Yesterday I finished my third book, which was called Worse than Titanic when I started, but along the way became Final Voyage. Despite being more than twice the length of my previous two books (47,338 words against about 23,000) I found this the most straightforward to write, perhaps because writing narrative is more of a natural fit for me than writing explanatory text.
This does mean that three books in I still haven’t come up with a title of my own (this
is the only book I’ve named – got rewarded with a chocolate bar for it). I’m happy with the new title. It’s less sensationalist than the previous one, something I became concerned about when an alternative title being considered for the book was So You Thought the Titanic was Bad! (complete with exclamation mark). It made me wonder whether those on the coalface of bookselling really care about the contents of a book, and whether the title matches that, so long as a buyer’s attention is grabbed.
In fact, the only time I struggled with this book is when I thought it might end up getting published under that title. It’s not academic history, but it’s not trivia either. Most of the chapters push 5,000 words. That title would only grab the attention of someone to whom the contents would not appeal, whilst at the same title warding off my target readership, who are looking for popular history, not some glib ‘trump card’-style read pitting various maritime disasters against each other and seeing which comes out worst. Worse than Titanic had to go for the same reason.
Of course, the new title isn’t entirely accurate. One of the ships featured in the book (the Thielbek) sank a few hours before the end of the Second World War carrying 2,800 concentration camp inmates, only 50 of whom survived. Four years later she was raised, repaired and put back into service.