So we just turned in the new book and our new editor loves it. But he does not love the title.
This is the first time this has happened to us. Through seven books now, we have gone to press with the title we turned in. I know this is not always the case. I have many friends whose titles are vetoed and a new one is slapped on (sometimes by -- HORRORS! -- the marketing department).
Which is why I am getting very nervous. I go to bed at night thinking of possible titles. I wake up in the same agony.
Because I know the power of a good title cannot be overestimated in our business. It is your first chance to make a good impression. It is a billboard by which you the author telegraph your whole book's theme and tone. And when your book is shouting to be heard above the din and roar at Barnes & Noble, a blah title is a meek squeak.
I suppose there are authors who don't sweat this. Some don't have to. They race through the alphabet (Grafton), numbers (Evanovich) or The Complete Bartender's Guide (Joe Konrath). And then there's James Patterson, who could slap LEAKY MEAT on a cover and it would sell millions.
But the rest of us resort to desperate measures. Like typing keywords into Bartleby's Great Books Online poetry engine. Try this: type in "death" or "bones" or some other crime-fiction hot-button word and centuries of poems come up, just waiting for you to steal. C'mon...those of you who've done this can fess up. I've used it. Do you think An Unquiet Grave came from my brain? Hell no. I stole it from an Arthur Quiller-Couch poem.
But Bartleby's has failed me on this latest book.
A while back, I was at festival in Sarasota with a passel of other Florida mystery authors. I was seated next to Randy Wayne White at dinner and I found myself uncharacteristically tongue-tied. (Partly because Randy and I till the same fields in our fiction -- southwest Florida -- and he was there first. But mostly because Randy is this Hemingwayesque dude who scares people). But then Randy leaned in and told me, "You have good titles." I took it as a supreme compliment.
Some authors just seem to have a knack for titles. Laura Lippman calls it the "title gene." Who has it? Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos...I'm sure you can name others.
What gives a good title resonance? Just for fun, I went to my shelf and found these:
Off The Chart
A Place of Execution
Devices and Desires
Blue Edge of Midnight
A Seaon in Purgatory
A Cold Day in Paradise
The Whispering Statue
Without knowing the authors, which ones work for you and which do not?
Titles I like:
Absent Friends. This title of SJ Rozan's book has resonanace for the characters and the unifying event -- 911 NYC.
Murder Unleashed. A cozy by Elaine Viets about a dog groomer. Of course!
A Season in Purgatory. Dominick Dunne's fictionalization of the Martha Moxley case neatly describes the moral dilemma at the book's core.
Blue Edge of Midnight. Captures Jon King's moody Everglades in a single vivid image.
A Place of Execution. Works on multi-levels for Val McDermid's claustrophic plot.
A Cold Day in Paradise. "Paradise" is a butt-end town in Michigan's UP. It works as metaphor for Steve Hamilton's chilly story.
The Whispering Statue. One of my favorite Nancy Drews.
Titles that leave me cold:
Hidden Prey. Yeah, I recognize the John Sanford franchise is title-proof but can you tell one from the other anymore?
Parallel Lies. Didn't give me a hint of Ridley Pierson's story. Sounds too Hollywood for comfort.
Devices and Desires. P.D. James has boooooring titles. Sorry.
Off the Chart. I like Jim Hall's books, but this title is too flippant for this book's dark tone.
Some of my all-time favorite titles (not just books):
The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
Darkly Dreaming Dexter.
The Iceman Cometh
A Hard Day's Night
Most stuff by Philip Dick but especially The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike.
And the memorable: Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe And Find True Happiness? (a really bad 1966 Brit-flick but a great title for Charades.)
So back to my title search. I know there's a good one out there somewhere. I just pray I find it before the marketing department gets ahold of things.
Oh. And Ugly Babies? Has nothing to do with my blog today. But damn, I like that title!