Saturday, 11 February 2017

A tale of two titles

As I may have mentioned before, the third Carter Blake book was published this week in two territories under two separate titles:

Winterlong (Pegasus, US)
The Time to Kill (Orion, UK)

Why the change?

I wrote the book as Winterlong. It's the codename of the secret covert ops initiative Carter Blake used to belong to (although appropriately, it has gone by many names). It works for a book set in the depths of winter. It's also one of my favourite Neil Young songs, and I love the Pixies cover too. But the most important thing was, I liked it as a title.

My UK publisher Orion liked it too, and it was Winterlong throughout the editorial process, right up until the first proofs were produced.

But then they decided to rework the cover. Feedback from sales said that Winterlong wasn't quite thrillery-sounding enough. My editor asked me what I thought about The Time to Kill as an alternative title. I was honest and said I didn't mind it, though I preferred Winterlong. But I was in agreement with taking advice from sales. Call me a mercenary, but as long as it's the same book, I'd rather sell twice as much with someone else's title.

So the book got a new title and a new cover (which I love, both on the new blue paperback and with the original pink font).

Meanwhile, my US publisher Pegasus had acquired the book under the original title, and they thought Winterlong would work better for their market. They also had some concern that it could be confused with John Grisham's A Time to Kill. Again, sound reasoning, happy to go with it.

I got my author copies of both version last week, and I love them both. It feels kind of like I have two books out, and I only had to write one.

The experience got me thinking about why titles change. Some light Googling revealed that it happens a lot.

Would Baa Baa Black Sheep have sold as many copies as Gone With the Wind? Would Trimalchio in West Egg and First Impressions really have done the job as well as The Great Gatsby and Pride and Prejudice?

I asked some of my crime writer friends, and found it difficult to find one who hadn't had a book with multiple identities. With thanks to the below authors for their comments, you can read about what some of the best thrillers of recent years were almost called below:


CL Taylor - My UK title was The Accident, my US title was Before I Wake which I thought was clever because a) the main character's daughter is in a coma and b) the main character is sleep walking through life/in denial and what happens 'awakens' her to the danger she's in. 

Tammy Cohen - The original UK title for The Broken was The Fallout, but that changed at the last minute when we realised there was another book coming out the same month called Fallout. But the US publishers much preferred the original title so it came out in the US as The Fallout. I didn't mind at first as I preferred the original title anyway, but actually it wasn't great for me because all the publicity and reviews etc for The Broken don't appear if someone in the US Googles the book. So it's like starting completely from scratch. Plus inevitably there are people who buy the book twice thinking it's a new title and are mighty pissed off!

Brian McGilloway - The Nameless Dead was called Isle of Bones originally. Hurt was called Family Life and in the US ended up as Someone You Know. My name for Preserve the Dead was Sticks and Stones. In the US it ended up as The Forgotten Ones. In every instance I preferred the working titles...

Katerina Diamond - The Teacher was originally called Unkindness - I do love my original name but I also love The Teacher and I fully understand why they chose a punchier name for it. As a result I have never bothered to name any of my other ones. It's a title and it's all about selling at the end of the day - that's the part I know nothing about

Lucy Dawson - My first four all had title changes at Little Brown's request. You Sent Me A Letter and Everything You Told Me were mine and the next one is Come Back, which is mine too. I honestly can't even remember what my original titles for the first four were. 

Sinead Crowley - Book 1 started life as Can Anybody Out There Help Me? but they thought it was too long and we batted every terrible internet related pun back and forth till they accepted Can Anybody Help Me? Book 2 was Are you Watching Me' And book 3 was originally Don't You Remember Me? to fit that theme but no one liked it, and I came up with One Bad Turn which we all love.

Michael J MaloneTaste for Malice was originally called, Sins of the Father - a check on Amazon quickly found how overused that was.

June Taylor - My soon-to-be out there psychological thriller Losing Juliet was submitted to HarperCollins Killer Reads as Two Summers. But as it was to be a winter launch they deemed it unsuitable. Also said it wasn't thrillery enough, and preferred a woman's name in the title. I liked the original one, but a couple of months ago I saw a YA novel released called Two Summers, so maybe the change of title was a good thing.

James Oswald - I wanted to call book six Suffer the Children, but Penguin wouldn't let me. Apparently any suggestion in the title that children might come to harm kills sales. I completely failed to come up with anything else, and it was my editor who suggested The Damage Done. Italian titles for my first two are The Name of Evil and The Book of Evil. I'm betting book three will be The Rope of Evil.

Marnie Riches - The Girl Who Wouldn't Die was originally Blown Away, it ties in with a leitmotif running through the book and some apparent suicide bombing. The Girl Who Broke the Rules was meant to be called Empty Vessel, again, because it tied in with the story, which is about trafficked people whose organs have been harvested. Born Bad, coming out next year, was meant to be called Killing a King

Fergus McNeill - Eye Contact and Broken Fall were my titles, and everyone seemed happy with them. Knife Edge was a brilliant suggestion by my editor (someone actually gets stabbed, right on the edge of a cliff) so thank goodness she dissuaded me from the working title of You're Scaring Me.

Cass Green - The Woman Next Door was Hidden In Ordinary Days until my agent just grimaced and went, "Hmm.. no." !

Clare Mackintosh - I Let You Go was Written in the Sand when I first started it; when it was less thriller, more romantic suspense. It lost the title early on and was nameless, then my editor suggested I Let You Go, which it was perfect. It's been interesting seeing the titles of the various translations. In Chinese it's The Runaway , in German it's My Soul So Cold, in Dutch Mea Culpa, and in Italian - with no prior knowledge of the working title - it's Written in the Sand.

Jenny Blackhurst - How I Lost You was originally Cradle and All but apparently some dude published by Headline already had that. Before I Let You In was Before You Let Me In when I pitched it.

Helen Cadbury - Bones in the Nest was my agent's far better idea. I wanted to call it Bird Bones.

Neil White - The working name for my second novel was The Painter Man (based upon David Mandell - Google him). An excerpt appeared at the end of the first book with that title. It was changed to Lost Souls just before it came out. I get more emails asking why they can't find The Painter Man than anything else. It's a pain in the arse. I prefer The Painter Man.

Tom Wood - My first book was titled The Killer and was published as such in the US, then retitled as The Hunter in the UK ('Women won't buy a book called The Killer,' my UK editor told me). My second book was called The Contract, but the same editor changed it to The Enemy. He wanted my third book to be called The Game, so I just let him. I stopped trying to think of titles after that. My fourth book was published as Better Off Dead in the UK and No Tomorrow in the states because my UK publisher wanted a crimey title and in the US they wanted more thriller. Oh and that same editor wanted my last name changed to Wood from Hinshelwood, which my US publisher liked and so followed suit... after I was already published as Hinshelwood, so The Killer is by Tom Wood in pb and Tom Hinshelwood in hb. This is the short version.


After reading all of that, I think I got off lightly with only one title change.

My next one is currently titled Don't Look For Me, but by the time it comes out in April, who knows?


  1. Interesting...some title changes seem sensible, others just arbitrary. And Hinshelwood is an excellent name!

  2. Great post! Thanks for answering that question! I always wondered why some books have two different titles or covers. Now it makes sense. 😊

    1. There are loads of reasons, I used to always wonder too!