMETHING COMPLETELY SIMILAR WAS GOING ON:

So one fine day, I was busy checking my links and did a quick name search in Google to make sure a certain link was appearing correctly, when low and behold but what did my wondering eyes see: they’d listed me as the co-author of a completely different novel entitled Where Oblivion Dwells by Lorena Franco.

Of course, I’m all: wut?

It seems that Ms. Franco’s novel was originally published in Spanish and it was entitled … wait for it … Donde Habite el Olvido. The novel had recently been translated into English in May 2017 and given the title: Where Oblivion Dwells, about a month after I’d done all of my searches for books with that title.

Google’s algorithms apparently decided that since two women had written a book with and identical title, we must therefore be co-authors, because algorithms without human intervention are notoriously stupid. Out of curiosity, I looked at Franco's book, which is also Gothic and has supernatural elements. That put us in similar categories. However, other than the titles, our themes and stories are very distinct.

This next part of this saga is very important, because at the point I discovered this SNAFU of minor proportions—which was some time in the late summer of 2017, I think—we had put zero work into the cover art for my novel. Timelines in publishing can be tight, and you don’t want to make a title change that is going to affect the work of the cover artist, who has spent effort in coming up with the right design. Not to mention the fact that the title was already beginning to show up in online searches through Amazon, etc. and is probably what caused the initial algorithm co-author issues in Google books. Someone would have to go back and make any changes to those databases.

If we had gone even a month more into the process for my book, we couldn't have done what we did. As it was, we were drawing a tight line and creating more work for people, who are, like everyone else, maxed out to the max in their jobs, too.

Knowing this, I emailed my editor and agent and outlined my thoughts. I wanted to see if was too late to change the title to eliminate confusion. Fortunately, David was fine with it. We decided to go with Where Oblivion LIVES, as this would cause the least disruption to the title change, and which spellcheck sometimes calls Where Oblivion LIES just for shits and giggles, I guess—I don’t know; I’ve just learned to roll with these things.

So the thing with titles and the sheer number of books being published means there will be some, nay, maybe a lot of crossover in book titles. No matter how diligently you search for your novel’s title or series, someone else may be rolling in with the exact same title within days, months, or years of one another.

And it’s okay. The people who are going to buy Franco’s novel, are going to buy her books. Likewise, the people who are looking for Los Nefilim stories know where to find me. Neither of us are taking anything from the other.

As a matter of fact, if someone buys Franco’s novel, thinking that it’s mine, they might find themselves turned on to a new author they otherwise wouldn’t have noticed. I think that’s a win a for all of us.