The Washington Post

What’s in a title?

A review copy of columnist Jules Witcover's new book, "The American Vice Presidency." (Photo: Al Kamen/Washington Post) A review copy of columnist Jules Witcover’s new book, “The American Vice Presidency.”
(Photo: Al Kamen/Washington Post)

Tweeting deep thoughts in 140 characters is easy. Getting just the right title for a book is really, really hard. You have just a few words to encapsulate years of effort, draw in the casual browser, pique interest. It can take weeks of effort.

And since people do indeed judge books by their covers, it’s often a critical decision and everyone weighs in: publishers, editors, agents, spouses, neighbors and in-laws. ( Even the title “In the Loop” was picked after lengthy discussions  — and over our bitter objections.)

But sometimes authors prevail — often to the good.

Take, for example, acclaimed syndicated political columnist Jules Witcover, who’s written 14 books on American politics and history and co-authored another five. He’s also written two excellent biographies of vice presidents Spiro Agnew and Joe Biden. 

But when we got a review copy of his latest book, due out in the fall, the title was printed on a strip of white paper glued to the cover. It said: “The American Vice Presidency.”  The title on the spine says “America’s Vice Presidents.”  So seemed like there had been some debate.

Indeed there had, said Matt Litts, a spokesman for publisher Smithsonian Books. Witcover “didn’t really like the original title,” Litts said. A representative for giant bookstore chain Barnes and Noble, however, thought “America’s Vice Presidents” was a fine title, Litts said. “But, Jules is the man and it’s his book,”he said.

Litts felt the two titles were pretty much the same. But we’re with Witcover on this. The old title sounds like it’s a listing of past vice presidents. The new one connotes a serious look at the changing vice presidency. We haven’t read it yet but colleagues who received the review copy say the new title better reflects an excellent book on the evolving nature of that once-disparaged job.




Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.



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