The Last Minute Book Title
Each month more than five million people receive National Geographic magazine. If you’ve already read this story, I apologize for the duplication. The detail was buried in an article by David Doubilet in the July 2006 issue called “Remembering Peter Benchley.” It related to the title for the best-selling book, Jaws. “The book was still without a title half an hour before it went to press. Jaws was published in the spring of 1974.”
According to this article, Benchley had been freelancing. Also note Benchley’s family background to become a writer when Doubilet writes, “The son of the novelist Nathaniel Benchley and the grandson of celebrated humorist Robert Benchley, Peter was raised in a world of words.” Then we learn about the origins of Benchley’s landmark novel. “The idea of a shark story had been rattling around in Peter's mind for a while as he scrabbled for work as a freelance journalist. Tom Congdon, an editor at Doubleday, saw Peter’s June 1970 Geographic article on Nantucket and liked it. He invited Peter for lunch. Later that afternoon, Back at Doubleday, Peter borrowed Tom’s typewriter and wrote a proposal for the book in 15 minutes; an advance for four chapters of a shark story soon followed. This was one time when Peter’s sense of humor didn’t help the situation. The chapters arrived, and Tom had to tell Peter, “Gore and funny don’t mix.” Peter went back to rewrite.” Well-known National Geographic photographer David Doubilet has much more to say about his friend in this well-written article.
I’ll admit there are some unusual elements in this story—the last minute title and the 15 minute book proposal. Writers love these stories and they provide great encouragement and hope. Maybe we an throw a title on our book proposal at the last minute or crank out a super short book proposal and land a book contract. Also notice how the Doubleday editor Tom Congdon sent Peter Benchley back to rewrite his sample chapters. This developmental coaching often happens along the way for a good result. Some literary agent or some editor or some critique partner spurs the writer to rewrite and retune their material before they send it into the marketplace.
From my perspective, we need to lift up the writers who spend six months crafting a solid book proposal in their late evening hours. As an editor who reads a lot of these submissions, I guarantee such craft will not go unnoticed. It will garner additional serious consideration from the editor and the publisher. Be encouraged from these stories yet also be realistic with the expectations for your own journey to publication. From my experience, there are few short-cuts to doing the hard work.