Here’s something they don’t usually tell you when you’re an unpublished novelist trying to get a deal. That title you gave your masterpiece? The word or phrase you felt was perfect, in fact was the rock you built your entire opus on? Well…there’s a very good chance the only one who will know the book by that title will be you.
I know, I know. Not everyone comes up with a title right at the beginning, but we all come up with titles. Even if we don’t always love them, we feel a certain amount of compassion for them. Hey, WE came up with them after all.
But the long, hard truth is that if your publisher doesn’t like the title you’ve lived with for months or even years, when your book comes out your title is going to be different. Now, not all houses work the same. Some will strongly suggest a title to you in a way that will make you feel compelled to say, “I love it”, or at least, “It’s okay. I can live with it.” Some, hopefully most, will ask you to come up with some titles while they do the same. Everyone working together for the greater good. Even then, the decision on what the final title will be will fall to someone other than you. That would be your publisher. Either a specific person high up on the chain, or a group. They will choose from the list, perhaps yours, perhaps theirs. Hopefully it’s a good one.
The good news is sometimes it’s even better than the one you had.
Though I only have two books out so far, I actually have a bit of experience in the title arena. As most of you know, my debut novel is entitled THE CLEANER. For those of you who read it, you also know that the title is perfect for the book. It’s the obvious choice.
So obvious that I never thought of it.
As I wrote that novel, I had no idea what to name it. I played with several ideas, finally settling on a one. I called it…and I kid you not…DEVIL MAY CARE. That’s right, I gave it the same title that eventually was used this year for the latest James Bond novel. Now I’d love to claim responsibility or some kind of connection, but it’s highly doubtful. The only people who knew my book by that name were the members of my writer’s group, and Jim Pascoe and Tom Fassbender, the publishers/editors at Ugly Town – the people who initially bought my book. (For those who don’t know my publishing story and how I ended up at Bantam Dell, I’ll probably tell it again someday, but it’s around the web somewhere.)
Jim and Tom didn’t like the title. And, honestly, I wasn’t sold on it either. So they asked me to come up with alternatives. I came up with a list…a sucky list, but a list nonetheless:
A DEEP DISRUPTION
DROP FROM SIGHT
THE EDGE OF DEATH
THE DISRUPTION POINT
THE POINT OF DISRUPTION
POINT OF DISRUPTION
THE POINT OF NO RETURN
A TIME OF MADNESS
THE EDGE OF MADNESS
IN THE FACE OF MADNESS
THE MADNESS POINT
THE SEED OF HATRED
A REASON TO FEAR
Boy, that list is bad. Maybe not for some books, but for mine, none of them make too much sense. Jim and Tom thought the same. So more lists were developed, and finally from the last list one title stood out:
HUNG OUT TO DIE
It retrospect, it’s a much better title for a mystery than a thriller, but at the time I was just happy that we had something.
Flash forward a few months to when Bantam Dell bought my contract from Ugly Town (I refer you to the previous note re: publication story.) “We love the story,” my acquiring editor said, “but that title. Think we need to come up with something else.”
So with a heavy sigh I went back to the drawing board. Came up with more suggestions. But, ultimately, it was that same editor who said to me one day, “Have you ever thought about the title THE CLEANER?”
I was silent for several moments. When I finally did speak, I think I said something like, “It’s perfect,” and then proceeded to flog myself for days for not thinking of it earlier.
With my second book, when my editor asked what the title was, I said THE DECEIVED. And for some reason that stuck. There were no lists this time. No back and forth. I even came up with a title for book 3. I thought I was on a roll. It was starting to come to me now. A half dozen other titles revealed themselves over the next months, titles for potential future novels in the series. This was going to be easy now.
Oh, ignorant fool.
The call came this week. “The title for book 3? Think we need to find something else.” Suddenly I knew all of those other titles would no longer work for the series either.
Square one. Crap.
Soooo…that’s where I am this week! Fun times. Time to put my thinking cap on and pull that drawing board out again.
If you have a title story to share, please do. Or if you’ve heard of one, share with the class. Hell, if you just want to rant about all the typos I probably have in this post, have at it. All comments encouraged.
Song for the day: Most Beautiful Girl In The Room by Flight of the Conchords