Titles are tricky things. Sometimes they come to you in a flash of inspiration before you’ve put a word on the page; other times they are decided well after the draft has been worked on, reworked and reworked again. Sometimes a title will stick in your head and refuse to budge; other times nothing seems to fit.
For better or for worse, titles are important. A good title gives an insight into the book, the characters and the story before we’ve even started. An effective title asks a question, encourages the potential reader to look at the back cover or distinguishes the book from its peers in some other way. A memorable title becomes intimately associated with the book – and once we’ve turned the final page it becomes impossible to think of it as anything else. Here are a few examples in the form of a quick quiz…
Have you read The High-Bouncing Lover by F Scott Fitzgerald?
How about First Impressions by Jane Austen?
Or Something that Happened by John Steinbeck?
And what did you make of The Last Man in Europe by George Orwell?
They’re trick questions, of course – these are the working titles of The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, Of Mice and Men and 1984. All of which were changed prior to publication as editors and publishers added their knowledge and expertise to the process. Obviously, it’s subjective and there is a large dose of hindsight involved, but to me all four of these published titles are an improvement: more memorable, more interesting, more striking.
My fourth thriller, The Catch, has just been published (June 2020). But of my four books, only one has kept its original title from first draft to publication. The title of my first novel – Lies – came to me at a very early stage in the process. I wish I could remember that moment in the summer of 2013 when inspiration struck and I arrived at Lies as a working title.
But the truth is, I just put Lies down on the first page one day because it seemed right. It encapsulated the story. It was simple. Short. I liked one-word titles (and still do). Fatherland. Misery. Postmortem. During drafting, it helped me to have a focus, a working title that reminded me what the core of the story was about, rather than Untitled Book 1 or New draft or TBC or any number of other uninspiring choices.
I was fully prepared for it to be changed. But Lies stuck all the way through the editing process until it was published in January 2017, and since then it’s sold more than 400,000 copies in the UK and been published in translation in a number of other countries. A majority of those foreign editions have retained the UK title.
Since then, however, Lies has proved to be the exception rather than the rule. My second novel, 29 Seconds, started life as Every Good Deed (as in ‘every good deed must be repaid’). But all the way through the drafting process I felt it wasn’t quite right, it wasn’t dark enough, it didn’t fit with the story I had written so my publisher asked me to come up with some alternatives. In the end we settled on 29 Seconds as the length of a pivotal phone call that changes the protagonist’s life and the lives of several others.
Where did the number 29 come from? I’m still not completely sure, but it can’t be a coincidence that we had been on holiday in the south-western USA earlier that year and visited a town called Twentynine Palms. Its location – in the scorching Mojave Desert – makes it a memorable place, and I suspect the number was still floating around in my subconscious when it came to a name for my second novel.
When my 2019 novel The Holiday was at the very early idea stage, I had the working title Four Friends but this didn’t have the right feel at all for the story in my head. Then it became Seven Days, but this seemed too similar to 29 Seconds. By the time the first draft was completed it was Don’t Look Down, which relates to a sequence in the book (no spoilers!). It was better but still felt quite generic, as if it might get lost in the crowd. Then my publisher, Bonnier, came up with an alternative title – The Holiday – which made good sense as it was going to be a July launch, a summer book about a summer holiday. As a title it was simple and short, just like Lies before it. The Holiday was a Richard & Judy Book Club pick and stayed in the Sunday Times top ten for ten weeks.
And so it has been with my latest thriller, The Catch, which tells the story of a father who becomes convinced his daughter is about to marry a man with terrible secrets. To begin with, the working title was The Boyfriend before it morphed into The Fiancé. But my publisher was concerned this might give potential readers the wrong idea about what kind of book it was – The Fiancé had the feel of a rom-com, or maybe a family saga, rather than a thriller.
I thought about alternative titles and said I would come up with some ideas. In the meantime, I completed a first draft of the story which was split into three sections, the first of which was entitled The Catch. My publisher had a suggestion: how about this for the whole book? With its double meaning, it was more firmly in the thriller sphere and would make it clearer what kind of story it was.
I agreed; my agent agreed too. It was a good fit. As with so much else in publishing, the title on the front cover was a collaboration, a joint effort. Maybe one day I will write another story that will keep its title from day one of drafting until publication day – but I’m not holding my breath…
(c) T.M. Logan
About The Catch:
From the Sunday Times bestselling author of Richard & Judy Book Club pick THE HOLIDAY, comes an unmissable new thriller.
She says he’s perfect. I know he’s lying . . .
He caught me watching, and our eyes met. That was when it hit me.
There was something not quite right about my daughter’s new boyfriend . . .
The doting father
Ed finally meets his daughter’s boyfriend for the first time. Smart, successful and handsome, Ryan appears to be a real catch. Then Abbie announces their plan to get married.
The perfect fiancé
There’s just one problem. Ed thinks Ryan is lying to them.
Who would you believe?
All of Ed’s instincts tell him his daughter is in terrible danger – but no-one else can see it. With the wedding date approaching fast, Ed sets out to uncover Ryan’s secrets, before it’s too late . . .
The Catch is such utterly compulsive reading you just *have* to talk about it. it broke all records for the number of comments left when serialised by Pigeonhole.
‘Tense, tight and totally absorbing‘ Adele Parks, Sunday Times bestselling author of Lies, Lies, Lies
Order your copy online here.