This is just one of the many lessons it has taken me a long time to learn. To wit – to check that the title that I propose for my latest book has not already been used.
Technically it doesn't matter if it has. A book title, unlike a trademark, Coca-Cola or Nike say, cannot be copyrighted. Would however be a risk to even include Coca-Cola or Nike within a title, so litigious are those corporations.
Apologies for the early digression.
This is what provoked me to this blog: I titled my latest novel, The Seventh Man. I knew that Graham Greene had his Third Man. And I had a suspicion that there had been books about the Oxbridge spy rings, each speculating on who might have been the fifth or sixth member. If memory serves the last of those spies to have been outed had been 'The Keeper of the Royal Paintings.'
I thought seven was safe so didn't bother to check if anyone had yet reached there.
Because when I did do an online search, post-publication, guess whose latest book popped up first in the listing? Only Haruki Murakami's The Seventh Man.
Happy as I am to be associated with Haruki Murakami, and in a way delighted that we both came up near simultaneously with the same title, given that he is thousands of times more famous than I, our shared title has put my novel at something of a sales disadvantage.
The most annoying aspect is that my The Seventh Man was never its title during the writing. Its working title was Flow Chart, that being the process whereby I ordered the narrative. Only near the tale's end did I come to see that the book's focus was on what wasn't there, The Seventh Man.
There are so many pitfalls with titles. Take my Trees novel. Where I did do pre-publication checks.
Within the story the group of foresters called themselves The Tree Prospectus. So that the novel didn't get confused with the many text books titled Trees my original self-published title for the eBook was Trees: the Tree Prospectus. And I stuck with this even though an earlier search had shown that The Tree Prospectus itself had been the name chosen for a carbon offset scam, where no trees had been planted.
I thought that mine, being an obvious work of eco-fiction, the double title would avoid confusion with both text books and the then notorious scam. So far so good. People enjoyed the book. Except that the tradition (dare I say bookshop?) mindset of my Cardiff paperback publisher held that there was no such genre as eco-fiction, and he published Trees as a sort of mystery novel, with a tag line emphasising the death within the tale.
Ah well. Whoever said that getting a book into print was easy.... Getting a title should be.
I have found that the safest, the surest bet for an original title is one that emerges from the writing.
In my growing up we didn't have many novels in our house. The one that we did have, and that I read and re-read, spent long hours studying its glossy illustrations, was a battered hardback of RM Ballantyne's Coral Island. Coral Island is, my re-reading had me realise, one of those tales that says more about the attitudes and values of the society from which the narrator comes than of the exotic events the narrator describes.
I knew that I wouldn't be the first to base an updated novel on Coral Island. William Golding had done so with a more realistic and contemporary boys' own adventure, Lord of the Flies. I took my three lads far into the future, again as children of empire, but this time as part of an inter-galactic empire. To give a broad clue to its inspiration I titled their tale, Balant.
The four SF books that grew out of Balant took each their titles from the different tales told. Happiness: a planet; You Human: the Leander Chronicle (nothing whatsoever to do with Murakami's The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. Far and away my favourite of all his books. And while I'm at it nor was Haruki Murakami an inspiration for my 3-in-one detective novel, The Company Chronicles. Just love all those hard Cs together.) I've again digressed. The final two of the Balant series was Not Now: Death, Dreams, and Reasons for Living and Eternals: the unMaking of Heaven.
Going the other way, some of my novels grew out of their titles. The End of Science Fiction for one. While Once Were Windows Once Were Doors grew out of my fascination with ruins and my wondering what would become of a world where Jerusalem, the most fought over place in history, was finally and completely obliterated.
My non-fiction Anti began with its title. And I was certain of We Need Madmen from its very first page. The Care Vortex, Something's Wrong and Two Bridgwater Days I had no need to check. Likewise the long titles for my historical novels.
For my next novel – the writing of it about half-way through – I have already decided on the title. I have done a search for possible duplication and there are, as yet, none like it. I am however keeping a weather eye on Murakami.
Fingers crossed. (Not the title.)
© Sam Smith 2nd February 2023
The 7th Man - http://shorturl.at/afmV8
Now Look At What We've Done!
Epicurus of Samos (242-270 BC) held that peace of mind comes through freedom from fear. I wonder how he would have looked upon our 21st century scaremongering media. Beware terrorism, gangsters, scams, refugees, cancer, jellyfish...
Beware the next thing to be afraid of – grasshopper invasion. But not species extinction.
Too scary a tabloid headline?
For us as a species, because of us, planet Earth may very soon become uninhabitable. Every day another species becomes extinct. One a day gone forever.
The newspapers and the telly won't tell us. So.... How now, at this late stage, do we save ourselves?
For a start we have to move beyond short-term democratic thinking, beyond governments with one eye always on the next election.
In order to save what's left upon the planet, in order to save ourselves, do we therefore have to move beyond democracy?
Electorates have been trained in consumerism, conditioned by adverts. And by its very definition consumerism is destructive, its advertising reliant on catchphrases, rendering the public unthinking, evermore moronic and prey to politicians with their own catchphrases, sound-bites. Electorates are now 'sold' politicians, almost regardless of those politicians ability to govern.
To save ourselves shall we vote just the once more? Vote to abandon our destructive democracies?
Or should we rely on technology?
Will technology save us? Depends. Has species Us mastered technology or has technology mastered us?
Machines have taken over our most repetitive tasks. Machines now wash our clothes, clean our houses. Cars can drive themselves. The jobs that people are now forced to do – for wages – are mostly made up jobs, serve no real purpose.
Those who are forced into these purposeless jobs know this, detracting from their self-worth. With small incomes they are left with little to do other than be prey to mass media, advertising things and being shown ways of life that on their wages they can't afford.
To save ourselves, to save what's left of the planet, we need to move away from economic systems predicated on work. People need some sort of trade-able income certainly, but they don't need invented jobs. What they need is occupations, to be gainfully occupied.
With fires and flood affecting us all we need to move away from ownership, need new ways of assessing self-worth. How we as individuals might contribute to the common good?
At the moment, and despite the fires and floods, the middle class here in the class-ridden UK (how out of date is that?) still dream of buying a bit of land and stopping the rest of us using it. Which just goes to show how saving ourselves is going to be difficult. We're stuck – mindsets, attitudes, behavioural patterns – just when we most desperately need to change.
© Sam Smith 9th March 2023
There is a new phenomena afoot: small press magazines having to ask for submissions.
I had worried that last issue The Journal might have been alone in receiving fewer submissions. Had me worried that The Journal might have given over too much space to reviews. Or that we had in some way caused general offence unbeknownst to me? Then in short order I came across several other, equally well-established poetry magazines here and in the US, asking for submissions.
Now it wasn't so long ago that many magazines, to cut down on the load, put up barriers to submissions. So what has changed?
What immediately comes to mind is online publication. Not in online magazines, but poets putting up single poems on social media, on FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram et al; and thus forfeiting their First Serial Rights to magazine publication.
If that is so, as I strongly suspect it is, with magazine submission guidelines asking for previously unpublished work and stipulating that that includes online publication, it would certainly account for so few submissions. And possibly also for fewer print magazines. But more of them later.
First let me question the wisdom of posting single poems online. I don't know about others' reading habits, but I give poems on social media barely a first glance. I don't go on social media to read poems, use it for news and to interact with distant friends, so I tend to scroll straight on past any poems. I might pause to read an article, rarely a poem. I like to be receptive to poems, to put myself into a poem-reading frame of mind, which is not when scrolling through the daily news feeds.
That's me. So who does read poems online?
Not many, is my guess. A few poetry friends and dutiful family at best. The instant gratification of a few 'Likes', and that will be it, the poem's readership. And that will be it until the poem is included in a collection. That is if a small press publisher will give a second glance to a collection of poems that have been published only on social media, that haven't seen previous publication in any periodicals, that haven't gone through a selection process let alone been edited
What I don't understand is that if a poet wants feedback from a 'safe' group, why not go to local open mikes? The audience would be about the same size as on social media, and being writers themselves they tend to be not at all critical, and if asked might well comment. And just hearing the poem oneself can give one insight to where it might be improved. Plus the fact that at an open mike you never know who is going to be there. At a Birmingham open mike I got offered a collection on the basis of the 3 poems that I had just read. And reading a poem at an open mike, performance even, of itself doesn't count as publication.
Granted submitting to magazines is a chore, especially to those that take a time-wasting age to reply, and then do so with a formatted rejection.
I've often thought that submitting poets should be as strict in their submitting policy as magazines are in theirs. If all poets gave a magazine 4 months to respond, 6 months tops, and then believed themselves free to submit elsewhere, I'm sure editors would up their game.
And I know rejections can be depressing – The Journal rejects 98% of the poems sent – but rejection of itself can be part of the creative process, can make one look again at the work, how it might be improved, be better presented... And one never knows: an editor if inspired might offer feedback for free.
As to the magazines themselves, especially print magazines, the rising cost of postage has hit them hard. Most magazines these days accept email submissions, so no extra expense for the poet there. Nor have print costs shot up that much. It has been the posting out of the magazines that has become so costly and is probably the main reason there are now so few print magazines, most of which are run on a voluntary/unpaid basis. To add now to their miseries with a lack of submissions could see an end to small press magazines altogether. Where then poetry publication?
At open mikes now many poets will have a chapbook, or collection, to wave at the audience. Quite a few of them will have been self-published. Sales will be few.
A question often asked now regards the ease of self-publication is where the gate-keepers, the quality control? In poetry especially if everyone is to have self-published chapbooks and collections, but few readers, and no print magazines – because what's the point? - where do we go from here?
In case anyone has missed the point of this blog, submissions are welcome the year round at The Journal - https://thesamsmith.webs.com/index.htm A response will usually be within the month. And for the foreseeable there will be a change in The Journal submission policy.
Defeated by my own estimation of single poem readership on social media being no more than that at an open mike I can't see that posting there amounts to 'publication'. The Journal will now therefore consider those single poems previously 'published' online.
© Sam Smith 28th March 2023