Sale-ing Away

Garage sale sign

It’s a little known fact among the reading public, but it is universally known among writers, that we don’t usually get to pick our titles. Yes, we title our articles, essays, devotionals, profiles, etc, when we write them, but our editors will almost always change the title to something they think is catchier. Usually, they’re right. It’s part of their job after all.

And sometimes two different editors from two different publications will find a common thread between two different pieces that you—the author—never thought about. This happened to me, with my first two published-in-print articles, and it’s got me wondering: is it just a coincidence? Or is there something more going on here?

The devotional I submitted to Chicken Soup for the Soul bore the original title “Noah,” after the name of the baby who was the subject of the story. The editor retitled it “Truth at the Benefit Sale,” based upon the setting of the story. Fair enough. In retrospect, the original title might mislead a reader into thinking the story had something to do with arks and animals.

I titled my submission to Catholic Digest “Here I Am,” after a running quote from the story. The editor retitled it “A garage sale treasure brought me to the Church,” in reference to the Sacred Heart picture that sets the tale in motion. But instead of referring to the picture itself, she focused on its origin—a minor detail in my mind that is now a major part of the story.

My titles, “Noah” and “Here I Am,” suggest no common theme between the two stories. But the titles chosen by the editors do. Judging by them, a reader who happened across both might think that I write a lot about garage sales. Stumbling across this article on MyEugene would reinforce that opinion.

So have I found my niche? It would be ironic, given how I described “garage sale-ing” in my manuscript—in the same chapter where I took “Truth at the Benefit Sale” from:

“Garage sale-ing”—defined by UrbanDictionary.com as “the pastime of attending garage sales in pursuit of other people’s junk”—was never my thing. My earliest childhood memories are dominated my mom dragging me to garage sales, flea markets, and swap meets. She was always looking for a bargain and she always found one, whether we needed it or not. The inevitable clutter drove my dad crazy. For me, though, it wasn’t too bad. I would complain a lot and say I was bored and my mom would buy my cooperation with a toy. By the time I was a teenager, I was too old to be bribed with anything but money so I stopped going along and hadn’t been to a garage sale since.

Unlike me, Julia is a veteran “garage sale-er.” Unlike my mom, she only buys what she wants or needs. The whole time we were dating, engaged, and even though the first year of marriage she “garage sale-ed” on her own. I preferred sleeping in on Saturdays. Then along came Peanut and I changed my mind about “garage sale-ing.”

Peanut is now our six-year-old daughter Anna. We buy her off with—you guessed it—a toy, and I browse books. My wife and mother-in-law look for stuff to sell online.

We’re heading out this morning for our first real “garage sale-ing” expedition of 2012, and as we get ready to go I find myself pondering these questions:

Have I found a niche?

Could I sell more articles about “garage sale-ing?”

Is my mom looking down at me and laughing her ass off?

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