Sunday, February 13, 2005

Titles

A post to his blog by Olen Steinhauer about titles being changed in other countries got me thinking about my own experience with this subject.

My new book (the first in series of the current one I'm struggling with) was originally QUICK. My protagonist is Faye Quick and I liked using her last name as the title of the first book. I imagined that quick would appear in subseqent titles like QUICK ON THE TRIGGER, etc.

Once Ballantine bought it various people didn't like that title. I was very disappointed and irritated that I'd have to change it. I told my editor what I'd planned (he liked the title) and he made the case to the people he needed to convince. No go. Because of my contract I could've insisted but I haven't come this far to shoot myself in the foot. I managed to do that years ago one way or another. I knew if I was stubborn about this it would hurt me, hurt the book. So I agreed to try to come up with something over a weekend.

I started out that weekend very grumpy. But I knew I had to come up with something. So I began looking through books on noir films as this novel takes place in 1943 and has an unorthodox sense of noir.

I tried out different titles, changing a word in them, but nothing clicked. And then I heard that click. There was THIS GUN FOR HIRE with Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd. I honestly got a chill when I replaced gun with dame. THIS DAME FOR HIRE is the title of the new book. It's so much better than QUICK. I'm grateful to the faceless group at Ballantine who forced me to make the change. This was a positive experience.

A negative experience I had was with a book I wrote many years ago. It was a novel about a boy who kills his whole family. I called it A NICE QUIET BOY. You know how the neighbors always say this sort of thing on television about the kid who slaughters everyone.

But, oh no. Since I'd written YA novels in the past, the faceless group at Putnam decided this title made it sound like a YA novel. Once again I was asked to come up with something else. I went through tons of titles but nothing clicked. I finally agreed to SUCH NICE PEOPLE, which I hated. This was one time I should have been stubborn. My original title was better and made more sense.

In Olen's case he was talking about title changes in different countries. He writes, " It's been verified in the UK that my third book, which was acquired by Harper Collins will be called The Vienna Assignment-while in the US it's called 36 Yalta Boulevard ."

I don't see the point of this change, nor does he. Still he had no say in the matter.

I've had some of my books translated into other languages. My last series had titles that were a play on song titles or lines from songs. The French publisher changed all of them (5) to titles that had nothing to do with anything, in my opinion. The last one, which was called GONNA TAKE A HOMICIDAL JOURNEY was changed to LONG ISLAND BLUES. Yes, it does take place on Long Island...but really.

I had no say in the title choice for the foreign sales. I didn't like it, but I don't think it stopped any sales because those books did very well in France.

I guess my point here is that if you have the right to choose your own title and a publisher doesn't like it, think it over very carefully before you refuse. See if you can come up with something better and if you can't and are wedded to the original title, then stick to it. But if you do, know that you won't get the same support from the sales people, who in case you didn't know, actually run the book business!

1 comment:

Dunsany said...

Titles have always been hard for me. Either they just click perfectly (like "No one knows you're a dog" or I fight with them for months. In the long run, I've always found myself more than willing to discuss changes like that... and yeild to a better idea. It's characters that I never compromise about.