This morning, my beloved husband of 41 years made me shoot coffee out my nose. He was reading a summary of Dick Cheney’s new memoir In My Time and muttered, “Should have been In Your Face.”
Which was funny on sooooo many levels…
A lot goes into selecting a title for a book or movie, but no matter what you choose, you’ll need what people in the film industry call an elevator pitch. This is a short, memorable phrase that tells what something is about.
Some titles are the pitch: Snakes on a Plane. Bambi Meets Godzilla. Young Sherlock Holmes. My titles aren’t.
The Sparrow is a courtroom drama set in the context of first contact Science Fiction.
Children of God is a three-generation family saga, with three species on two planets.
A Thread of Grace is a war-time thriller about Jewish survival in Nazi-occupied Italy.
Dreamers of the Day is about the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference, when Winston Churchill, Gertrude Bell and Lawrence of Arabia invented the modern Middle East.
The original title of my fifth novel was Eight to Five, Against. Every time I made an elevator pitch, I had to explain, “Those are the actual odds Doc Holliday gave that he would die of tuberculosis before somebody gunned him down.”
Some people liked that title, but it was hard to remember. It sounded like it might be a sequel to that Dolly Parton movie “Nine to Five.” It sounded like it might be nine guys against five guys in a shoot-out or something. So my publisher wanted me to come up with something different.
I read through the manuscript again, looking for an evocative but memorable phrase or word. Stealing from Shakespeare is always good, so my first try was Lost Without Deserving, from that scene where Doc Holliday quotes from “Othello.” “Reputation, reputation, reputation… it is idle and most false, oft got without merit and lost without deserving.” I liked that because it sort of echoed Gone With The Wind by Doc’s cousin Peggy, but nobody else thought it worked.
So I tried again, and again.
A Day When You Were Happy
Something Like Happiness
No good, no good, no good.
I started getting punchy.
The Good, The Bad and The Sickly
Holliday on Ice
Death Takes a Holliday
A Fistfull of Lung Tissue
Blazing Poker Chips, and my personal favorite:
TB or Not TB
Finally Gina Centrello, president of Random House, said, “It’s about Doc Holliday. Call it Doc.” I thought that was way too Loony Tunes and predicted that every review would be titled, “What’s up with Doc?” No, I was told, with a strong cover image, the title works.
So then we fought about the jacket for a while, but eventually the art department came up with the piano cover, which I think is just genius. And not a single review or article has made any reference to Bugs Bunny. Thank you, Ms. Centrello.