If you’re thinking of writing a bestseller, I’ve got a word of advice for you:
Put “Girl” in the title and you almost don’t have to do anything else, except figure out a plot, some twists, and an ending. And don’t forget to put a girl character in there, of course. She can be doing anything: Kicking a hornet’s nest or sporting a dragon tattoo, like Stieg Larsson’s epic sellers. Or she can be on a train, like Paula Hawkins’ bestseller (turned into a leaden movie described by one Rotten Tomatoes reviewer as “Less like hopping on board a train and more climbing onto the bandwagon of dozens of Lifetime movies.”) (Note, that didn’t stop it from making $170 million.)
Or the girl can be gone, like Gillian Flynn’s chilling thriller. Or she can have pearl earring, or marry a lion, or fall from the sky, chase the moon, play with fire, or be interrupted. She can also love Tom Gordon. And recently I really enjoyed “The Girl You Left Behind,” by Jojo Moyes. All those girls made it big on the bookshelves.
To make it big on television, apparently all a girl has to do is hang out with a bunch of her tormented friends who are trying to grow up, like “2 Broke Girls,” “New Girl,” or Lena Dunham’s squad. Or she can have grown up so long ago that now the “girl” part is ironic. (See “Golden Girls,” which, come to think of it, may have started something.)
Just a few years before all this girlishness, the book trend was “wife,” as in “The Paris Wife,” “The Time Traveler’s Wife” (best book ever), “The Kitchen God’s Wife” (also the best book ever, weirdly enough). Not to mention, on television, “The Good Wife.” But clearly the wives have been ditched for someone younger.
Last year an author named Emily St. John Mandel looked at 810 non-children’s books with the word “Girl” in the title. She crunched some numbers and found that 79 percent of those were written by women, and yet 65 percent of the time the “girl” in the title is actually a woman.
So why call the woman a girl?
One theory holds that when we see the word “girl” we automatically feel protective and worried — more than we’d feel about a grown woman. But another theory is that mega bestsellers tend to inspire publishers to copy them slavishly and often. So once you have “Gone Girl” plus “Girl on a Train,” nobody’s going to bother with a “The Comedienne with the Lower Back Tattoo,” or, “Young Female in Hyacinth Blue.”
St. John Mandel noticed one other trend: When women write “Girl” books, the girl ends up alive 90 percent of the time. When men put “Girl” in the title, only 68 percent make it out alive. Gee thanks, guys.
Anyway, if you’re looking for a title for that bestseller of yours, I’ve got some suggestions:
The Girl Last Seen Running Away from a Bunch of Angry Hornets
The Girl with the Misspelled “Pougkeepsie” Tattoo
The Little Dumber Girl
The Girl You Last Saw in the Dairy Section
The Girl Eating “Cheese-Its” on the Bolt Bus
The Girl Who “Forgot” to Call Her Mother’s Friend’s Super-Nice Son
The Girl Whose “Be Mindful” Lulu Lemon Tote Took Up a Whole Seat
The Girl with the Greenish Incisor
The Girl Who Mistook Her Hat for My Hat
A Girl Named Sue
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Girl
The Girl from Iwo Jima
The Hardy Girls
I Am the Coppertone Girl
The Girl with the Squirrel Earring
The Squirrel with the Girl Earring
The Girl with the Wagon Tattoo: A Laura Ingalls Wilder Update
The Other Other Boleyn Girl
The Little Mulch Girl
Even Cowgirls Get Sick of Beans
The Girl Who Chased Viggo Mortensen (And Who Can Blame Her?)
I Am Melania: The Story of a Girl who Stood Up for Trump
Too Many Girls, Not Enough Kombucha (from the “Wild in Williamsburg” series)
The Girl on the D Train
The Girl STILL on the D Train, Because of a “Sick Passenger” on the Train Ahead of Her
Girl Meets Girl
The Girl Who Knew Too Much about the Kennedy Assassination
The Girl Who Slugged the Beehive
The Girl Who Sat on a Mound of Scorpions Because She Was Livestreaming Her Desert Vacation
The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Down
Lenore Skenazy is a keynote speaker, author of the book and blog Free-Range Kids, and a contributor at Reaso