Titles in general, and the Book 3 title in particular

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.

22 Responses to “Titles in general, and the Book 3 title in particular”

  1. Darin Calhoun says:

    I look forward to reading it Dan. I loved the first one, I read it in one sitting after the book signing. I’ll come see you when the Mr. Monster tour brings you back to Southern California.

  2. IDWTKY is a fine shortcut for blogs in the same way IANASK is. You don’t try to say “Ian-ask” do you? You say “Serial Killer.”


    “I Don’ Wanna”
    “KILL YOU.”

    I’m sure you can make those work. :-)

  3. jackie says:

    I’m 66 and onery..no one tells me what to do…take back your title..ha

  4. When does it come out?
    I’ll just say the third serial killer book…ya know the one, i don’t wanna kill you….

    It’s not that long….

    Love your writing style!

  5. Edgar Tolman says:

    You could use IDWKY, leaving off the ‘to’ and pronounce it “idwiki”.

    Is there a UK release date yet? I imagine I’ll be hitting up bookdepository.com for it since I’d rather not wait for it to hit over here.

  6. Will says:

    I liked Full of Holes, but I Don’t Want to Kill You is awesome too. The important question, however, is when will I be able to order it from Book Depository?

  7. Mike - New Hampshire says:

    Dan, what is it like working with multiple editors on the same manuscript? Is one editor recognized as the ‘primary’ editor? What happens if the UK editor asks for a change that the US Editor objects to? I assume you are the final arbiter of the completed work and you determine what goes to print, but has working with releasing in multiple markets cause any unique problems?

  8. Katya says:

    First, I used to hang out with a lot of theater folks, and this is reminding me of how they used to shorten the names of their shows (because you can’t keep saying Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead every time, so you start saying R&G).

    Second, your editors are clearly not taking into account the lost crossover potential from e.e. cummings fans.

    Third, speaking of poetry references, if the name of your blog is a reference to Blake, does that mean it should be pronounced “symmetrigh” instead of “symmetree”?

  9. Monika says:

    “will” is first person presens of “wollen”, which means to want and not to choose. So your new title is actually the correct translation.
    Either way, great title!

  10. Edgar Tolman says:

    On second thought, “id-wi-ti’-kee” has a nice ring to it.

  11. Christoph says:

    Thank you Monika for clarifying this, wanted to add this myself.
    Ich will dich nicht töten is not only a variant, it should be translated as I don´t want to kill you.
    I don´t choose to kill you is more like “Ich wähle, dich nicht zu töten”, which is totally different. The difference is exactly the same as in english between wanting and choosing something.
    Alright, switched the wise guy mode off…
    Great title, and finally one that translates in German (you would not believe what german publishers do to some book titles!) Suffice to say that I rather read books in english if possible…

  12. PJ says:

    You should can-of-worms the topic of titles. It sounds like a pretty deep topic.

  13. My two cents? Knowing what I do about I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER, and seeing the title MR. MONSTER, when I read I DON’T WANT TO KILL YOU, I get the heebie jeebies, in a very good way. I want to pick it up right away. I want to read through the first two to get to the third. The titles work for me.

  14. Arlene says:

    I don’t want to seem contrary, but I’m very sad they didn’t go with the original title. I understand all the reasons behind it, I just don’t agree. It seems that the people buying this book are doing so because they’ve followed the series and not because of the title. Also, Full of Holes just has a certain ring to it…and I like reading a book and then looking back at the title and realizing it (the title) meant more than I realized.

  15. Diva Donna says:

    I don’t like it. I love Full of Holes. If they knew they were going to throw away the intriguing title you had then there should have been a blog contest. You might have seen gems like this:

    Reluctant to Kill
    Third times the charm
    The Final Cleaver Chronicle

  16. Diva Donna says:

    Lest anyone take the above suggestions seriously, let me just ad that titles are the bane of my exsistence and I don’t care what you call it, I’m gonna read the 3rd book because I have to find out what happens.

    However if I saw a book called ‘I don’t want to kill you’ I would probably keep walking…especially if they put blood on the cover again. But I’m probably not your target audience anyway. Good Luck.

  17. Jeff says:

    I like the name change. Full of Holes was nice title, but honestly, it was harder for me to remember than the other two. Full of Holes was an appropriate title, but I don’t think it’s as marketable.

    I Don’t Want to Kill You is more memorable and more marketable. It doesn’t quite fit the book as well as Full of Holes, but fits well enough. And thinking about the series, I Don’t Want to Kill You fits in better with the other two titles.

    For short, I suggest calling it Don’t Kill. I’m already calling it Don’t Kill for short in my mind.

  18. Hannah says:

    I have to say I really love this title. The other one reminded me too much of Holes by Louis Sachar – not at all scary.
    My friend thinks you should come out with two more books so the order will be like this:
    – I am Not a Serial Killer
    – Mr Monster
    – I Don’t Want to Kill You
    – Hang On I Really AM a Serial Killer
    – Oops.

  19. Keith says:

    I just finished Mr. Monster on my flight from England where I picked up the book. It was great! I’m looking forward to finding out what happens in book three.

  20. Kalyani says:

    Hi Dan,

    Could you please tell us when the book3 is going to be published in UK ?? I will get it from UK just the way I got Mr. Monster.. I love ur books so much that I can not wait them to be published here in US..


  21. Crystal Phillips says:

    I just finished reading I don’t want to kill you and LOVED it. I get the full of holes title but i don’t want to kill you seems to grab your attention more. That’s why I picked up the first, book because it got my attention. I’d been reading I don’t want to kill you on the bus on my way to school, I got a lot of funny looks but I laughed. It felt like I was advertising your book.

  22. to be honest, “Ich will dich nicht töten” literally means “I don’t want to kill you”… the other one was just a strange translation…

    but i really liked your trilogy and am sad, that it’s over… but also quite happy with it, since often enough, series get stretched out too long until they’re just boring

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