• Christopher G. Moore

Putting “Selflish” into a book Title: How to make a best seller

Getting the title of a book right is never easy. The perfect title makes picking up the book irresistible. Publishers shy away from titles that are negative. Or that is the conventional wisdom.

Thirty years ago Richard Dawkin’s The Selfish Gene was published. One publisher didn’t like the word “selfish” advising the author it was a downer and suggested “immoral” gene instead. The author admits another good title would have been the “cooperative” gene.

In the thirty years since it was published, The Selfish Gene has had an impact on the life of readers. Sometimes causing depression.

Dawkin is quoted in The Times, “A teacher reproachfully wrote that a pupil had come to him in tears after reading the same book, because it had persuaded her that life was empty and purposeless. But if something is true, no amount of wishful thinking can undo it. As I went on to write, ‘Presumably there is indeed no purpose in the ultimate fate of the cosmos, but do any of us really tie our life’s hopes to the ultimate fate of the cosmos anyway? Of course we don’t; not if we are sane. Our lives are ruled by all sorts of closer, warmer, human ambitions and perceptions. To accuse science of robbing life of the warmth that makes it worth living is so preposterously mistaken, so diametrically opposite to my own feelings and those of most working scientists, I am almost driven to the despair of which I am wrongly suspected.’”

I wonder what Dawkin’s publisher would have made of the title of my novel A Killing Smile? An Immortal Smile or A Cooperative Smile would have failed to capture the narrative of the book.

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