So: Book 3 in the John Cleaver series has an official title: I Don’t Want to Kill You. Can I put two colons in a single sentence? Yes I can. The book has been finished for months, and is in fact already in production in three markets, but none of my editors really liked the original title, Full of Holes. Well, I take that back: it’s not so much that they “didn’t really like” the original title, it’s that they “hated it.” It was kind of inevitable that it would change, but I fought long and hard to keep it.
You see, the thing about “Full of Holes” is that even though it doesn’t make sense out of context, people who have read the book almost always look back and say, “wow, that’s a really great title.” I love it as a title. But the title of a book is not really there so that people who’ve already read it can appreciate it in hindsight–a title is there so that people who haven’t read it will pick it up off a bookshelf and want to read it. I didn’t fully understand the importance of this until my book tour, where I saw first hand that 80% of the people who picked up the first book did so because of the title (the other 20% were Writing Excuses listeners). Book 1 has a really cool, catchy title that grabs your attention, and when people read it they instantly want to know more about it.
Interesting Trivia: “I Am Not a Serial Killer” was the working title of my manuscript when I ran it through my writing group, and I never intended to keep it. They all loved it so much that I kept it, hoping I could talk my editor into it when I finally sold it, and of course the editor loved it. Huzzah!
So my book tour convinced me that I need something more “mating plumage-y” for the Book 3 title. Book 2 was already out in the UK at this point, so we couldn’t change that one, but thankfully Mr. Monster is already pretty awesome, and everybody liked it. In the words of my UK editor, Hannah Sheppard, the conjunction of Mr. and Monster “civilizes the uncivilizable,” which is a pretty awesome description of the story itself, so hooray for that. That’s why she’s such a great editor. Mr. Monster is also, plotwise, incredibly appropriate for Book 2, so there was never any talk of changing it.
Book 3, on the other hand, needed a change. In Germany they just changed it without asking, to Ich Will Dich Nicht Toten, which translates to, more or less, “I choose not to kill you.” This was pretty cool, but it didn’t work exactly the way we wanted in English. I suggested a line from the book’s epigram, taken from the ee cummings poem “who knows if the moon’s,” but it didn’t have the right kind of “pick this up right now” kind of feel that we wanted.” I went back and forth for weeks with my US editor, Moshe Feder, and we eventually settled on a variant of the German title: “I don’t want to kill you.” Not only did this mirror the first book title in a lot of ways, but it reflects the third book’s story very well, so we really liked it. Moshe presented it to Tor and they loved it, and the UK liked it as well, so it became official.
Now I only have on dilemma: what do I use as shorthand? I Am Not a Serial Killer, while awesome, is too long for constant use, so I frequently shorten it to Serial Killer or the anagram IANASK. I Don’t Want To Kill You is going to have a similar problem, but without an obvious nickname; even the anagram, IDWTKY, is unpronounceable. At this point I still call it Book 3 (or, honestly, Full of Holes, because I haven’t trained my mind off of that one yet). I suppose that will have to do for now.