Some of the titles that could have been

One of my habits is, sporadically, to go through old stuff in order to throw most of it away and be reminded of the few nuggets worth preserving.

As I was doing that, I came across a little Post-it note on which I seem to have scribbled, at some point over the past four years, ideas for titles and subtitles for my book, to be discussed with my editor. (As you can see from the older posts with the tag “titles“, it was on my mind for a long time.)

Here are the ones just on that particular Post-it note:

Hannibal and You: Uncovering the mysteries of success and failure in our lives

Reversal: Triumph and disaster in life, from ancient times to today

The two impostors: Tracing the mystery of triumph and disaster from antiquity to our own lives

The Hannibal Archetype: The eternal mystery of triumph and disaster in life

Hannibal’s riddle: The mystery of success and failure in life

When Hannibal met Scipio: The mystery of success and failure in our lives

The Hannibal Challenge

In the end, of course, the publisher chose the title and subtitle you see on the jacket on the right, and at the top of this blog. What would you have chosen?

27 thoughts on “Some of the titles that could have been

  1. I like these three in this order,

    1) The two impostors: Tracing the mystery of triumph and disaster from antiquity to our own lives
    2) Reversal: Triumph and disaster in life, from ancient times to today
    3) Hannibal and You: Uncovering the mysteries of success and failure in our lives

    • Hi Andreas, I like Hannibal and Me. But like you, I’m not a big fan of the subtitle, in particular the words History and Military Strategist. So if I have to take the whole title + subtitle, I do prefer all three to the current title + subtitle.

      I remember Stephen Hawking writing in “A Brief History of Time” and I quote,
      “Someone told me that each equation I included in the book would halve the sales. I therefore resolved not to have any equations at all. In the end, however, I did put in one equation, Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc^2. I hope that this will not scare off half of my potential readers.”

      I am not saying words like “History” and “Military Strategist” have the power to halve book sales, but they may have unnecessary scared some people from giving the book a try.

    • Men and women of good will expend every ounce of their lives and creativity trying to undo the harm caused by the ambitious. That is the tenor of Kipling’s poem.

      Hannibal was not a hero. Hence the negative.

  2. Knowing what I know now, I’d say that Hannibal and Me continues to be the best choice. I like The Hannibal Archetype, but people might think it’s a Robert Ludlum book with that title. Hannibal and You would probably turn off the more sensitve (or paranoid) reader.

    I must admit that I’m surprised that “Travels With Surus in Search of Col de la Traversette” didn’t make the short list!

    • I also think Hannibal and Me is a good title, actually. It’s the SUBTITLE that I’ve never totally got comfortable with. I think some of those on the Post-it note were better….

  3. what is still so enjoyable for me is to find the synchronicity of posts and comments.

    i too admired your german diction, as although i know little german, the general topics were clear. but someone had already commented on your diction for me.

    and then a few days ago it occurred to me that the clearest title for the book would have been “hannibal and you”, but we avoid declaratory “you” statements in our house. for example “you forgot to take out the trash” becomes “would you please take out the trash?”

    so i figured that “hannibal and you” would not have been given much consideration.. and now i see it was considered!

    perhaps what i see as synchronistic is just minds working alike?

    i definitely would not have considered a title that did not include the name “hannibal” 🙂

    • “Would you please take out the trash” is still a declaratory You statement, no? Or do you mean that you simply try not to speak in the imperative tense?

      I think you should take another step toward harmony in your house and say: “Is it possible that the trash has not been taken out in a few days? [then, inwardly focused but audible:] Yes, I should take out the trash, too bad I’m sooo busy and soo tired right now, doing all these chores for my beloved family. But the trash really is becoming stinky. ….”

    • indeed. it is a rhetorical declaratory “you” statement.

      i had not noticed 😉

      titles that could have been; “is it possible that Hannibal could have viewed his military success as failures and his ultimate failure as success?” while the subtitle could explore… how busy he was between success and failures, perhaps tending to beloved stinky elephants!

  4. I agree with your comment on the sub title. Little bit too wordy. I really like Hannibal’s riddle and the sub title that goes with it. Pretty much to the point.

  5. “Hannibal: Or How To Learn To Stop Worrying And Love Disaster”, may have been more eye-catching a title.

    A subtitle wouldn’t have been needed.

    I’ve checked your book again in my neighbourhood bookstore. Only two copies are now left of the original four. So it’s 50% sold-out after a just month on the shelf. I doubt even “Eat Pray Love” sold that fast.

    • Best title yet, Christopher.

      I think Jenny bought most of the copies of “Eat Pray and Love,” because she l-o-v-e-d it. Especially the movie.

      I just thought of a self-help book with a camouflage book jacket: “Eat Prey, and Love.” (all the punctuation I can think of works with props to Lynn Truss) Eat, Prey and Love, Eat Prey and Love. Maybe a cook book. Who’s in?

  6. I also like “Hannibal’s riddle: The mystery of success and failure in life.” It seems more philosophical and less like a self-help title (probably because it eliminates “you”, “me” and “us”).

  7. I like the current title best, but agree the subtitle is lengthy. I don’t like the “Hannibal’s riddle…” option because it leaves nothing to the imagination.

    Think of books whose title you admire. “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference” it was enticing enough for me to reach for the book even before I knew what it was about.

    Isn’t that the goal, to have someone reach for your book and explore what it might be about… hey what does Hannibal have to do with me, let me open it and find out. i would have never guessed that Hannibal had anything to tech me, except for military strategy. Good job.

  8. Will nobody point out that “When Hannibal Met Scipio” must be the name of the movie adaptation? With soundtrack by Harry Connick Jr.

    And, Andreas, you can make a cameo appearance at the end, in a very meta sort of way, and sing “I could write a book.” Big brass accompaniment. Snappy new lyrics coming up. Please wear a tux.

    (By the way, Mr. Crotchety, would you please take these questions seriously and stay on topic.)

  9. @ Jenny – Your talking of soundtracks and snappy lyrics raises the notion of an opera of the Hannibal story, to be called just, “Hannibal”.

    The title song, “Don’t Cry For Me Carthaginians”, would include lyrics like:

    I had to make it happen,
    I had to change,
    Couldn’t stay all my life doing nil,
    Looking out at the mountains,
    Staying out of the Alps,
    So I chose warfare,
    Riding around killing everyone there,
    On elephants horses and all,
    My soldiers and me had a ball
    .

    Yeah……….

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