Book Title Help: When Is Toxic Too Toxic?

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I’ve been harvesting my tiny lavender crop this week – all twelve mounds of intoxicatingly fragrant Spanish lavender.

It’s quiet work and it gave me time to think. One thing I’ve been trying to sort out is the concept and meaning of the word “toxic.”

It’s a pretty big part of my entire book project and I’m beginning to wonder if it is precisely the word I want to use throughout my book and in its title.

More than one reader has taken issue with the term “toxic” citing their own mother’s extenuating circumstances such as mental illness, substance abuse or history of being abused. Many feel that the word “toxic” is just too negative; too harsh.

Others feel it shouldn’t be used as a blanket term for diverse types of mothers such as those who were less than loving, abusive or whacko moms from Crazy Town.

The title of any book is crucial. Would “The Thin Blue Line” have sold as many copies if it was called “Cops Keep Us Safe from Criminals?” Many publishers feel a provocative title is necessary to find readers.

As I clipped each lavender plant into a compact mound in the back of my mind I considered how much power publishers have. They can tweak my title or toss it if it doesn’t look, feel or sound right. That’s why I want a title I like that fits like a glove – – so I can avoid somebody monkeying with it.

My luck — they’ll grab last week’s post and call it “How to Bee Happy” or just the “Bee Happy” book. Yikes!

Gathering up my sheaves of lavender I decided to reach out to you for feedback and suggestions. You’ve been reading long enough to get what I’m going after here.

Should I stick to my guns and the word “toxic” or reconsider? What works for you might also work for me, for agents and publishers, but I won’t know for sure unless I just put it all out there and ask for your opinions.

I do hope I can find a balance in identifying very toxic parenting and matching those stories to positive strategies for rising above past traumas. I always want to be as kind as possible. Indeed, I have a running joke with a friend that the title should be kind and forgiving.

Perhaps I should consider calling these mothers “extra special” and call the book “How Daughters can thrive despite Extra Special Mothers,” I joke.

Please leave me a comment including the number of your favorite title.

Which one works?

Which one stinks?

Should one title be matched with another subtitle?

And I’d love to hear your thoughts on any alternative titles.

My working title is “Confessions of an Undutiful Daughter; with a subtitle: “ How abused and neglected daughters can thrive as adults.”

The story behind that title was a telephone call with a social worker asking me to consider having weekly contact with my mother. “After all,” she said in a somber tone, “even daughters who have had years of trouble with their mothers usually become dutiful when their mothers need them.”

“Yeah, that wouldn’t be me. I’m actually an undutiful daughter,” I said.

She persisted. I resisted. She cajoled, jollied and wheedled.”

“Obviously, you’ve never met my mother,” I finally said.

I explained to her that I had already decided not to rescue my mother in her elder years. I said I would help arrange care and that I would have the local Council on Aging help her with things like doctors appointments and help her with her banking and writing checks.

In other words, I was undutiful and I was okay with it.

Please take a look at the working titles (below) and tell me — which one says you can be a nice person despite a crummy mother?

Which one says you can suffer horrible abuse and neglect and still be a whole, loving human being?

Which one says take this book to the check-out stand and buy it?

  1. The Toxic Mom Survival Kit
  2. Mom Bombs: Strategies for Daughters of Toxic Moms
  3. Daughters Under the Influence: Coming Clean About Your Toxic Mother
  4. Radioactive Love: Women’s Wisdom on Surviving Toxic Mothers
  5. The Toxic Mom Survival Kit
  6. Make Believe Mothers: Building a Happy Life Despite Your Toxic Mother
  7. The Toxic Mother Solution: Stories, Strategies and Affirmations from Daughters of Toxic Moms
  8. Barbed Wire Cribs: Living a Joyful Life despite Your Toxic Mother
  9. Toxic Mom Clean-up: Embracing Life and Family despite Your Toxic Mother

Can’t wait to hear your input. Thanks for your help!

Oh, and if you have any great ideas for what I can do with my lavendar harvest, let me know. Of course, I can use it for sachets to keep my linen closet smelling fresh.

Maybe I should make a nice little Dream Pillow?

Rayne Wolfe’s dream is to write her first book Confessions of an Undutiful Daughter by the end of 2011. She completed her dream journey May of 2011 on 8WD after a year living her dream. You can find her at Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook.

  • Catherine Hughes, Editor & Chief

    Wow I like Shellie’s comment – “out of the mouth of babes” I’d say. Great feedback – just love her!

    • Cath, you’re really sweet to me. I deeply appreciate the support, thank you:)

    • Rayne

      We have the very best readers!

  • Dear Rayne,

    Please, please, please do NOT take this word away from me. You gave me this word. I didn’t have this crucial descriptor before and now I am so much better because I have it. One word to share with my husband, daughter, son, sister, and eventually friends that encapsulizes the history, present and future with my mother. This word is freedom to me. I cling to it and when I use it I don’t have the time to get choked up when attempting to explain why I am the way I am about things to do with Mothering.

    I will buy your book whatever the title and subtitle are, but I will always plug this important word back in when recommending it to everyone I know. As for those who feel it is a bit harsh or volatile in describing their particular mothers, I feel that some Toxic Mothers are born with chemical/mental/emotional imbalances and I also feel environment plays a huge part in creating or contributing to the toxicity, but these (our) mothers are toxic all the same.

    About the lavender…I cook/bake with it, except for the Spanish type, and then I dry them and use it in place of bows or ribbons on gifts. I especially like wrapping great books with brown paper bags, tying a burlap string and securing a couple of sprigs of the lavender:)

    Thanks for being wonderful!


    • Rayne

      That settles it Shel, we’re sticking with the original, if it’s up to me. And when Simon & Shuster wants to monkey with it, I’m siccing you on them! Mwah!

      • A heartfelt YIPPEE! Phew, I feel better:)

        Thanks a bunch, (of Spanish lavender)!


  • chicka

    Tough question. Author Timothy Ferris had 12 names for his best-selling book 4 Hour Work Week. To finalize the decision he ran a Google Adwords campaign. Todd Zeigler of The Bivings Report said, “He bought ads for relevant keywords for all twelve potential book titles and tracked which titles performed the best. The click-through rate for The 4 Hour Work Week was by far the highest, so that is what his book is called.” As far as using Google Adwords to write a great book title, Ferriss proved it’s possible and as Zeigler reports, “a smart and novel approach to write a great book title. Google Adwords is a cheap and real time focus group.” Most authors forget the marketing part of their book, how important the title, and this is a way to see how your readers will respond.

    • Rayne

      Hey, Chicka, What great information. Thanks so much!

  • Hi Rayne, I still like the original title best as well … Although the “Toxic Mom Survival Kit” has a ring to it, maybe that can be the CDs and greeting card line that grows from the book (ha! :-)

    I agree that keeping “toxic” out of the title if possible might be good… Will mull it all over… Thanks for the thought-provoking post, and for letting us all help you sort it all out!


  • Rayne

    My readers are the best readers! Thank you Carole for educating me on “undutiful.”
    Spellcheck always stops on it, so I thought it was something I made up or mis-used. Duty lends a big connection between mothers and daughters. Those relationships are chock full of duty. And you are really zeroing in on something that I’ve been struggling to put my finger on – many of those suggested titles are sort of How-To or Fix-It formulas. Yes, they deserve consideration, but I do want this book to be something different entirely. Each title COULD work, but what works best… Sometimes you go around the world to find yourself, your truth. Maybe I’m overthinking it. Thanks for your help!

  • Carole

    I forgot to mention that “Undutiful” really is a word.
    Here is the definition from the dictionary.

    ADJECTIVE: 1. Lacking a sense of duty. undutifully

  • Carole

    I have always liked the title “Confessions of an Undutiful Daughter.” It is what drew me to fill out the questionnaire.
    For some reason most of the other titles feel like (to me) like they are “fix it” books. My experience with those type of books is they sound good to the writer. But rarely ever really work for the rest of the population.

  • EdnaZ

    You wrote:

    “My working title is “Confessions of an Undutiful Daughter; with a subtitle: “ How abused and neglected daughters can thrive as adults.”

    I still prefer your original working title. “Confessions” sounds juicy and I believe nearly every woman on the planet can relate to the title “Undutiful Daughter”.

  • Teresa

    Combining D and B rings true for me:
    “Radioactive Love: Women’s Wisdom on Surviving Mom Bombs”

    When a mother is unpredictable due to mental health and substance abuse issues, “toxic” only describes her part of the time. She’s like a ticking bomb, exploding at unpredictable moments, with long-lasting effects that don’t all show up right away. Radioactive describes it well … inducing mutations and occasionally even some beneficial adaptations.

  • Rayne

    I appreciate the input. I like C too. I like the play of clean vs. toxic. You’d be surprised, though…. since I started collecting these questionnaires, the whole Mom Bomb title
    rings true. Thanks for visiting. See you next Sunday.

  • Rod

    I think of your choices I like C the best (Daughters Under the Influence: Coming Clean About Your Toxic Mother). and B (Mom Bombs: Strategies for Daughters of Toxic Moms) is my least favorite. I like the word toxic, it makes me think – poisonous but not necessarily deadly. My daughters saying, “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” is what came to mind as I read the above. Besides, If Britney Spears can sell Toxic so can you~!

  • Catherine Hughes, Editor & Chief

    I’m with Remy here – I need to explore these for a bit. I am also curious if toxic is your word used throughout the book. I like titles that spring from a moment in a book where the story begins to unfold like, To Kill A Mockingbird.

    Here is a post from a literary agent – on the subject of book titles.


    • Rayne

      Well, yes, the title could come from within the book. I’m just hoping it’s not Bee Happy!

  • Remy G

    I’ll have to let the list sit – cause I’ve always loved the original title. Toxic is a word that sticks out to me in a unique way – not entirely negative. You are smart to put the question out there. I’ll be interested to see how the fans respond. xox Rem I’ll take a little lavender pillow off your hands. :)