The horse meat thing – NOT just a joke

Well, in the UK, the whole Tesco horse meat in burgers scandal has caused a virtual avalanche of jokes of course (check out #horsemeat on Twitter if you missed any of these or if you just love puns). For those who have been hiding under the duvet or just don’t live in the UK, horse meat was found in a number of shops’ burgers – and one Tecso burger was reported to contain 29% horse meat. There have been practical jokes too – the lady in jodphurs and riding hat asking to see the Tesco manager and complaining that she’d left her horse tied up outside, the two lads in a pantomime horse outfit trotting round Tesco’s howling “Murderers! Where’s my mummy?” – while being pursued by security.

Notoriously, the French are blasé abtrigger2smallout eating horse meat and fail to see the problem but in England horses tend to have a higher status and rightly so. There is a scary precedent –  Roy Rogers’ fabulously beautiful Trigger – star of over 80 films (mostly in the 1950s) – ended up being eaten in burgers. The law-breaking butcher in that case, a John L Jones, was sentenced to five years in prison.

Apart from the scandal of reducing an animal as beautiful and clever as Trigger to something you eat, isn’t there a serious health point here too?

Before Tesco and co fob us off with assurances of “there’s no danger” and apologies, let’s remember that the point of those horse passports and all their rules (tedious as they sometimes are) is to ensure that all those medicines some horses have (the lucky and the unlucky, depending which way you look at it) do NOT enter the human food chain. And that was due to concerns about such horses entering the human food chain indirectly, that is, humans eating the meat of some animal that had eaten horsemeat. Yes some excellent jokes about – but mad cows were funny once, before hundreds of people actually died of BSE. So the big question is, what EXACTLY did those burgers contain???

Book titles: choosing the right one – and pitfalls to avoid

I checked a lot of advice when I was choosing the title for my book – but still had some problems. Here’s how it went:

The first point, I thought, was obviously to choose something striking and thought-provoking. I doubted I’d come up with anything as sensationally striking as, say, Who Moved My Cheese? the best-selling motivational book by Spencer Johnson but I was aiming for something that would attract attention and curiosity – and at the same time convey my book’s content. It’s a non-fiction book but the principles around title-choosing are, I think, applicable to both fiction and non-fiction. Mine is about horses in film – covering all sorts of films, from silent movies through Westerns to the present day and War Horse. It deals with how these films are made, eg how the stunts are done, mistakes in filming, special effects, even make-up for horses. Anyway, you get the idea. After a lot of thought, I came up with “Lights! Camera! Gallop!”. That had it all, or so I thought. The reader knows and expects “Lights! Camera! Action!” and will immediately understand that this book will be about film – and horses.

I was, I confess, even a little smug. Lights! Camera! Gallop! – the exclamation marks make it sound exciting too. I was soon pretty much committed to the title. I’d sent out the book proposal all over the place and I’d been working on it for a couple of years. But then, when like so many writers these days, I realised I’d be going down the self-publishing route, I began researching the marketing and publicity side. That’s when I started to learn about search engines, search terms and metatags. Big problem. All the advice pointed to having key words in the title. But of course no-one looking for a book about horses or films would enter search terms such as Lights, Camera or Gallop (even without the exclamation marks.

The solution was to add a sub-title. Who Moved My Cheese? has An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life. I decided on The Story of the Horse in Film. Off I went, into production. So far so good. Until I looked up my book on Amazon only to find that there are a lot of book titles beginning with Lights! Camera!.:

Lights, Camera…

Lights, Camera . . . Cats!

Lights Camera… Travel!

Lights, Camera, Soundtracks

Lights, Camera, Capture

Lights, Camera, Girl Power!

Lights! Camera! Murder!

Lights, Camera . . . Zombies!

Lights Camera Masala

Lights, Camera… Nude!

Lights, Camera, Sex

There are more – but you can see the problem. And no prizes for guessing that the last two will show up more often than mine…..

Lessons learnt (but a little late for me…):

  • think through the options for your title at an early stage
  • ensure your title – or subtitle – includes key search terms if possible (vital for non-fiction, helpful for fiction)
  • try your title out by searching for it with Google or Amazon

 Good luck!