Book titles are important. I have no argument with this fact. I recently finished writing my newest book, which I titled Grandma’s Masks. I like this title. However, I was recently told, by someone from the “book biz” I deeply respect, that this title needs work. Specifically, I was told that it needs to lose the word “grandma.”
This is because the common perception of a grandma is a little old lady with her gray hair in a bun and an apron over her plump lap. Maybe hobbling around on her cane. Someone who makes cookies and calls everyone “dearie.” Who is easily fooled by unscrupulous salesmen and plays bingo for recreation. Why would anyone want to buy a book about such a person? Bo-ring!
But in the real world, most grandparents (not just grandmas, grandpas too) become grandparents when they are in their fifties or sixties – some are even in their forties. Do you know any women in their forties, fifties, or sixties who fit the above stereotype? I don’t. And the women I know who are in their seventies don’t fit it either.
My mother was 87 when she died, and well into her eighties she did yoga, studied the political situation, worried about women’s rights, and oh yeah, took great care of her own mother (who was buying and selling real estate until she was ninety, and was a terror at bridge and poker, not bingo). I’m a grandma myself and so are many of my friends, and I don’t play bingo and anyone who tries to scam me for a fool will never do it again, and I don’t bake cookies or even own an apron. Although I do admit to having a little gray in my hair, it’s not long enough to wear in a bun. And I would rather chew on dirty toenails than call anyone “dearie.”
I guess you get the idea that I don’t like that grandma stereotype and it irritates me no end to have to consider changing the name of my book (which features a really cool grandma, by the way) in order to pander to this ridiculous, unrealistic, patronizing, and hackneyed stereotype.
However, I have to be open-minded here. The person who advised me to change the title to something without “grandma” really liked my book and wants to see it published, and sold. I know she does not subscribe to the grandma stereotype, but she knows the book biz and I believe her when she says the title Grandma’s Masks might hamper its chances.
So now I am in a quandary. Should I keep the title Grandma’s Masks or change it? Will prospective readers only envision that little old lady with the bun and the apron, and buy another book that sounds more exciting? Or will they think of someone wise, someone who sees the truth of who you are, and recognizes you in spite of the masks you wear?
Perhaps they will be intrigued by the juxtaposition of the prosaic word “grandma” with the mysterious word “masks.” They should be. Because Grandma’s Masks is about a woman who created fantastical masks that matched the stories she wrote – deceptively simple stories with dark depths of paradox lurking underneath, full of sneaky creatures who burst upward when you least expect them, and teach you about the elusive nature of truth and warn about the illusion of safety.
One stereotype that is true about grandmas is that they are older people in the second halves of their lives. They have less time to tell their truths, find the place where they belong, and uncover their true faces without their false masks. Most of them don’t mess around with living small and timid anymore. Which makes them more interesting, not less.
And that’s why I’m keeping the title Grandma’s Masks. Still, I’d like your opinion. Am I making a mistake? Would you buy a book with this title? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what you think.