Vote tally and a little Primer on Titles.

Well, folks, here it is:  45 votes for “Echoes of Forgotten Voices” and 75 votes for “Whispers of Forgotten Voices.”  That’s a pretty clear statement.  Personally, I leaned a little more toward “Echoes” and, at heart, I loved the original, “A Haunting Reverence.”  But this is vox populi.

If you read the comments, there were cogent arguments in all directions.  As an author, I was whipsawed in all directions, and still am. But, here’s the truth:  Titles do matter, and what you want to work — what you think will work — is not always what works.  The audience is all, and there are those who will follow you anywhere and those who need to be brought into the fold.

The book, as A Haunting Reverence, failed twice in the market place.  Once for New World Library, a “new spirituality” publisher, and once for The University of Minnesota, an academic and strong regional publisher.  Was that failure due to the title?  The subtitle?  Was it due to marketing?  Was it due to the time and the season?  Who can know?  I do know that when I toured it in Chicago, people came to hear me because they thought it was a ghost story or some sort of spiritualist fable.  They went home confused and disappointed.

An author does not want this to happen.  New World Library killed a wonderful book of mine on forgiveness, partly by titling it Calm Surrender, after, of all things, some song in the Lion King!  My take on forgiveness had nothing to do with surrender and that was a stupid title.  Yet committees, whether editorial or marketing or anything else, whip themselves into a frenzy and end up with misguided groupthink as often as they end up with the insightful fruits of collective thinking.  They rely on their experience and do not do market research.

HarperSanFrancisco did my book on travels down the west coast no service when it named it Road Angels.  The better minds there thought it referenced Kerouac’s road autobiography, Desolation Angels.  The marketplace thought it was about angels as spiritual beings or motorcycle gangs.  And where to shelve it?  Travel?  Biography?  It was an orphan from the moment it was named.  Bad call, Harper.

I could go on and on, just from my own experience.  The subtitle to Letters to My Son and the gender-specificity of the title itself; the waffling on the title of Hidden Beauty of Everyday Life and its unsuccessful renaming as Ordinary Sacred.  Then there are the rousing successes like Neither Wolf nor Dog and The Girl who Sang to the Buffalo.  Is The Wolf at Twilight the red-headed stepchild of the trilogy because of its title, despite it being the strongest of the three in some ways?

These are the questions you face with a title, and the gambles you take.  I might think I’m the smartest guy in the room on the title and stay with A Haunting Reverence.  But I’ve had good books done in by marketing folks who thought they were the smartest guys in the room.  And, truth be told, they were very, very smart.  But not in those particular instances.

So, I’m keeping my powder dry until I hear a few new responses to this information.  But, for now, it looks like you, my good readers who cared enough to vote on this, have given the book its new name,  The Whisper of Forgotten Voices:  Listening to the Lessons of the Land.  Or, Whispers of Forgotten Voices.  Or, or. . .

You see how it is.

14 comments

  1. Kris Lierboe says:

    I would rather hear the actual voices or songs(whispers) than the echo of the real thing. the word
    Whispers also catches your eye and mind more when you look at the title.

  2. Eileen says:

    The titling mistakes made in your examples here frustrate me. How am I ever going to notice all your books? Okay, I own half of them already plus I follow your blog and access other online finding aids nowadays, but I like to browse. I don’t always set out to add another book to the gravity holding down my home; there is quite enough of that. I do buy books, though, ones that catch my eye if I can get past all the titles such as “Calm Surrender”. That might just be a variation on “50 Shades of Grey” for all I can tell. It’s another example of how social context matters. What moment in the world’s history of moments is your book around for? What is going on at the same time? I imagine that in the early moments of World War II when things were not going well for the Allies, a book titled “Calm Surrender” might have got the author ridden out of town on a rail. These days we are probably all familiar, like it or not, with zombies and otherwise disrupted lines between the living and the dead. I’d make that blink-of-an-eye decision to keep moving on down the bookshelf if I saw anything that looked a reference to ghosts, voices of the dead, glimpses of the afterlife, and so on. It’s not like I can expect to get to the end of my current to-read booklist before my own demise. Yet Haunting Reverence is one of the most profoundly moving books I’ve ever read, in part because it is not an action-adventure novella. It is reverent. That’s the part of the title I was drawn to, and then the subtitle, Meditations on a Northern Land.

    So how about reversing the new title?

    “Listening to the Lessons of the Land: Echoes of Forgotten Voices”

    I’m not a writer or a market researcher, I pretty much specialize in idiosyncrasy, so this is just my thought on this matter because I’m still loving that somewhat battered book that gives gravity to my home. Best of luck with the titling task! Thanks for making us part of the process. It was fun.

  3. knerburn says:

    I’ve thought of this; oh, how I’ve thought of this. And I think of it, still. But you know the book, Eileen. It is almost pure metaphor. Titling it “Lessons” is to throw a curveball to the reader. Lessons it ain’t; echoes, or even whispers, it is. It’s sort of a geo-spiritual ideogram with a meaning at the center. That’s no small part of why two publishers failed with it. This is the world of Donald Trump and twitter and selfies. I might just as well get into a pine box and have someone nail down the lid. But, I persevere. I’ve got to give this quiet, poetic, literary child of mine a chance at life. And the readers of my more epistolary books would find this a far cry from the kinds of lessons they might expect. It is, in the totality, a lesson obliquely delivered. More poetry than instruction. A whisper in the wind. Hell, maybe that’s the title I should use. Flummoxed. Flummoxed.

  4. Ann Culter says:

    A Whisper in the Wind. That’s not a bad idea. I like the sound.

  5. B. Farmer says:

    All moments are lessons. I have loved your books, read most of them, found those like Calm Surrender, or the Hidden Beauty of Everyday Life the most meaningful, especially when I was finding my own everyday life to seemingly lack much meaning. The essence of life, our intimate connections to and oneness with nature (which too many no longer realize, or perhaps never did), the hardness of life (which all living beings share in), these are what matters most, and they are left far behind by the synthetic worlds of marketing, politics, governments in general, billionaires who control far too much, and on and on and on……..Have you noticed that the word -never mind the concept – “environment” is not even a whisper of a subject in the current events re: those wishing to run for president. Does anyone care? Oh yes, I forgot, when Donald Trump was asked (he actually was) what he would do regarding the environment, his answer was “I would save a little bit.”

    I like the original title of your book best. Haunting Reverence touches upon endless possibilities for the heart, soul, and spirit.

  6. Shelley says:

    I LIKE THAT !! It hit me as soon as I read that sentence — I’d slightly change it to “WHISPERS IN THE WIND” … Haven’t you ever been outside.. on a beautiful day…. and the wind blows gently around you, and if you just be still…you can just ‘feel’ the past surrounding you .. in the breezes.. I’ve always, always felt souls of the past in the wind…
    yes…

    WHISPERS IN THE WIND….

  7. terry says:

    not having read “a haunting reverence” (unfortunately), i can’t really say which i feel would better fit what you are saying in your book. i like both echoes and whispers, but they mean different things. for a truth (like the earth speaks), an echo will pass down the ages for all time, whether it is whispered or shouted from the mountain top. for me, an echo, like truth, is strong and enduring. you said you leaned toward echoes. i would like to hear your reason if you don’t mind sharing. i have read some of your other books, and look forward to reading this one no matter the title. you’re a very gifted writer, mr. nerburn.

  8. Paula Sibal says:

    Well I’m running on rez time and I’m obviously too late for my vote to count, but I’d say “whispers” because when we are quiet enough to hear, Creation whispers her truths to us and the Grandfather spirits do too. Sadly, I found out about your literary prowess after this book went out of print so I’m thrilled to have another opportunity to get it!

  9. Christine says:

    I can just hear Dan the Elder scowl in a disgusted voice, “Nerburn! You’re circling the wrong trail!” What would HE call it?

  10. Kent, I was sitting on my porch looking out into the dark pondering my own life and it’s current paths and choices when the thought popped into my head, “I wonder how Kent is feeling, with the film coming out soon.” It was a whisper, not an echo, for what it’s worth. I came in to send you an e just to catch up and decided to look at your website to see what’s new and stumbled into echo/whisper title land. Without knowing what your book is about, “Whispers” resonated first, but as I read more, you can make a case for either. A whisper feels more personal and directed quietly to me…an echo feels more random and can be jarring, loud or indistinct. When you do the crowd funding, I’m in. We need a lot more of your voice out there whispering and/or echoing…I like Christine’s question….”What would Dan say?” Personally I’ve heard voices twice and both times they were whispers, not echos.

  11. Patricia M. Rall says:

    yes, you are correct Kent, so many people are done in by misleading titles—why do the wunderkind think they have all the answers for us? don’t stop writing!! I wonder how you are doing physically quite often and hope that you and Louise are well–best wishes

  12. Manuel says:

    “Forgotten Voices.” It is enough to know there are forgotten voices. And in knowing, we may hear them, not as whispers, not as echoes, but as voices present that speak to us now, as any voice can speak.

    Looking at the words “Forgotten Voices,” the first thing I ask is, whose forgotten voices?

  13. Bill says:

    Forgotten Voices…
    Hey Kent, old brother, you going to the Scottish Premiere of NWND?

  14. Jesse Rowan says:

    Hi Kent,
    I have just read your book ‘Calm Surrender: Walking the Road of Forgiveness’ and it so moved me I came to look at your website. Your titles are all intriguing, but I personally am drawn to ‘A Haunting Reverence’. Maybe it should be included in a smaller font subtitle like this:

    Whispers of Forgotten Voices
    a haunting reverence…

    I have to tell you, the sense of reverence you expressed in your book on forgiveness astounded and inspired me to tears. Your son is very lucky to have you as his guide and example.

    If this book does not sell for a third time, perhaps you should consider making it a free e-book that leads people into your other books? Or put a taster on your website so we (your readers) can see what it is about and whether it might speak to our hearts?

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