When I last left you, I’d imparted some good advice: always have a back up title for your novel. So when your publisher wants to change it, you have more than a sense of desperation at your disposal.
When I completed my second novel, did I heed my own advice? Why would I? For once, I’d selected a title I felt was rock solid. Landlord to a Ghost. It was inspired by the following: “If a man harbors any sort of fear…it percolates through all his thinking, damages his personality, makes him landlord to a ghost.” — Lloyd Douglas, Magnificent Obsession. My character, a damaged cop, had lots of fear. Plus, a murder victim, an actual ghost, haunted him. I dropped the mic and walked off the (imaginary) stage, convinced I’d nailed it.
But when I spoke to my editor about possible revisions to the manuscript he had one radical suggestion: cut the ghost. And without the ghost I had no title. Fuck. I’d done it again. And I had no back up. So I began researching cop slang and scrambling for a new title.
I’d pester colleagues at work with post-its that had possible titles scrawled on them. “Which one do you like best?” I’d ask. I wanted opinions from people who’d never read my book. Who would be judging it by title alone, like a reader in a bookstore. They helped me narrow my list.
During this time, I also ran into my agent at the Muse & the Marketplace. I pitched her one of my “strong” titles over lunch.
“How do you like Dirty Brass?” It’s a phrase that refers to corrupt cops.
“No,” she said.
My agent does not mince words. Most days, I like this about her.
So I made more post-its, and lobbed titles at my partner, Todd, during dinner.
And then my editor mentioned that a series title would be ideal, one with a repeating thread. He focused on the name of the town, Idyll (pronounced “idle.”) He suggested Idyll Police.
I told Todd about this latest development. And he casually said, “What about Idyll Threat?”
“I love that!” I yelled. It was perfect.
I ran to my laptop and suggested it to my editor and agent. My editor suggested making it plural, Idyll Threats. A publicist from the publisher liked it. Boom.
Weeks later, when I’d signed my contract, Todd asked me how much he’d “earned” since he’d come up with the title.
I laughed. “Do you have any idea how much I make per word?” I said, pshawing him. “Below poverty rates. What do you think you’d get for two words?”
“Yes, but my two words are on the cover,” he said.
So, what have we learned?
Always have a backup title.
Surround yourself with smart people who can give you a title when you can’t come up with one.
And maybe the third time will be the charm…