I’ve certainly had my share, and I’ve learned to ask other people’s opinions before I send out a potentially inflammatory email or an ad headline with some obscure sexual innuendo. I don’t want people to get the wrong impression about me, one of my clients, or my business because my words carried meanings that I didn’t intend. I don’t want to be clueless or crass.
Perhaps you heard about Hacienda, the restaurant chain in southern Indiana that put up billboards referencing the 1978 Jonestown Cult Massacre: “We’re Like A Cult With Better Kool-Aid.” People may mutter, “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid,” to their friends at a boring party, but they don’t appreciate that kind of insensitivity in advertisements.
In 2007 Canada’s biggest telephone company made a similar mistake and was forced offer a public apology after using a picture of a young woman wearing a button with the title of a Sex Pistols’ song on it—“Belsen was a gas.” The band can be tasteless if they so choose, but holocaust and concentration camp jokes still aren’t funny. I hope they never will be.
My first critic is often my wife Megan:
“Is it okay if I write about this?”
I’ve learned to trust her judgment.
When I paid my talented designer friend George to help me re-launch my blog, I often asked his opinion about different choices. I’d heard about a plug-in that would cause an email newsletter sign-up box to appear while a reader was leaving comments. “That would annoy me,” he said. “I’d x out of it immediately, but who knows, maybe some people respond to that kind of thing.” George has been a faithful reader since my first post about Snuggies, so I knew that I might alienate the best part of my tribe in an effort to capture contact information.
During the relaunch, I polled thirty-five of gu.e “regulars.” One of the questions for which I requested feedback was the tentative title for my first free book, what became Melting Chocolate Kettles: 7 Ingredients for Meeting Creative Goals. That title didn’t entice the majority of my regulars, so I kept digging.
My friend Paul has read more than one “delicate” email and pointed out the sentences that might sound defensive or uncaring. Mark and I have discussed wording for emails to prospective clients and proposals. In turn, I helped him develop a new business name when a major visioning process brought clarity to his design and marketing cooperative. Many more names come to mind, including Patrick, Jerry, Daniel, Dan, Katie, Jonathan, and my dad, and I feel blessed to have a posse of people to prevent me from making a tasteless blog post, sending a caustic email, or making blunders in the public eye.
I don’t want to pull a Janet Jackson and show nipple to millions of people.
A faux pas travels fastest on the Internet, and the World Wide Web is the heart-muscle of my business. It makes everything else work. A few mistakes in this arena could cost me more than clients and lost revenue.
Reputation is difficult to repair, even with the technological conveniences afforded by the web. Even naïveté, whether real or apparent, can hurt a creative professional. If I don’t understand most of the layered nuances of popular culture and how they influence people’s purchasing decisions, how can I possibly market your product, service, or mission effectively? How can I build a reputation for crafting stories and messages that resonate with a target audience’s complex set of motivations without street smarts and social savvy?
The sharks are always ready for a single drop of blood. People love to watch other people’s make mistakes. In fact, the captains of industry at failblog.org have built an online business around that curiosity and rubbernecking, what I call the “voyeurism of failure”: “Better you than me.” (And that’s not even grammatically correct.)
In the case of a March 1st book release, I can’t say that I enjoy pointing out the failure. I feel bad for the author. I still can’t believe that anyone could be serious in giving a book the following title: Bounce the Balls and They Will Come: A Coach’s Passion for the Great Commission.
Did no one raise a hand in a meeting and say, “I don’t mean to be crude, but do you know that your title has the phrase ‘bounce the balls’ in it and other sexual innuendo that I don’t care to mention?” Where was this author’s posse when she needed them, and what about the company that published the book, New Hope Publishers?
I feel like every aspiring Christian author should take the following three steps to avoid embarrassment:
1) Assemble a focus group of seventh grade boys and read a proposed title out loud. If they don’t start snickering, then your title is fine.
If they look at each other with stupid grins on their faces and avoid making eye contact with adults, then you know you’ve got a double entendre on your hands.
Even one teenage male would do. Shoot, give him an iTunes gift card if he can find something bodily, sexual, or lewd.
2) Go to UrbanDictionary.com. Don’t browse too long. You don’t want that stuff in your brain. You’ll never look at a zoo or a frat house the same way again.
But do type in as many variations and pieces of your title as you can in ten minutes. If any of them come up in the search results, you need a new title.
3) Test the title with your most outspoken, offensive, preferably non-Christian friend and ask, “Does anything in this title sound like something you did in college on spring break while intoxicated?
If you don’t have any non-Christian friends, then your book title isn’t the problem.
Christians often pride themselves on being out of touch with sexual innuendo and colloquialisms associated with bodily functions and other worldly concerns are liable to make mistakes.
Don’t ask your pastor unless he or she has a reputation for being a savvy straight shooter with the audacity to say, “Do you know that one meaning of this word has to do with an orgasm?” Or, “I’d like the title if it didn’t refer to a dangerous sexual position?” Or, “Congrats. You managed to use three racial slurs in seven words. Even as your pastor, I’m kind of impressed.”
The author of Bounce the Balls has a compelling story and an effective ministry stretching over five decades of coaching, teaching, and mentoring. This woman was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. I wish a few less-than-sweet people had been immature enough to crack up at the word “balls” and veto the title.
I never would have written this blog post or found this list of “unsuccessful” book titles.
What’s the worst one that you’ve ever seen?