Pitfalls with book titles (#1)

The other day, when preparing marketing sheets to go out to our major customers, I had a nasty surprise.

My problem was that all of the author bio details I had to hand were pretty unusable (much too brief) and the person who could have given me the real stuff was away. So of course I googled our authors and picked up what they or others were saying about them. That worked fine.

Fine, that is, until I discovered that the title of one of the monographs we’d just announced was exactly the same as the author’s PhD thesis. I must say that I was a bit p*ssed off, not least because I’d spent a very enjoyable evening a few weeks ago with the author and a crowd of other nice people debating the book’s title and subtitle. After going round and round in circles, the consensus was that the original title proposed was the best. Had I realized/remembered that the titles were identical, the result of that evening’s discussions would have been very different.

Why recycling thesis titles is a bad idea

Never, never, NEVER should a thesis title be reused in a subsequent book. Why? For starters, take a look at this scholar’s publication list.

    2005 ‘End of the Line: Rhyme, Rhythm and Reading in the Poetic Fragments of Ernest Hemingway’. PhD thesis, Keys University, Key West, FL.

    2006a ‘The other Hemingway: poetic fragments’. In Beatrice Saltzberger and William Utzen (eds), Hemingway: A Reappraisal. Heidelberg, Germany: VIT Verlag.

    2006b ‘Rhyme, Rhythm and Reading in the Poetic Fragments of Ernest Hemingway’. In Journal of Modern American Literature, May.

    2007 End of the Line: Understanding the Poetry of Ernest Hemingway. Key West, FL: Keys University Press.

    2008 ‘Poetic vision in the early fiction of Ernest Hemingway’. In Journal of Cuban Studies, August.

What is the most significant work that this scholar has published? Normally, we would reply ‘her monograph’, without hesitation. But this monograph? With the same title and similar subtitle as the earlier thesis, this monograph looks like something warmed-over, something that is not serious.

Indeed, the scholar’s entire publication history now starts to look like it’s not up to much at all. Ouch.

‘Ouch’ especially because this judgement may not be fair. More than likely, this scholar will have worked hard to rework her thesis into a worthy monograph, something that would get her started on the career ladder, hopefully in a tenured position. But it looks like that ain’t going to happen.

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