Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Was your working title etched in stone?

By Joe Moore

Book titles are critical. It’s that first impression when a potential reader glances down at the new fiction table in the local bookstore. And even if you’ve got a great title, you hope the publisher’s art department doesn’t somehow screw it up with the cover art. I’ve seen books with good titles that were almost impossible to read from a distance. And others where the design was so busy, it gave me a headache.

etched When Lynn Sholes and I decided to collaborate on our first book, we used CORPUS CHRISTI for the working title during the three years it took to write. Since it was a thriller about cloning Christ, we thought using the Latin for Body of Christ was cleaver. But when we sent it off to our agent, she pointed out the error of our ways. Could be a travel guide to a city in Texas. Could be a novelization of a Broadway play running at the same time. So we changed it to THE ENOCHIAN PROPHECY, a brilliant title that no one could pronounce or spell. Our publisher wisely changed it to THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY which has stuck in all the foreign translations except German.

Book 2 had the working title of THE THIRD SECRET. Steve Berry released a thriller by the same name so our agent changed the title to THE LAST SECRET. So far, it has worked for the foreign publishers that have translated it, although we haven’t seen the German version yet.

Book 3 had a working title of INDIGO RUBY for the year it took to write. The title had a great deal of meaning for at least two people: Lynn and myself. Again, the publisher stepped in and wisely renamed it THE HADES PROJECT which is exactly what the book is about. Clever.

BLACK NEEDLES was what we called number 4 which was the name we gave the deadly retrovirus that formed the threat of the book. Cool title, but it really didn’t tell the reader anything about the story. Could be a book about a knitting club for witches. So the publisher finally settled on THE 731 LEGACY. The book involves the Japanese WWII biological warfare division called Unit 731 and how its legacy propels the story. OK, we agree that was a wise decision and makes sense.

The working title to our next one is THE PHOENIX APOSTLES. We'll see if that makes it to print.

Sometimes it’s better to leave the titles to the marketing and sales department and just stick to writing the story.

So why are titles important? Paul McCartney’s working title of the Beatles classic “Yesterday” was “Scrambled Eggs.”

Have all your working titles made it to the cover of your book? If not, were you happy with the final version?


Mark Terry said...

Actually, all of my working titles have been the titles the books were published with. My problem--in retrospect--was that The Devil's Pitchfork and The Serpent's Kiss maybe didn't indicate "thriller" so much as "horror" and I have definitely had some people look at the book (which MI labeled "mystery" which REALLY confused the issue) and say, "So it's a horror novel?"

Sometimes you just can't win. But I usually try to get the title right at the beginning, although I would add that The Zombie Zoo was one I liked a lot and when I sent the partial to an agent she said she liked what she read, but the title was awful.

G.M. Malliet said...

I've been lucky. Both of my chosen titles, Death of a Cozy Writer and Death and the Lit Chick, made it through unscathed.

I never have a working title, I have THE one-and-only title - that part has to be right before I can get very far into the manuscript.

With book #3, the title came to me first and pretty much dictated what the story was going to be about. And I really, really love this absolutely perfect title but I have to keep it a secret for now.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

So far I've been 50-50 on titles. My first two stayed the same on my Odelia Grey series; I changed the third at the last minute to Thugs and Kisses, and the 4th, Booby Trap, was MI's brilliant idea. We'll see what happens to book 5 in the series. I LOVE Corpse on the Cob, but in the end it's really not up to the author. But if MI changes it, I'm sure it will be for good reasons. Still, I always hold my breath until I hear their final decision.

Joe Moore said...

Mark, as you know, our books were labeled as mysteries, too. The only mystery about them was whether Lynn Sholes and I would meet our deadlines. But they are not mysteries in the classic sense. This has generated many comments from readers as to the confusion it caused. Unfortunately, those issues are usually out of our hands. Mislabeling can work against you just as much as a clumsy title.

Gin, I happen to have the most fantastic title in my head that I’m dying to write a book around. Unfortunately, it would only work as a romance, and I happen to write thrillers. But you never know. I could suddenly discover my feminine side.

Sue Ann, I think THUGS AND KISSES is a great title as are all of your books. They tell you exactly what to expect inside. May be a little magic involved because they work so well.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

So far, my batting average is zip in the working title department. That's fine by me. My editors are doing a better job than I would have!

G.M. Malliet said...

I agree, Sue Ann's titles really rock, especially Thugs and Kisses.

Felicia Donovan said...

All of my titles in The Black Widow Agency series have stuck. Oddly, it was my non-fiction, Cyber Crime Fighters: Tales From the Trenches, that got changed. The original working title was..."Chicks That Click - Safely, Smartly," but once we started writing it, we realized that the audience wasn't going to be just women, not at all, so the publisher suggested the change and we agreed!

Mark Combes said...

No one likes my titles. Heck, sometimes I don't even like my titles. But they mean something to me and they are the seed that gets it going for me. My first book was titled "Fishing the Serengeti." Hell, I don't even know what that means.....

Keith Raffel said...

There's a review of Corpus Christi in today's Times. Are you and Lynn the playwrights? http://theater2.nytimes.com/2008/10/22/theater/reviews/22corp.html?ref=todayspaper

Anonymous said...

I´d buy a "book about a knitting club for witches".