By John Gilstrap
I have a hard time with titles. To date, of the nine books I've published, only three bear the titles I proposed. Here's the history:
Title: Nathan's Run
Mine: Most Wanted
Title: At All Costs
Mine: Even Steven
Title: Even Steven
Mine: Scott Free
Title: Scott Free
Mine: Six Minutes to Freedom
Title: Six Minutes to Freedom
Mine: Grave Danger
Title: No Mercy
I confess that after No Mercy, I stopped trying. My working titles became Grave 2, Grave 3 and Grave 4. My editor came up with Hostage Zero, Threat Warning and Damage Control. I love them all, but I've come to embrace my limitations. And typically, the title is just about the last element of the book to be written.
When Damage Control hits the shelves in June, though, it will contain the first chapter of the book that will come out in 2013--the one I have been writing under the title, Grave 5. That's a little under-inspiring, so we had to scramble to come up with a title earlier than we usually do. Since the book deals with some issues regarding the first lady, I thought I had a winner: First Traitor.
Everyone was excited until we said it out loud, and we realized that the title would be heard as First Rater. That's bad for radio interviews.
In the end, we decided on High Treason. I love the title and I am utterly shocked that it hasn't already been used for a big thriller.
Here's what I've come to understand about titles: It's more important for them to be compelling and cool that it is for them to apply directly to the story. The clearest example of this in my writing is Hostage Zero, which actually means nothing, but sounds very cool. The title has done its job when a reader picks up the book and reads the back cover and thumbs through the first chapter. That's where the buying decision is made.
What do y'all think? I know writers who can't write unless they've got the title nailed down. I also know writers to fight for the title of their choice, even though their choices are often not very commercial.
How do you deal with titles?