I first met Will McIntosh back in January of this year. We both were guests at Marscon in Williamsburgh, Virginia, and we wound up on several panels together. I had already heard of Will, of course. In this business, established professionals keep track of rising stars, and so I had been eager to meet Will for several years. See, back in 2009 Will published a story in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine called “Bridesicle.” That year, the story won the Azimov’s Reader’s Award, and the following year it won a Hugo. Yeah, that’s right. A Hugo. He wasn’t through. Will’s first novel, Soft Apocalypse, was a finalist for the 2012 Campbell Award, the 2012 Locus Award for best first novel, and the 2012 Compton Cook Award for best first novel. I know. If he wasn’t such an incredibly nice guy, I’d hate him, too.
This week — tomorrow, in fact — Orbit will be releasing Will’s third novel, Love Minus Eighty, which is the novelized version of that Hugo Award-winning short story. I’ve read the novel (I had not actually read the original short) and it is terrific. Engaging, thought-provoking, powerful, and very entertaining. I expect he has another hit on his hands. To read more about Will and his work, visit his website: http://willmcintosh.net/
And now, please join me in welcoming Will to Magical Words. [Cue wild applause...]
“Choosing a Title for Your Novel”
Back when I wrote only short stories, I never once had an editor suggest I change a title, or even comment on the particular title I’d come up with. While at the Clarion Science Fiction Writer’s Workshop, which focuses on short stories, one of my instructors said, “Titles don’t matter. Call it whatever you want.”
I was surprised, then, when the editors at Night Shade Books suggested I change the title of my second novel. The title I’d given it was Deadland. The problem with that title, they said, was that it was a zombie title, and my novel wasn’t a zombie novel. Zombie fans would buy the book and be disappointed. Fans of the sort of book I’d written–a horror/thriller/fantasy about a half-million people in Atlanta becoming possessed by the ghosts of people they knew–would steer clear of what sounded like a zombie novel. Brainstorming with the editors, we came up with Hitchers as an alternative, a title that suggested possession rather than flesh-eating corpses.
My third novel, released on June 11, is based on my short story “Bridesicle”, which won a Hugo Award in 2010. I figured keeping the same title was a no-brainer, and at first my publisher, Orbit Books, seemed okay with that. But along the way, the marketing people at Orbit Books suggested Bridesicle might not be the best choice. Here’s why:
When people read short stories in magazines like Asimov’s (where “Bridesicle” first appeared), they’ll usually give each story a try regardless of the title, and stop reading if they lose interest. So the title isn’t crucial. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it doesn’t matter, but it’s not crucial. With novels, if a potential reader doesn’t take your book off the shelf and at least read the back cover to learn what it’s about, or click on the summary at Amazon or B&N.com, there’s no chance they will read your book. For books, the title is not just a title, it’s part of marketing your book.
The people at Orbit Books thought a decent percentage of potential readers would be turned off by the title Bridesicle, and never check to see what it was about. I could see that–when I first wrote the short story, my wife hated the title. I thought it was provocative. It was one of the few times I didn’t take my wife’s advice, because she’s incredibly perceptive. Later, some readers told me they didn’t read the story because they found the title distasteful.
So Bridesicle was out, and that left me without a title. My wife provided the first piece. She once worked in a biology lab, where people often referred to tissue samples being “in the minus eighty”, because tissue samples must be stored at -80 degrees Fahrenheit to remain viable. I tried In the Minus Eighty out on various people, and the consensus was that it wasn’t quite right. It was too vague. Ian Creasey, one of the writers who critiqued the first draft of the novel, suggested I make it Love in the Minus Eighty instead, to better reflect what the novel was about (it’s about love and dating in the future, and specifically a dating center where beautiful, cryogenically preserved dead women try to win another chance at life by convincing wealthy suitors to revive them). I ran this by Tom Bauman, my editor at Orbit at the time. He bounced it around with some of their creative people, and they suggested making it Love Minus Eighty. They thought it would look good on the jacket, and had the right sort of pithy, mysterious ring to it. I loved it. As you can see, the title was a real team effort.
What I learned was that, sure, a title should be catchy and memorable, maybe even provocative, but it should also signal to your target reader that this is their kind of book, and prompt them to want to find out what it’s about.
As of right now, the title of my fourth novel, which will be released in 2014, is Defenders. That seems appropriate for a novel about alien invasion, but I wonder if it’s too bland.
Have I missed some important aspects of choosing a title? Another way to look at this issue is to consider titles that work well. Have you ever had a title grab your imagination and make you want to read a book, even though you know nothing else about it?