Girl on the Wrong Train?

BN-LH180_GIRLTR_J_20151116151400My husband alerted to me to this article in the Wall Street Journal ( ‘loved-the-novel-about-a-girl-on-a-train-you-may-have-read-the-wrong-book’) about the unexpected plot twist associated with the best selling book by Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train, and readers confusing it with another thriller written by Alison Waines, Girl on a Train. Since my book group just did Hawkins’ book (and we all actually read the right book!) it made me chuckle – as it would seem that many book groups, book reviews and reader purchases have fallen prey to the confusion that comes from two, very similarly titled books.

I don’t believe I’ve ever actually bought the wrong book based on the title alone, but according to this article this is becoming a more common issue especially with the plethora of e-books now available. The article pointed to the novel ‘Joyland’ by Emily Schultz who saw her e-book sales jump after Stephen King’s ‘Joyland’ was released (I’m suspecting some readers would have been a little upset getting the former when they thought they were getting the latter – but Schultz said the confusion did open up a new audience for her!).

When I’m choosing the initial title for a work-in-progress I always search on Amazon to make sure that the proposed title I’m thinking of hasn’t already been taken. Likewise I usually do a quick Google search just to make sure the title isn’t  some well-known book/blog/other entity that I’m totally ignorant of…Now I know publishers often change book titles anyway so it’s not something I get too hung up over but still, I try not to knowingly call my latest book something really similar to one already available (especially when it’s the same genre). Likewise I avoid choosing titles that are likely to confuse readers or deliberately mimic a current bestselling series  (the WSJ pointed to a good example – ‘The Girl with the Cat Tatoo’). Still I’m sure it was a happy coincidence for Waines when her sales numbers took off because readers were buying her book, mistaking it for Hawkins’ bestseller!

So, have you ever bought the wrong book based on a confusing or similar sounding title? Have you perhaps benefitted as an author from a confusion like this? When choosing the title for your book how much research do you do to ensure yours will stand out (or do you simply not worry?)

Happy Thanksgiving this week to you all. May you, like Alison Waines, be the recipient of some happy coincidences in the holiday period ahead!


14 thoughts on “Girl on the Wrong Train?

  1. I’ve never bought the wrong book because I search for the specific cover, too. When I choose a title I do endless searches, lost many good titles that way too. But to have the same title as, say, Patterson, King, or Child would be a nightmare.

  2. How odd. I’ve never even remotely come close to buying the wrong book due to similar titles. It would be highly unlikely in any case because I don’t just look at title. I confirm author too. But I’ve never had the occasion of similar sounding titles come up.

  3. It shows how little some people pay attention to an author’s name. But even King? Jeez.

    No, I’ve never bought a wrong book based on title alone. I read the Hawkins book. Never knew there was another similar title until your astute observation, Clare. Interesting.

  4. Never bought the wrong book myself, but I can see how easily it happens. Barry Eisler came up to me after our series book “A Killing Rain” came out and told me we had pre-empted his “Killing Rain” title about his character John Rain. He was very nice about it, of course, even saying he thought adding the article “the” improved it. (our book came out first, so we didn’t steal his title!)

    I remember reading a while back about an author named Ruta Sepetys who wrote a book about a Lithuanian girl who is exiled by the totalitarianism government to Siberia. Her title is “Between Shades of Gray.” The first line of her book is, “They took me in my nightgown.” Yes, she sold a lot of books who thought they were going to get a good spanking, she said.

  5. I always check Amazon for similar titles. And I hate it when I find too many come up in my searches because coming up with titles is the bane of my writing process. However, I did have a book published with the same title as an erotic romance. Barnes & Noble got the digital versions mixed up, and had her book come up as the e-book version of mine. We got a good laugh out of that (she said she liked my book better), and B&N did straighten it out.

  6. The problem I’ve found in searching on Amazon for similar titles for my WIP is that with so many e-books being released, it’s almost impossible to find a title that doesn’t have similarities to something available online. Every possible combination seems to be taken although many of these books look to be somewhat “mass produced” in series of 15-20 with only slight variations in words to differentiate them. Makes it hard.

  7. I check Amazon and so does my editor. She really wanted “Catnapped” for the title of my 13th Dead-End Job mystery, because it fit the story so well, but there were several mysteries by that title. My editor added an exclamation point to the title: “Catnapped!” It’s a pain in the neck when it comes to punctuation, but “Catnapped!” did — and does — well.

  8. This column brings to mind Monty Python’s The Bookshop Sketch. Search it out.

    I, being the horrible person that I am, have, indeed, accidentally purchased the wrong book (once, but nonetheless). I’m too lazy to try and figure out which one. I’ve also purchased an ebook on Kindle that I already owned (and had read) on Nook. Worst of all, and this was just the other week, I started reading a book (by a Kill Zone alum). At first I liked it. Then I decided the situations were similar and derivative of other thrillers. My opinion went down. A few more chapters down the road all I could think was this was just like another book I had read. I debated whether to even keep reading it. And then it hit me: I had read this very book a couple of years ago. It wasn’t derivative, it was the original, and I had enjoyed it. Yes, my reading sins are rife.

  9. When I was a wee lad (gonna age myself here), I bought an album (the vinyl kind) entitled “Help!” which turned out to be a Beatles knock-off band. Adding the exclamation mark somehow made it legal. My dad made it all right, threatening the clerk at Fred Meyers (the local retail monopoly) with a broken finger if he didn’t make the exchange. At least that’s what he told me years later.

  10. I’ve never bought the wrong book myself, but I’ve always thought some unethical writer could scam a few sales by selling a book under a well-known title (or something close to the known work). I believe one cannot copyright titles, so I’m a bit surprised that that hasn’t happened more often.

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