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February 8, 2012

Jennifer E. Smith on Having a Really, Really, Really Long Title

Posted by Katherine


Jennifer E. Smith is the author of two previous young adult novels, THE COMEBACK SEASON and YOU ARE HERE. She earned her master's degree in creative writing from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and currently works as an editor in New York City. Here she talks about choosing a title.


One of the most surprising things about the publication of my new novel, THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT, has been the amount of discussion that the title has generated.  Some readers seem to love the quirkiness of it, while others think it’s much too long and unwieldy.  Some have bought the book based on the title alone, while others have avoided it because they’re worried it might signal the presence of the dreaded “insta-love” (a term I’d actually never heard before writing this book, and something that’s not an issue in the novel anyway --- in spite of the title, the story is more about chance connections than it is about love at first sight). 

It’s also been amusing to see how many people, when they’re writing about the book, accidentally call it THE STATISTICAL IMPROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT.  I’m not sure it would be fair to read too much into this --- though it’s definitely interesting to think of it as a glass half empty or half full sort of thing --- but still, it makes me laugh every single time.

Because of the title, certain readers are surprised that the book isn’t entirely a love story.  That’s a huge part of it, of course, but it’s also very much a father-daughter story.  When I first started writing it, the title was actually ARRIVALS & DEPARTURES.  However, my publisher wasn’t keen on that and for months and months we couldn’t come up with something better.  We took to calling it “Untitled Airplane Novel,” and as we got closer to publication, we started getting pretty desperate.  (“Could we just call it Untitled Airplane Novel?” I asked my agent at one point.)

Finally, my editor picked out a line toward the end of the book, a quote from Oliver.  We wondered if it would be too long, whether people would be able to remember it, how we could fit the whole thing onto a cover.  But we decided to go with it, and I’m so happy we did.  It’s been really exciting to hear people’s enthusiasm about it, and to see how something as basic as a title can inspire discussion and lead readers to the book itself.  And while I could quite happily live the rest of my life without ever having to type out the words THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHTagain (not least because I misspell “probability” nine out of ten times), I’m thrilled with where we ended up. 

For more information about Jennifer, visit her website, or connect with her via Twitter through her handle @JenESmith