Title Troubles (Part 5 in the Book Chronicles)

Hi Friends,

As many of you know, we set our book title way back in February. That title was:

How Not to Be a Hot Mess:
A Semi-Buddhist Guide for Surviving Modern Life

Then, as many of you know, that title got yanked last month.

Subsequently, we brainstormed 1,234 new book titles. And plastered half of them on Facebook for voting and comments and opinions and rants. And now, after all that, we have . . . the same book title:

How Not to Be a Hot Mess:
A Semi-Buddhist Guide for Surviving Modern Life

(For earlier installments about the slings and arrows of writing this book click here.)

So what the heck happened?

What happened was that, after eleven months of ups and downs and drafts and striving, we handed in our manuscript to Shambhala Publications on April 21st. At this point we'd had the title set for two months. It was a done deal. Or so we thought.

But Shambhala is a relatively small publishing house. And so they distribute through Penguin Random House, which is the Titanic of publishers. They're huge.

All in all, this is a good thing for us. Because it means our book will be in every Barnes & Noble and every important independent bookstore, Amazon too, and maybe even Target or Urban Outfitters or Anthropologie or some such.

But it also means Penguin Random House has a say. And when the Shambhala team went to New York to pitch their lead books for next year, the folks at PRH had good news and bad news about our project.

The good news: they loved the sample chapter. They were pumped about the topic, the tone, the humor, the punchiness and playfulness and obvious expertise.

The bad news: they threw shade at the cover. And they had doubts about the title.

The cover at that point was hot pink. They thought it skewed too feminine, that no man would buy this book.

An easy fix.

But their comments on the title were harder to finagle. Again, they worried "hot mess" would drive men away. But they also worried "hot mess" wouldn't age well. And they worried "hot mess" would be played out by the time the book launched in April 2020.

Now, Devon and I and our editor Jenn and the whole marketing and publicity team at Shambhala had been tossing around these concerns for months. But we'd basically decided to go for it. Maybe "hot mess" wasn't a perfect title, we'd thought, but it was a pretty good one, and when we ran it by the folks in our audience (age 22 to 35), they loved it and wanted to buy the book that very day.

But when Penguin Random House pushed back, our friends at Shambhala got spooked. And so Devon and I and our editor Jenn and the whole marketing and publicity team entered a four week period of churning, messy, brainstorming limbo.

I cannot tell you how many titles we tossed around. We brainstormed by email, by text, by phone, by Zoom, by What's App; I ran polls on Facebook and Instagram; we had lunches and dinners with friends that were entirely consumed by conversations about the ever-unresolving book title fiasco.

I can tell you we invented some of the worst imaginable titles. I won't even list them here: that's how bad they were. We also knocked around a few I loved, like:

How Not to Lose Your Sh!t:
A Semi-Buddhist Guide for Surviving Modern Life


Surviving Modern Life:
A Semi-Buddhist Guide to Sex, Drugs, and Staying Sane in the Middle of Everything

But in the end, after everything was said and everything was done and all the focus groups were focused and all the polls were posted and all the feedback was gathered and all the energy was spent, our Shambhala team decided "hot mess" was our best bet.

Not the perfect title, for sure. But perfect titles are hard to come by. And How Not to Be a Hot Mess does a lot of heavy lifting: it's light, it's fun, it grabs attention, it speaks to our demographic, and it's what the book is about.

(For more on what the book is about click here.)

So now it's done. We have our title. Forever and ever. Amen. Thanks to all who dragged along through the process with us: who voted on Facebook, commented on Instagram, put up with our yammering, threw their own title ideas into the pot, and generally supported us as we went back and forth and over and out.

All good things,

Craig Hase