If you’ve been reading this blog regularly–or semi-regularly–or hardly at all–you might know I’ve got a biography of Pola Negri coming out next year with McFarland Books. There’s a lot of work still to go before it actually gets published, but one of the most recent sticking points is the title. McFarland wants a title that will help sell the book. I get that. I, on the other hand, simply want the book out–but that doesn’t mean that I don’t care what it’s called.
When I first started writing this book, I took a cue from Kevin Brownlow’s “Mary Pickford Re-discovered.” My copy is actually autographed by Mr. Brownlow, but that’s neither here nor there (yeah right, that’s why I mentioned it). With Pola as something of a semi-forgotten film star whose legacy is marked by distortions about her persona, reputation, and film, career, I thought my book would be a “re-invention: of whom she was. so the first title was “Re=Inventing Pola Negri.”
That title, however, doesn’t answer the most important question for a would-be book buyer: “Who in the hell is Pola Negri?”
So, back to the drawing board. Around draft three I started tinkering with calling it: “Pola Negri: Silent Cinema’s Most Exotic and Enigmatic Star. Problem? Too awkward–too long–lacks sizzle–pizzaz. Nice try, but no.
Around draft five I was considered “Pola Negri: The Forgotten Queen of Silent Pictures.” Rotten! Even i Didn’t like that one. Besides, a bio of Gloria Swanson came out at this time called, “Gloria Swanson: The Queen of Hollywood.” Maybe I just didn’t like the idea of Pola still coming in second to the vastly overrated Swanson (you’ll get what I mean when my book comes out).
Draft seven gave me a new title inspired by an interview from 1923 by a Spanish news article that referred to Miss Negri as a “creature of fire.” That got my wheels turning and I came up with “A Creature of Flame and Desire: The Life and Times of Pola Negri.”
Boy, was I proud of myself over that one! An entirely original title for a very original biography. I made up a mock cover with the title and almost wound up having business cards made with the image in order to pre-sell the work or at least thinking it might sell the book to a publisher.
So when I got the deal with McFarland I thought I had a great title–and wound up with a Bronx cheer. They didn’t think it was a marketable title–too long, they told me, and not exciting enough. I was aghast. They didn’t like a title that I’d put my heart and soul into! Sniff.
Ah, they said, but we have great news for you. We’ve come up with a title for the book: “Pola Negri: Temptress of Silent Hollywood.”
My first thought: you have to be f-ing kidding me!
Then it was my turn to give them a Bronx cheer–nothing like that, really. I appreciated the effort, but as I explained, the whole premise of the biography is to debunk the idea that Pola Negri was just another silent movie vamp or femme fatale–which is what most people think of her. She was actually a very accomplished dramatic actress who only made two vamp films out of the 20 she made in Hollywood. The tile was ultimately their choice, sure, but the title they suggested was a bit counterproductive.
My editor, bless her heart, seemed to have understood my reservation and when i last heard from her a couple of weeks ago, she said we were “back to square one” on the title. I even suggested “Pola Negri: The Movies’ Exotic Engima” as an idea, but that doesn’t seem to have gone very far either.
So, anybody got any suggestions? I’d like to start promoting the book, but kind of difficult without a title. If you choose to submit an idea and the publishing company picks it, I’ll sued you a free copy once it is published. What do you say?