Rip-off titles are nothing new in publishing. One title of a bestseller begets another title. Patricia Cohen gives us a recent catalog of such efforts, in particular the spawn of the Levitt and Dubner bestseller that are hitting the market now.
An IVP book gets a nod in Cohen’s list: “Some writers claim to have found the single year that changed the world—A.D. 33 (Jesus’ crucifixion).” Of course, our book got it right. But Cohen goes on to enumerate many books which claim to (in title or subtitle) have discovered what changed the world: not only years or parts of years (including 1919 and 1989) but also commodities (such as Cod, Tea and Sugar). Some authors rip themselves off (A Is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, etc.), which is perhaps more understandable.
Yes, what can be at work here is a rather bald attempt to capitalize on another’s success. But as I’ve noted here before, a good title generally combines the familiar with the unfamiliar. If a title sounds extremely strange and foreign, it will draw those few with enough curiosity to overcome their inertia–and possibly these people are not the ones the book was actually intended for. Likewise, if the title sounds too ordinary, too common, it may be ignored because potential readers could assume they’ve heard of it (or even read it) before.
There are exceptions of either extreme which my readers will no doubt be able to identify–but as exceptions, they prove the rule. The pot of gold at the end of the publishing meeting is a title that beautifully balances both.