Working titles

I guess this might interest a few of the writer-types among us.  When you sell a book, the title on the front of your ms isn't necessarily the title that will appear when it pops out as a real printed book.  That's why they call them working titles.

The original working title for The Pericles Commission was The Ephialtes Affair.  At the time, you see, I was thinking in terms of an Agatha Christie title scheme.  The Mysterious Affair At Styles... The Ephialtes Affair.

Then I sold the book.  Or rather, my brilliant agent sold the book.

After the editors had finished recoiling in horror, it was clear the title would have to change.  To start with, Ephialtes is an incredibly awkward name for a title.  Secondly, affair has another meaning.  Was this book about a love affair with a Greek shipping magnate?

This is the point where an author needs to be more in love with the idea of a successful book, than in love with his own words.  Luckily for me, I'm entirely devoid of sentimentality.  The only problem was to come up with a new naming scheme.

It was me who came up with The Pericles Commission, but it could have been any one of the five of us who were thinking about a new title.  Consensus came when we realized this wasn't a Christie-like series; it was more like Robert Ludlum.   So I moved from an Agatha Christie naming scheme to a Robert Ludlum naming scheme.

Having learned the lesson with book 1, you'd think I'd get the title for book 2 right, wouldn't you?  I did, sort of.  The working title was The Magnesia Sanction.

All was well until the editor pointed out that in America, the only use of the word magnesia was in milk of magnesia, which is used to treat bowel complaints.  Perhaps that was an association we would wish to avoid.  

The Magnesia Sanction became The Ionia Sanction.   The city of Magnesia was in the province of Ionia, so it was an easy fix.  If anything it sounds better.

Which brings us to Sacred Games.  It's the first time my working title has survived!


Lexi said...

We have Milk of Magnesia here too, so that title made me laugh.

Nice that all your second thoughts are actually better than the originals.

Colin Smith said...

I've already reconciled myself to the fact that any book title I come up with will probably change if/when I'm published. I tend to get too caught up with the story to think about titles. Not that I don't put thought into the title. But titles are a marketing thing as well as a writer thing, so I don't think there's any harm in putting out one's best shot, and letting the other interested (and probably more market savvy) parties have their say.

Your experience shows this works. Though I'd probably have read the books no matter if you'd called them Bob, Joe, and Erica. The stories are so good. :)

Meghan said...

This blog made me laugh! Also congrats on Sacred Games making it to the final round. ^_^

Orange said...

The film, Bladerunner, was based on a story called "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep." One can see why the title was changed.

Gary - are you not anywhere at the Sydney Writer's Festival? I can't find you on the program, and I must say, it all seems a bit empty without my favorite Aust historical novelist. I know you would be very busy, and such appearances take up a lot of time and energy. But I would rush across town to see the author of Sacred Games.

Gary Corby said...

Hi Lexi,

I must say you got it right first time with Remix. Great title for the story!

I had no idea about magnesia until someone told me.

Gary Corby said...

Colin, you've got the right approach. The title's effectively irrelevant until it's sold. Even so, it kind of gets you interested, doesn't it?

Gary Corby said...

Hi Meghan, Thanks! So I'm curious, what would you title that book you're writing?

Gary Corby said...

Hi Orange!

I'm deeply flattered by your lovely comment. Thank you.

Philip K Dick is one of my favourite authors too.

Sydney Writers Festival...I would gladly appear! I'm not being shy, believe me. SWF is not like the cons you find in most other countries. Talks are by invitation, decided by the artistic director. I'm not the only genre writer who won't be appearing; not by a long shot. If you look through this year's talks, on my quick check I think you'll find three talks out of the entire festival are about crime fiction. (There are more crime fact). And the biggest selling genre of all - Romance - doesn't seem to be in at all.

Amalia Carosella said...

My agent told me "Oh, the title might change but yours is pretty good so we might not have to worry about that!" but of all my titles, I think I'm the least married to the one she's shopping!

The third time's the charm for you, I guess!