Monday, July 06, 2009

Why do British novels often have different titles in the US (and vice versa)?

Christa brought up this good point. Stuart Neville's brand-new debut is called THE TWELVE in the UK, and GHOSTS OF BELFAST in its forthcoming US pub. The first Harry Potter was THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE in the UK and THE SORCERER'S STONE in the US. On the flip side, Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER, the first book in her bestselling series, is called CROSS STITCH in the UK and Commonwealth. Why do these darn publishers meddle with a good thing?

The reasons are various, and perhaps not always good. But we publishers usually try to make things better, not worse. (Sometimes we're wrong.)

Let's look at these three:

Stuart Neville
originally titled his own debut GHOSTS OF BELFAST. From what I understand, and Stuart, feel free to step in here, for him that's what the book was about, so he titled it accordingly. When it got to his UK publisher, it was decided that keeping "Belfast" in the title might have negative connotations in the UK, since books about Belfast in the past have been either dour books about the political strife or downmarket commercial thrillers--so associations his publisher didn't want to make. So the title THE TWELVE, which is more neutral, was decided on. Meanwhile, the US market has none of those concerns with connotations, and Americans love to read about Ireland (what can I say? We do.). "Belfast" helps evoke the place and culture of the novel, which is a major selling point for the American market.

Harry Potter, meanwhile, is a different story. In that case, the American publication was undertaken before anyone knew the phenomenal selling power of Harry Potter, and the US publisher was afraid "Philosopher" would turn off kid readers. Since when is philosophy cool? I've heard that JK Rowling has since wished she'd stuck it out and insisted on her original title. But hey, who can guess these things in advance?

Diana Gabaldon, meanwhile, wrote herself a bestselling series that starts with a book that was called OUTLANDER in the States. When she found out people in England knew her book as CROSS STITCH, she was totally confused. The timbre is certainly pretty different, at least on American ears! (I heard her tell the story of her absolute stupification over the British title at a book signing once.) But it turns out in England, the Commonwealth definition of the word "Outlander" prevails--and outlander is some kind of slang in Australia for something that didn't apply to her book (back me up here, global friends? I can't remember or find online what the exact definition is). So in her case, it was a linguistic gap kind of thing.

Any other amusing/confusing renaming examples you guys have come across?

43 comments:

Scribe said...

Well, I'm Australian, and I've never heard "Outlander" used for anything other than a car. I'm intrigued to know what slang it's supposed to represent!

I don't have any book examples, but the funniest thing I heard was a church group for newly married couples in the U.S. called "New Roots". Here in Oz, "root" is a slang word for .... um - let's just say, it's slang for the thing newly married couples are prone to do.... lots of (cough)

An extremely appropriate name, but perhaps not what was intended!

Jenny said...

I'm always so annoyed by the whole business with the Philosopher's Stone. I get their point, trying to make sure kids read the books, but seriously, the item in question isn't CALLED the Sorcerer's Stone. It's a historical thing and it's called the Philosopher's Stone! Sheesh.

Although I do think the title of the first Philip Pullman book is better in the US. The Golden Compass, versus Northern Lights - and it goes better with the subsequent two.

Gary Corby said...

You might be thinking of Outback, which certainly has a special meaning for Australians, but I don't think Outlander does.

Wendy said...

I know of a novel that was published by a New Zealand author that had the word "Wood" in the title.

Here in New Zealand, and in the UK, that's just another term for forest. "I went for a walk in the wood."

I have since heard that it can have other boy-related, giggle inducing connotations in the US and so the book was retitled. I can see why :)

I'm not Australian, but I am from the downunder region and I've never heard of Outlander used in slang either. I think it was a term used in the Mad Max movies though, it was a long time ago so I'm not sure. They were Australian movies, so perhaps it's because of that?

Susan Adsett said...

To make it even more confusing - Canadians use both British and American titles - the Harry Potter book was sold as "The Philosopher's Stone", while I've only ever seen the "Outlander" series with the "Outlander" title.

Leatherdykeuk said...

I bought Kim Harrison's 'The Outlaw Demon Wails,' settled with a cocoa and opened it to discover I'd already read it as 'Where Demons Dare'

JES said...

I first met Diana Gabaldon when she was writing the book that became Outlander. My recollection -- to muddy the waters further -- is that her working title for it was, in fact, Cross Stitch. So the UK edition (if I'm remembering this aright) actually restored to the book the title she'd originally given it while in draft.

So if anything, her surprise at hearing it called Cross Stitch was probably surprise that so many British readers had been lurking on CompuServe's Literary Forum in the early '90s -- where she was hanging out online, and floating draft paragraphs. :)

(I've got a printout of her complete MS in a box somewhere at home... Will have to check that to confirm the title. But I'm pretty sure that's what happened.)

moonrat said...

Wow, maybe I had the whole thing backwards.

Did I make it all up in a vivid dream world? That would be something I would do.

But then where did the US get the "Outlander" title?

The First Carol said...

Out of commission for weeks and bored, I lay in bed and watched fistfuls of DVD's borrowed from a UK friend. The lack of happily-ever-after endings dealt a blow to my American need for closure. My friend's surprise narrowed in on American's need for picture-perfect-Hallmark endings. Are book endings ever changed or modified? I know movies are... And why does everything have to be worked out swimmingly on our side of the pond including the bad-guy getting his comeuppance? I'm wondering what we're afraid to face.

Sophie Playle said...

My creative writing tutor at university, Rebecca Stott, has an international selling book. It is called 'Ghost Walk' in most countries, but in Italy it is called... 'The Newton Code' - something she wasn't really sure about, because it is nothing like 'The Da Vinci Code'. Apparently in Italy, they don't really have a ghost-story tradition, so the title 'Ghost Walk' wouldn't have made much sense to them... or something like that.

Emily Cross said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emily Cross said...

Austrailian Fantasy writer Allison Croggon had to rename her 'pellinor series' so the first book originally called the gift became "the naming" for the US because a book with a similar name as 'the gift' was quite big in the US at the time. I think all the other books have same titles though

First Carol - The most obvious thing in regards to movies, is the american ending of Pride and Prejudice (the one with KK) which was included in the boxset. Honestly it was strange to see Elizabeth and Darcy all lovey dovey and 'not decent' hahahahaha.

i think P&P&Zombies has topped that though ;)

JES said...

Moonie -- hard to believe someone so level-headed knows anything about dream worlds. Well, okay, maybe you're not THAT level-headed...

Anyway, I don't remember what Diana said about WHY Outlander. It did make sense, as a literal translation for the "Sassenach" pet name which Jamie bestows on Claire. Maybe Cross Stitch was just felt to be too suggestive of a book about needlework?

So no, don't remember WHY. But boy do I remember being surprised by the Outlander title, and I wasn't alone!

Hilary Wagner ~ Writer said...

Not in all cases of course, but I do think the proper title can make or break the sales of a book and I'd also like to think most publishers know what they're doing when it comes to things like this. I think it's easy as a writer to fall in love with the titles of our books, heck, we wrote them, but we have to logically think about what it might mean in another culture or language and ultimately trust our publishing house.

writtenwyrdd said...

One of my favorite examples is Kit Whitfield's "Bareback" which was a werewolf novel in the UK. The US release was "Benighted," so that the sexual connotation was removed for our market.

Kim Kasch said...

Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book didn't have a different name but it did have a different cover.

Silas, on the British cover, gave us a few clues to the story that the American version didn't.

Very interesting. . .

Rebecca Knight said...

Thank you for this, Moonie! I was wondering about the "Ghosts of Belfast" versus "The Twelve" the other day, because I thought the first title was much, much cooler.

Questions answered, so there you go. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

"The Wardstone Chronicles" by British author Joseph Delaney are called "The Last Apprentice" in the U.S. The British titles keep it simple:
1. The Spook's Apprentice,
2. The Spook's Curse,
3. The Spook's Secret,
4. The Spook's Battle,
5. The Spook's Mistake,
6. The Spook's Sacrifice.

The American titles are more complicated (and sensational):
1. Revenge of the Witch,
2. Curse of the Bane,
3. Night of the Soul Stealer,
4. Attack of the Fiend,
5. Wrath of the Bloodeye,
6. Clash of the Demons.

I have the British print version on my shelf and the U.S. audiobooks, and trying to keep the titles straight gets your brains in a knot.

Cheers,

Anja

Dorset Girl said...

I'm just going through this at the moment. My book is being published by Sceptre (Hodder) in the UK as 'Mr Rosenblum's List Or Friendly Guidance for the Aspiring Englishman'. The 'Or Friendly Guidance bit...' is a sub-title and will be smaller on the cover and won't appear on the spine.

However, the book is being published in the US by Reagan Arthur Books for Little, Brown as 'Mr Rosenblum Dreams in English'. Reagan was concerned that the Jewish name and 'list' was too like Schindler's List, and readers would think my book derivative, or about the holocaust - which it is not, certainly not directly. For the US market, Reagan and her colleagues want to emphasise that the novel is about England and Englishness, with a slightly whimsical and nostalgic feel - (it's set in the English countryside leading up to the coronation in 1952). But, they liked the sound of 'Mr Rosenblum' and wanted these to be the first two words. We discussed endless possibilities from 'Mr Rosenblum and the Adventures of the woolly-pig' (too child-like), 'Mr Rosenblum's Guide to Being English' (I was grouchy and didn't like it, and they kindly humoured me...).

Now, I actually really like both titles, and I think each works well with the different cover art.

I now have a slight title paranoia and am refusing to tell either my agent or my (completely lovely) editor the title for book 2! I already accept that it may have to change.

I've blogged about this as well...

Laura Martone said...

Really interesting discussion. And the changing of titles is obviously not limited to books. Movies go through it, too. A lot of my filmmaking buddies frequently lament the fact that their films are called one thing here in America and something completely different overseas.

Obviously, it's a question of marketability - titles that catch consumers' eyes in one country might repel or mislead consumers in another country. So, as Hilary so astutely said, we should probably just trust that our publishers are changing titles for a good reason (unless, of course, we're REALLY offended by the change). :-)

I remember, over ten years ago, seeing an American movie called "Living Out Loud" (starring Holly Hunter, Danny DeVito, and Queen Latifah). A few months later, I saw the same movie in Italy - and it was called "Kiss" (which had a completely different meaning). Of course, more upsetting than the title change was the fact that Danny DeVito's voice was dubbed by a man who sounded a lot like Fabio. Very disconcerting indeed. :-)

carolinestarr said...

Outlander means foreigner in the story, and Claire is certainly that: a time-traveling English woman is Scotland. I can't view the Claire/Jamie love story as Cross Stitch. That's too cosy/domestic. What connection to the story could that title have? If anyone knows, pass it on!

Charles Gramlich said...

I've noticed a lot of fantasy and SF works this way and I've gotten rather irritated when I've bought books online that turned out to be the same book with a different title. Irritating.

BuffySquirrel said...

I hate this UK/US title thing! Especially now we have the internet, it's too easy to buy the same book twice. I waste a lot of time wondering, "Is this the same book with a different title?" I once got caught out by a Philip K. Dick book that was called "The Crack in Space" in the US and "Cantata-140" here in the UK. That's money I could have spent on a book I didn't have!

Speaking as a Brit, I find the title "Ghosts of Belfast" much more intriguing than...what was it? The Twelve? that's a zzzzz title that doesn't mention, yanno, ghosts. Or anything much.

My online book club is going to be reading José Saramago's "Death With Interruptions". I'll be reading "Death at Intervals". My favourite Napoleonic War book, the Adkins' "Trafalgar: The Biography of a Battle" is known in the US as "Nelson's Trafalgar: The Battle That Changed the World" (into what? I wonder). And so on. 'Tis very annoying.

spyscribbler said...

Wow, okay, I am totally clueless here. I've read Outlander. It was ages ago, so perhaps I'm misremembering it, but I don't remember cross stitch being done in it. Why on earth would it ever be called Cross Stitch? Is there a definition of cross stitch that I'm unaware of?

Jason Erik Lundberg said...

Karen Joy Fowler's latest novel was published as Wit's End in the US and The Case of the Imaginary Detective in the UK. I really can't figure that one out.

Josephine Damian said...

Moonie, Stu's title was FOLLOWERS, I'm guessing for the twelve ghosts that follow the main character.

It was the publishers who cane up w/THE TWELVE for the UK market and THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST for US market.

Stuart Neville said...

Josie: I changed to GHOSTS OF BELFAST myself while I was revising it with my agent, so it had that title when it went on submission to editors. Just goes to show how slippery titles can be!

sylvia said...

I went out to eat with a group of English last night and brought up your post. I said that Outlander was changed because of some slang issue and everyone looked blank except for the 84-year-old woman from London who said "that just means Australian to me."

Which was odd, as I hadn't brought up your reference to Australia at all.

Unfortunately I couldn't follow up but it could be that Outlander means something to Brits of a certain age which is no longer in use?

I'll try to find out what she meant.

JES said...

Okay, so I've gotten an email from Diana's assistant Janice. Diana herself is in a time crunch doing copy-edits for her next book. But here's the story from Janice about the first book's title:

"Yes, CROSS STITCH (play on a stitch in time) was Diana's working title. She sold the book first in the US. The marketing dept didn't like CROSS STITCH as they felt it sounded too much like embroidery/sewing. So Diana came up with OUTLANDER, which they liked as it sounded adventurous. When she sold the book in the UK, that publisher felt OUTLANDER sounded wrong and asked if she had another title. She proposed CROSS STITCH. They liked it and so it was. There is a bit of dispute on why the UK publisher didn't like OUTLANDER, but ultimately it was most likely a personal choice of the editor and Diana, as a new author, didn't push the issue. [grin]"

(And also to put my mind at rest about something else bothering me since yesterday: nowhere in any of my comments did I mean to come across as, like, Mr. Sniffy Knowitall. I probably should've just emailed you, Moonie, and let you tell everybody all this.)

Dorset Girl said...

I have to say, I really like both 'The Twelve' and 'Ghosts of Belfast'. As an English reader, I might presume that 'Ghosts' was a novel about the troubles rather than a thriller though. It sounds so fab, I'd buy it with either title!

Justus M. Bowman said...

When I hear or read the word "Outlander," I think of a Sega Genesis game in which I drove a car and shot motorcycle thugs and of a PC/X-Box game in which everyone called the protagonist (read: you) "Outlander" because you were foreign to them. They certainly considered the term derogatory, but don't you worry: I took care of them.

moonrat said...

Sylvia--AHA!! I'm not totally crazy!! Thank you!!!!

JES--au contraire--you've done all the work for me :) So I appreciate it!

Froog said...

Tinkering with the endings of books to make them supposedly more amenable to mass market tastes has been going on.... well, probably since publishing began. Great Expectations is a famous example. Dickens' original ending was much darker, with Estella, I think, trapped in a dreadful marriage. The ending we have now, with Pip meeting an unencumbered Estella and envisaging - however unconvincingly - a chance of finally getting together with her, was suggested by his publisher.

My favourite "dumbing down a title for the Yanks" story is about Alan Bennett's historical play The Madness of King George III. When they filmed it, it was decided to jettison the 'III' because it was feared that American viewers would fret they had missed the first two movies in the series.

JES said...

Froog: ha ha! I'd never heard that one about Madness... -- almost too good to be true!

moonrat said...

Froog--somehow... I'm not as surprised as I wish I were.

Andromeda Romano-Lax said...

I like Stuart's "Ghosts of Belfast" title and look forward to reading it!

If you're still gathering examples of publishers need to re-title: My novel "The Spanish Bow" is called "Song of the Night" (Le Chant de la nuit") in France, "Notes for a Cello" in Spain, "Nocturne for a Cello" in Catalonia, "The Music of Life" in Italy.

But none of that startled me as much as seeing my own name changed slightly on a jacket -- in the Netherlands, they left off ths second part of my last name. Who knows why?

carolinestarr said...

Ouch. Of all British kings to know, shouldn't Americans at least know the king we fought for independence? I'm a teacher. Maybe I'm asking too much.

sylvia said...

almost too good to be true!

Correct. Snopes points out it had the same title in the UK

:)

erica said...

americans underestimate their children--- which is probably why we are so stupid.

however, it's not seclusive to books.

as a child, i lived in england. teenage mutant ninja turtles was "teenage mutant hero turtles" in the good old motherland. my sister and i would shake our fists at the screen and yell N I N J A right when the screen would sing H E R O.

this also speaks to the violent nature of american children. the english prefer their children to be intelligent and docile. we americans prefer fist-throwing, imbecilic youth.

Glen Akin said...

I used to think it's just Americans trying to be different. You know, they want their own thing, their own title, their own cover and they don't want to share it with everyone else. Lol but it sounds a lot complicated. There seems to be a million reasons why titles change across countries, but the common one I've garnered from reading all these comments is translation - in one country, A may mean B, and in another B may mean C.

BuffySquirrel said...

Estella wasn't trapped in a loveless marriage in the original ending to "Great Expectations". She had been in such a marriage, but her abusive husband had been killed by a horse. She then married again, to a doctor, and she and Pip met up again in a London street.

That ending fits far better with the tone of the novel, and Dickens seems to have been careful not to hint at too much of a future for Pip and Estella, even though he does take the doctor out of the picture.

I also have an edition of "Persuasion" that contains the cancelled chapter that originally ended the book. Makes for interesting reading.

Blork said...

Let's not forget Lawrence Hill's recent highly acclaimed novel, "The Book of Negroes." It's about slavery in the 18th century, and the title revers to (from Wikipedia): "...an important historical document which records descriptions and information on those Black British slave colonists who escaped to the British during the Revolutionary War becoming the first settlement of African-Canadians. The document was recorded in 1783 and is the only one which recorded Black Americans in a large, detailed scope of work."

That document was called "the book of negroes."

In the U.S. the novel was published as "Someone Knows My Name."

Blork said...

Um. "...title REFERS to..."