A few notes on academic book titles

  1. For first-time authors: name your dissertation something plain and boring if you’re planning to turn it into a book. A book and a dissertation should not share a title, so if you’ve got a good one, save it for later!
  2. Your “good” title, by the way, should contain information about the book’s topic. That may sound obvious, but academics have a tendency to title their work with cute puns, alliteration, or quotes from their primary texts, leaving all the who-what-where for the subtitle. That may be permissible for conference presentations or journal articles, but it doesn’t work well for print books. Imagine scholars perusing a row of library books, shelved spine-out with only the title and author surname visible; how will they know to pull and peruse your book? Imagine researchers searching for your topic in a database; how close to the top will your book title appear in search results sorted by “relevance?” Imagine booksellers doing the same thing in their databases, some of which tend to limit search strings to fourteen characters; are the keywords of your title within the first fourteen characters?
  3. Finally: name your book something that doesn’t depend on on quotation marks, parentheses, or slash marks to convey its meaning. Not only is cleverly punctuated punning a relic of the 20th century, but punctuations introduce all kinds of trouble to searches, digital catalogs, and web pages. Consider the hashtag, a still-current and ubiquitous symbol used in conversational as well as written English: the only reason there aren’t five hundred (instead of about five) new books with titles like #Blessed or #YOLO or Generation # is that the hashtag makes the title impossible to search. (Too bad, though; “Generation #” would make a fabulous title for the next kids-these-days head-shaker.)

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