I’m a bit obsessive about my writing, so it should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I agonized endlessly over my book’s title. It got to the point where I was seriously annoying any friends I had left who would listen.
The original title
In my last post, I traced the circuitous route my memoir took to reach its current stage of semi-completion, the gauntlet it ran through various agents — and my own insecurities — and the detours it made around another book and two blogs.
In the early days, the book had a different name: MISGUIDED.
This was a punning allusion to the fact that I was a guidebook editor and author with a horrible sense of direction, as well as a woman who often behaved in a way that might be considered improper by some.
Okay, by many.
It was nice and concise, but I knew I’d have to rely on the subtitle to make it clear that this was a book about a travel writer.
Subtitles: Free hotel rooms, as well as free love
The subtitle also bore another burden: I not only wanted it to allude to my affairs on the road, but also to my acceptance of freebies — hotel rooms, meals, passes to attractions — when my expenses were not covered. Many consider press trips or being hosted by travel-related businesses a form of prostitution or at least serious ethical compromise. I am most decidedly not among them. I’ll be getting to that soon.
At one point, the book was called MISGUIDED: Confessions of a Travel Slut.
I know, I know. But it was part of an attempt to reclaim the word “slut” by defusing its pejorative nature, of highlighting the double standard between the way men who enjoy sex and women who enjoy sex are regarded. What can I say? I have an academic background. Sometimes I go all postmodern.
Then there was MISGUIDED: An Accidental Travel Writer Tells All.
The “accidental” is not only an allusion to the book (and movie) The Accidental Tourist, but also to the fact that my entry into travel publishing was in fact an accident. I had recently gotten my Ph.D. in literature and realized that I didn’t want to move from New York to a city where I didn’t want to live in to do something I didn’t want to do, i.e., teach. I took a blind editing test at Lynn Palmer, an employment agency devoted to finding publishing jobs for unskilled English major types like me. It was only when I was called in for the interview that I found out which company was doing the hiring: Prentice Hall-Travel, which published the Frommer’s guides, among other series.
Which brings us to GETTING NAKED
But moving quickly to the top of the list of titles was MISGUIDED: Getting Naked for Money and Other Dispatches from the Life of a Travel Writer.
It was a bit long, but less in your face than “travel slut” and more interesting than “accidental travel writer.” And it had — again — its basis in real life, an assignment that was handed to me, not solicited (as it were).
I had written a couple of features for More magazine, a glossy woman’s publication for the over-40 set. “Naturism” was trendy, and my editor thought I might be game to go to a nudist resort — undercover and uncovered. She was right. While clothing and I are usually on extremely good terms, I’m not prudish. And the magazine paid very well.
(You can see the story as it appeared in print here. The story behind the story, which debunks the whole naturism-is-only-about-fresh-air myth, is far funnier. For that one, you’ll have to buy my book.)
I mentioned the Case of the Disappearing Agent (DA), the guy on the Upper West Side I had my friend try to track down because I was convinced no professional would stop returning my calls if he were not deathly ill.
Before he disappeared, DA suggested I foreground the nudity part of the title. Hey, he had successfully represented several books with snappy names, the best known of which was BUSH’S BRAIN: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush President. Who was I to argue?
So when he sent the book out to editors, it had GETTING NAKED FOR MONEY as its title.
No one took the bait. Hmmm. Was it too racy? I never managed to speak to DA again to get his feedback on that.
Judging a book by its cover
When I revived the book last year, I began obsessing about the title again. I had bought the .com domains for both contenders by this point, GettingNakedforMoney and MisguidedtheBook. So that wasn’t a consideration.
I ran both titles past my friends, sometimes saying one name first, sometimes the other.*
The reaction to MISGUIDED was usually positive, if sometimes tepid. The reaction to GETTING NAKED was never tepid, but sometimes horrified. More often than not, whenever I mentioned GETTING NAKED people laughed — albeit a bit nervously in some cases.
Laughing is good. I wanted people to know my book is funny.
Still, I was nervous about putting myself out there. I didn’t want people to get the wrong idea. Or at least not the wrong wrong idea.
Ironically, it was someone who was horrified about GETTING NAKED who sealed the deal. After her initial negative take, my friend Amy, a professional photographer, started spinning out nude-oriented covers. She mused, “But maybe if you did something tasteful, like Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, only make her a journalist?”
Perfect. It would reinforce the writer concept, evoke travel, and signal visually that the book was high-brow(ish) as well as funny.
Now all I needed was an artist to execute that vision.