Insert [Sub-Title] Here

The good—no, great—news: my book has a publisher and a publication date. I’m thrilled to announced that ECW Press has acquired the world rights to my kibbutz book with a publication date of Fall 2016.

The manuscript is with an editor and I am working with the publisher and production staff to hash out the cover design and final title-sub-title combo… 

… which is the bad-ish news: I’m stumped.

I’ll be the first to admit that writing display copy was never my forte as a magazine editor. I was okay at it (“Land of the Lox” for a feature about indigenous fish-farming in BC!), but I also worked with other editors who were masters at the catchy title/subtitle combo. It’s not easy.

My kibbutz book has proven that conundrum. It has evolved through several title variations:

  1. The Shouting Fence: That was the title of a poem I wrote, as a 21-year-old writing student, in the voice of a Druze man. It was briefly the working title of the manuscript and remains as a chapter title about my visit to Majdal Shams. It’s catchy and dramatic—but misleading. It evokes the divisions in Israel but nothing of the utopian enterprise of the kibbutz. Nixed.
  2. Look Back to Galilee: The name of this blog was the working title of this project for years. It comes form a phrase used by one of the founders of Kvutsa Degania, who urged his compatriots to return to the Kinnereth—and the Galilee—to found their commune. But as one kibbutz researcher in Haifa told me on a visit in 2009: “It sounds kind of Christian.” And while it evokes a sense of memoir, it isn’t especially catchy either.
  3. Who Killed the Kibbutz? emerged late in the process as a front-runner when a grad student read a draft and suggested the manuscript needed more narrative drive and tension. What was the throughline? For a while, I thought it was the search for who or what had led to the decline of Israel’s utopian communities. (I’m still kind of fond of this title.)
  4. Love & Rockets: And then a bolt from the blue. I can’t even remember how I came up with this title—perhaps mining all my memories from the late 80s reminded me of the band of the same name (and it’s cover version of “Ball of Confusion”—which seems apropos to the book’s themes). It echoes Erna Paris’s The Garden and the Gun, a wonderful travelogue about Israel that heavily influenced my own decision to write his book. It’s the title under which I finally sold the project—so I think it stays. (Famous last words…)
But I still need a sub-title. Why? Because nonfiction books have sub-titles! And as Jack David, ECW’s publisher, explained to me: book buying (and promotion) is less about browsing physical store shelves these days and more about discovering a book online via key word searches. And a sub-title is the best place for such key words. Utopia was always a key theme and therefore a key word in all my proposed sub-titles

I just reviewed my progression of titles and subtitles and found the following:
  • The Shouting Fence: Slouching Toward Utopia in a Divided Land (2009)
  • Look Back to Galilee: Stumbling Toward Utopia in a Divided Land (2011)
  • Who Killed the Kibbutz: Searching for Hope in a Divided Israel (2014)
  • Love & Rockets: Stumbling Toward Utopia in a Divided Israel (2015)
But the sub-title isn’t quite there—and could use the word “kibbutz” somewhere in its syntax. Another writer also tsk-tsk’ed the use of a gerund in the sub-title, too. So I’ve been on a brainstormy voyage to come up with the perfect partner for Love & Rockets. Here’s a list of ideas (some okay, others simply awful) that have poured out of my imagination:
  • The Broken Dream of Utopia in Israel and the Kibbutz  
  • The Broken Promise of Utopia in Israel and the Kibbutz
  • The Promise of Utopia in Israel and the Kibbutz
  • The Problem of Utopia in Israel and the Kibbutz
  • Stumbling Towards Utopia in Israel and the Kibbutz  
  • Slouching Towards Utopia in Israel and the Kibbutz  
  • Looking for Utopia in Israel and the Kibbutz  
  • The Long Road to Utopia in Israel and the Kibbutz  
  • Cast Out of the Garden of Utopia in Israel and the Kibbutz
  • Cast Out of Utopia in Israel and the Kibbutz
  • Leaving Utopia in Israel and the Kibbutz
  • Losing Utopia in Israel and the Kibbutz

The “and” between “Israel” and “kibbutz”might be confusing, though, even though the book is about the utopian impulse in the kibbutz movement (which helped to found Israel) and in Israel in general (both inspired by and a reaction to the kibbutz). I previewed some options at our Grad @ Home party last Friday and got warm response to the “lost dream” theme in some of the sub-titles, so a few more variations….
  • The Lost Dream of Utopia in Israel’s Kibbutz
  • The Lost Dream of Utopia in the Kibbutz
  • The Lost Dream of Utopia of the Kibbutz
  • The Kibbutz’s Lost Dream of Utopia
  • The Kibbutz’s Lost Dream of Utopia in a Divided Israel
  • The Kibbutz’s Lost Dream of Utopia for a Divided Israel
  • The Kibbutz and the Lost Dream of Utopia in a Divided Israel
  • The Lost Dream of Utopia in the Legendary Kibbutz
  • The Lost Dream of Utopia on the Legendary Kibbutz
  • The Lost Dream of Utopia on Israel’s Legendary Kibbutz
  • The Lost Dream of Utopia in Israel’s Legendary Kibbutz
  • Israel, the Kibbutz, and the Lost Dream of Utopia
  • Who Killed the Kibbutz and its Dream of Utopia?

…at which point I just want to slam down my laptop and run screaming from the room. Nothing yet feels quite right.

Any suggestions? Any favourites? Anything that can save me from the madness of subtitle writing?

Update: I’ll offer a reward—and give a copy of the book when it comes out to anyone who can dream up the perfect sub-title!