Midnight in the Garden of Book Title Confusion

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evie I received an email from Shawny about a problem she had that's rather common — and a similar problem her uncle had that is both hilarious and sad: 

Can I make a topic suggestion? Books that sound like one thing, but are actually another? Or maybe books with identical or very similar titles? I've read 2 books called A Kiss at Midnight this year, one was a fairy tale, one was vampire angst. Fortunately, I'm a fan of both, but not everyone is.

Another example – my retired banker uncle recently planned a trip to Savannah. Someone suggested he read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which is set in Savannah. So he got online, but instead of buying Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, bought Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evie. I believe the latter is set in Oregon.

He read the whole thing, acknowledged later that there had been more sex in the book than he had expected, and spent the entire book wondering when the setting was going to shift to Savannah, and how this book got shortlisted for a Pulitzer.

He finished it, and this a man who maybe reads 2 novels a year, so that's saying something. You're far more likely to find old copies of The Economist on his bedside table than a book…unless it's maybe a collection of Churchill's letters to Roosevelt during WWII. Yeah, he's that kind of uncle.

True story.

Punny homage titles are pretty familiar to most of us by now, with books like What an Earl Wants being used twice now. And it can be pretty easy to tell the difference between two books when you see the covers,but it's a little harder to differentiate if you're looking at a tiny line of text on a digital reader screen – which is where a lot of my accidental buying mistakes happen. Thank heavens for Amazon's very relaxed digital book return policy.

Has this happened to you? Have you bought a book by mistake because of a similar title? Does seeing titles reused confuse you at all?

And here's the REAL question: What do you think is the most commonly re-used romance title? 

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  1. 1

    Oh, I have a funny story about that, partly some early romances I came to read.  My grandfather, a Harvard PhD, last of the Victorians (he was born in 1883) lived with us when I was growing up.  It wasn’t that he didn’t read novels (he had all of Ryder Haggard, Sherlock Holmes & such and mysteries and so on.)  He belonged to several book clubs and always had extra premiums for freebies.

    When I was about 12 he handed me a volume titled “The Spell of Mary Stewart” which contained “This Rough Magic, The Ivy Tree, and Wildfire at Midnight.  It had been an accidental purchase from a list of just titles.  He hadn’t looked carefully and was intending to buy a biography of Mary Queen of Scots that he had read a review of. 

  2. 2
    NCKat says:

    I believe the current favorite to use is “50 Shades of…” which makes me clench my teeth as I can’t stand the original.  Traditionally, the most used title is probably “Pride and Prejudice” IMHO.

  3. 3
    Jaelwye says:

    Don’t know what the most commonly reused title is, but I would bet fucsia peignoir that the word “duke” is in there somewhere.

  4. 4
    Jaelwye says:

    Don’t know what the most commonly re-used title is, but I bet my fucsia peignoir that it has the word “Duke” in there somewhere.

  5. 5
    tangeria says:

    well, it isn’t book titles, but for Christmas one year, my mom went to buy my dad a book from his wishlist.  when he opened it, he had a really weird look on his face…turns out he wanted Stephen Coonts, and she came home with Dean Koontz.  oops!

  6. 6

    Ouch! I’m dealing with that right now. My Bantam Loveswept was Some Enchanted Season, and when I decided to spiff it up a little and bring it out as an ebook I found Bantam had published a book a few years later by the same title. Marilyn Pappano’s “season” was Christmas. Mine was NFL football season. But both are romances.  I wasn’t sure whether to come up with a new title or not. I didn’t. I hope it doesn’t cause problems, but with an online sale it’s less likely to. The covers are very different!

  7. 7

    I am such a ditz. I think I just flagged my own comment for review. Ooops.

  8. 8
    Sandra says:

    With “punny homage titles” you know the book’s probably going to be light-weight fluff. I tend to avoid them, because, rightly or wrongly, they indicate to me that plots and characters are also recycled. Been there, done that, no need to repeat the experience, thanks…. Unless it’s Julia Quinn. She gets a pass.

  9. 9
    Kyra Cornelius Kramer says:

    I still have issues with the title of Jennifer Crusie’s “Fast Women”. I loved, loved the book … but I always thought the title should have been “Loose Women”, since they were all tearing loose from bad situations/relationships and finding happiness on their own terms. I really don’t see the difference between fast v/s loose women in concept, except for the fact one fit the narrative and the other didn’t, so I am not sure why Crusie and her agent/publisher made that call.

  10. 10
    LG says:

    I know. It’s a total knee-jerk reaction for me, but if I see something that seems to be trying to piggyback off the popularity of 50 Shades (with its title, setup, or cover art), I’m instantly turned off. The 50 Shades books will forever be the literary equivalent of a slimy used car salesman to me, and that feeling rubs off on similar looking/sounding books.

  11. 11

    One of my BookBub suggestions today was for a cookbook called Fifty Shades of Kale. Yes. Kale. Because nothing says “fun sexytimes” like cruciferous vegetables.

    At that point, I decided to invent time travel so I could erase all reference to Twilight from the global consciousness (thus eradicating two shitty franchises in a single deadly strike). I would keep you all updated with my progress, but you won’t remember it anyway once I succeed.

  12. 12
    Vicki says:

    I had one that worked out – I saw a book on B&N that looked interesting. It said the author had written a book that I liked so I got this one, too. Well, turned out that he’d written a book with the same title as one I’d liked…fortunately, I really enjoyed the book I bought by mistake.

  13. 13
    PamG says:

    Titles have never had copyright protection so it’s not uncommon to search for a title and get multiple hits, particularly in a library catalog.  I’m always quizzing kids who ask me for The Invisible Man as to whether they want the classic novel about the African American experience or the early science fiction adventure.  Any cliche or notable quotable is fair game, and if your title is taken from the Bible or Shakespeare that ups the ante.  Single word titles are also common duplicates.

    Time and Again gave me three novels by Jack Finney, Nora Roberts, and JiUn Yun.  Perchance to Dream yielded novels by Damon Knight, Lisa Mantchev, as well as Robert Parker.  However, I hit the real jackpot with Scandal.  Novels by Pamela Britton, Amanda Quick, Carolyn Jewel, and Julie Kistler turned up in my local library system, all romances (judging by the covers) and all written within 5 years of each other.  I don’t know if this is worse for the readers or for the authors.  I know it makes me more sympathetic towards the use of formulaic, sometimes lame, titles that are immediately identified with a particular author.

     

  14. 14
    NCKat says:

    Ooh I saw that one!  The cover has a model lolling about in a bed of kale leaves!  Put me off kale for a long time, I tell ya.

  15. 15
    snarkhunter says:

    Despite CLEARLY saying on my syllabus that the upcoming book was by Ralph Ellison and telling the class several times that we were moving on to an American author and to a book that was no longer in the public domain…several of my college students still downloaded and/or read H. G. Wells’s “The Invisible Man.”

  16. 16
    Tabs says:

    A couple of years back, I tried to track down the first romance novel I had ever read (and loved) and had a helluva time.  I knew that the title was along the lines of “Some Like It Hot” and that it featured a Texas chili cook-off (naturally).  Yeah.  Needle.  Meet haystack.  I tracked it down eventually, but it was not easy.

  17. 17
    Arresi says:

    Not romance related, but . . . a friend of mine was terribly disappointed when he realized the “Ruling Planets” and “The Poisoner’s Handbook” were actually an astrology book and a (very, very good) history book, respectively.

  18. 18
    Shal says:

    I had this problem tracking down my 1st romance read. The title was ‘Something Encounter’. Finding out the ‘something’ took me months. When i finally remembered the author’s name, she wrote like 4 books with ‘Encounter’ in the title. I “Kidd” you not.
    I’ve also read a lot of Harlequin Presents novels with the red ribbon (was the going thing in high school), and there was a lot of ‘Sheiks’ & ‘Greeks’. It was useless trying to remember a book by its title. They all had 1 of three words tossed with ‘Sheik’ or ‘Greek’ in it:
    1-Playboy
    2-Mistress
    3-Virgin
    e.g The Playboy Sheik’s Virgin Stable Girl…:)
    And I do get angry when the book’s title is vastly different from the actually story. e.g The Good Greek Wife- I was expecting some unconditional love and a jackass husband who would realise just what a prize he had when wifey decides enough is enough starts an uprising. I wanted a heroine i could cheer for instead i got one i wanted to slap silly and bang her head against a wall just for good measure.

    I going to go lie down now.

  19. 19
    emptycalories says:

    Ha!  I wrote a column about this in Library Journal once.  It came up because of Twilight.  Honestly, there are a million books with that name.  But it was really inspired because I was trying to find a patron a copy of the book The Vanishing Point (by Mary Sharratt), which is one of my fave historical fiction novels, and I came up with a mystery instead.  But, honestly, if you accidentally happen upon a Marcia Muller book…there are a lot worse things that can happen to a gal.

  20. 20
    Wendy Barron says:

    Omigosh, yes, I have! I read Twilight thinking that it was the first book in the ‘Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter’ series, and spent the entire time wondering when the hell this stupid vacuous teenage dope was going to stop mooning over vampires and start staking them. This confusion arose because, at the time, New Moon (Twilight book 3) had just come out and was all the buzz, and I hadn’t actually written down the title of the Anita Blake book, which was Blue Moon.

    I later found the first of the Anita Blake series. Between that, Twilight, and the Sookie Stackhouse books, I realized at length that I just haven’t given a shit about vampires since season 3 of Buffy.

  21. 21
    CarrieS says:

    This wasn’t exactly a misleading title, but as a kid I discovered Narnia because I read “A Horse and His Boy”.  I didn’t know anything about Narnia but I thought it was about a horse and at the time I read anything about horses.  It is, of course, a book about a horse and his boy, but the side effect of discovering Narnia was a totally unexpected boost as I went on to read all the rest of the books, none of which were very horsey.

  22. 22
    Nekobawt says:

    it’s funny you should say that, carrie, i read “the valley of horses” on the same misconception…when i was ten. i’d read “black beauty”, “the black stallion”, etc, and was browsing my dad’s bookcases and thought “hey look, LOTS of horses”. that blunder led to me getting the birds and the bees explained a little early when i asked dad to verify whether auel had accurately depicted jondalar’s erection (“it says penises get hot and hard, do they actually do that?” “uh….well, you see…” etc). “clan of the cave bears” was an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT kind of eye-opening for me though. :(

  23. 23
    Faellie says:

    P G Wodehouse wrote a book called “Summer Lightning” which has a very funny preface about the title: he says it came to him like a revelation, he was delighted with it until he found out about all the other books with the same title, and just hopes it will fall within the category “100 best books called Summer Lightning”.

  24. 24
    Jane Lovering says:

    I’ve just undergone this very thing – my upcoming book is called ‘Hubble Bubble’, it was the working title while I was writing it and the ONLY title that properly fitted the mix of magic and emotional turmoil.  My publishers decided to put the tagline ‘be careful what you wish for..’ underneath.  I then find that another author has EXACTLY the same title and tagline. And, of course, by then my book was so firmly Hubble Bubble that coming up with an alternative was just about impossible, so we’re running with it (and the other author is very sweet about the whole thing.  Even though you can’t copyright titles, it’s still a bit of a faux pas, and I feel horribly guilty).

  25. 25

    The first two titles in my Courtesan Court Series (Mistress by Mistake and Mistress by Midnight) were exact duplicates of books that were released a month or two before them. Since they were my working titles from the very beginning, two or three years before they were actually published, it was slightly crushing. Susan Gee Heino and I decided to have fun and cross-promote Mistake. But by the time Mistress by Marriage came ou, I was totally paranoid and felt jinxed, LOL.

  26. 26
    Bibliophile says:

    I wrote a blog post about this several years ago, in relation to a romance that I had wanted to read. I had read a favourable online review of a historical romance titled “The Devil’s Bargain”. I then promptly forgot the name of the author. Browsing in the library a few days later I found a historical romance by that title, borrowed it and took it home to read, only to discover that while it was a historical and the title was correct, it was not the same book. I did a search on Amazon and found 10 books with “devil’s bargain” in the title, 5 of which were exact title matches. 8 of these books were romances and two publishing houses had each published two romances with this title.

    Incidentally, on the same occasion I was looking for a Regency romance titled “The Errant Earl” and also found a duplicate of that. Amazon gave me 3 books with that title.

  27. 27
    Tin says:

    Part of my year-end survey on my blog is tracking the most-commonly used words in titles (limited to historical romances)—

    I decided to do this because last year 2 novels I read had the same title: Scandal of the Year (Laura Lee Guhrke and Olivia Drake)—

    For 2012:
    Lady is used 36 times while Lord has only been used 13 times.
    Duke is still the most popular title, having been used 18 times.  (Earl has been used 5 times and Marquess/Marquis only once.)

    Etc.  (I’m still not done with my survey.) ^_^

  28. 28
    Californianinkansas says:

    Nekobawt,
    The EXACT same thing happened to me. I was too embarrassed to ask a grownup about it. I was Very Confused About Sex for a long time after that.

  29. 29
    ReadinginAK says:

    There are are at least 3 romances with the title “Simply Irresistible”. I own two of them. Apparently, there’s something about that title…

  30. 30
    LG says:

    When I was a kid, there was a period when, for me, it was gryphons. Gryphons on the cover, gryphons in the title, whatever. If there was a mention of them, I checked the book out. Sometimes that resulted in reading experiences that included gryphons (The Black Gryphon by Mercedes Lackey) and sometimes it didn’t, or at least not as much as I expected (Andre Norton’s Gryphon saga).

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