Titles are hard. An author routinely makes about 200,000 individual decisions about what goes into a novel and what comes out, but those last few words are a group project involving the author, the editor, the marketing department, and the art director.
A book’s title has to reflect the story, but it also has to be marketable and not so abstract as to be impossible to illustrate. It’s a multi-faceted and collective decision.
Some wise and pragmatic writers call the book they’re writing “WIP” for work in progress. I always have a working title and often that title gives me a thematic frame for the story I’m telling. So when the editor sends that little email saying, “We need to discuss the title,” I think, Oh, boy. Here we go…
The working title of Doc was Eight to Five Against. Those were the odds John Henry Holliday actually gave that he would get killed before he had time to die of tuberculosis. But, see? I had to explain that to you. And when you read “Eight To Five,” there’s a good chance that you’ll start humming a Dolly Parton song, right?
The publisher wanted the title to be just DOC, but I thought that was too Bugs Bunny and that every review would have some reference to a cartoon character. It took a month to wear down my resistance, during which time I was intensely frustrated and the publisher was intensely annoyed by my recalcitrance.
Ultimately it came down to having the right cover art to convince me that DOC was the right title. Nobody mentioned Bugs Bunny in any review.
My new book is about the women behind the 1913 copper miners’ strike in Calumet, Michigan. The working title was initially The Price of Copper — meaning the lives that were lost every week as the cost of doing business in a dangerous industry. I changed it to Unremembered Lives because not only the miners’ lives were forgotten, but also those of once-famous women like Annie Clements, Ella Bloor, Jane Addams and Mother Jones, all of whom figure in the novel.
For the past two weeks, my editor, the marketing department, and the art director at Touchstone/Simon&Schuster have tried to come up with something better but nothing satisfied all of us.
With permission, I took the debate to Facebook, asking people who follow the Mary Doria Russell page to LIKE the potential title that spoke best to them. This was remarkably useful.
Three of my own alternate titles fell off quickly: Unremembered Lives (awkward), A Christmas to Remember (too Hallmark, though it would have been a gut-punch double meaning at the end of the book), Bread and Roses (too associated with an earlier mill strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts). Those results let me release my grip on those titles gracefully.
The publisher had offered variations on a theme: “The Valiant/Marching/Fighting/Defiant Women of the Copper Country.” That also got very little support. There were lots of comments about how having “Women” in the title made male readers felt excluded. But people liked the word defiant. They liked the strength of it and the sound of it.
The two that appealed the most were The Price of Copper (mine) and Far Beyond The Copper Country (a variation the editor’s idea of Far Above The Copper Country). So I did a runoff between those two and I added The Price of Defiance, just to see what would happen.
The Price of Defiance got the most votes by far, but now I had three acceptable titles and told my editor, “I can work with any of these.”
The final three were turned over to the Art Director. The Price of Copper and The Price of Defiance are both very abstract, but she feels she can do a lot with Far Beyond The Copper Country. So it’s official. That’s the title and we await the next stage: cover art.
Meanwhile, the manuscript will go to Bonnie Thompson, the copy editor who’s done every one of my novels from THE SPARROW on. There are lots of other steps in the process, but it’s now officially in the Touchstone catalog and will be out next summer. Details to come as they arise…