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Dueling book titles: Double trouble or double exposure?

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Updated: May 1, 2013 1:45PM

Two well-known writers, two highly anticipated novels with the identical title arriving within a week of each other: That’s the dual story of “Life After Life.”

The first, by Jill McCorkle (from Algonquin Books), is set in a North Carolina retirement center and explores community and family bonds. It hit store shelves on Tuesday.

The second, by Kate Atkinson (from Reagan Arthur/Little, Brown), revolves around Ursula Todd, born in England in 1910 only to die and be born and die again repeatedly. It arrives April 2.

Algonquin publisher Elisabeth Scharlatt and Little, Brown publisher Reagan Arthur faced a literary nightmare last fall when they discovered the books would be published within days of each other.

Both publishers were surprised, and not by joy. “I would love to know the statistical probability of this happening,” says Scharlatt. Because marketing and publicity plans were already under way, neither wanted to change the title.

But as publication day dawns, there’s a silver lining: media attention, say Arthur and Scharlatt. Adding to sense of a jinx turned lucky: For the first time, independent booksellers have declared a tie for their No. 1 Indie Next Pick, selecting both “Life After Life” novels for April.

McCorkle picked out the title about 2œ years ago. As she Googled “life after life,” she kept thinking, “I can’t believe no one has ever used this, it’s just too good for the title of a novel.” (She did notice Raymond Moody’s non-fiction best seller, “Life After Life,” first published in 1975.)

Similar titles happen, says Nora Rawlinson, former editor in chief of Publishers Weekly and founder of EarlyWord, a book website aimed at librarians. She points to E.L.James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey” and Ruta Sepetys’ young-adult 2012 novel “Between Shades of Gray.” “I don’t think it does them any harm at all,” she said,’ “though I wouldn’t counsel people to try this in the future.”

Gannett News Service

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