The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels. Fitzgerald can write description that is so effortless to read that a whole page of it with no other action is still captivating. But I have to wonder if Fitzgerald’s great work would have made it to a second printing (it barely did) if it had been called The Incident at West Egg. That’s the original title. Not horrible, but certainly not as engaging as The Great Gatsby, and I think the novel really is more about Gatsby than the “incident” at the end of the novel.
My friend and fellow writer, Jill Edmondson, had a blog post about several novels that almost ended up with such mediocre titles. Another example is Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which nearly ended up as Something That Happened.
So when I noted that sales of my novel, The Book of Bertrand were nowhere near the sales of Vampire Road, I had to take a deep breath and ask friends and writers what they thought of the title. You guessed it. I found two fans but the rest totally panned the title AND the cover, even though they loved the novel. The most common comment: sounds too much like Sunday school and looks too much like a bible. Boring.
I had to decide whether I’d stick to the title I’d had in my head for years or try something new. The original title is actually a bit of an inside joke until you get to the fourth novel in the series, so it means way more to me than it does to a reader browsing through Amazon.
When in doubt, go for a 19 kilometer run. Okay, I don’t actually do that very often (the 19k) but the marathon is on May 6th and I’m well into training. During the run I had the inspiration that you can only have when fasting or exhausted beyond all reason and still running. It’s a shaman/spiritual journey thing I guess. I realized that my novel is not just about three people trying to survive the apocalypse. It’s also about three people leading a revolution against a government that is actively perpetuating the apocalypse. It’s about clashes with riot police and the rippers that support them.
So the new title is Apocalypse Revolution, and my brilliant wife suggested that before I change it I should name the other novels in the series to ensure that all the titles would mesh nicely. Since I’ve already outlined them all, that turned out to be less challenging than I would have thought.
Next challenge was the cover. I’ve hired a professional cover artist but he’s buried in other work for at least three weeks, so I decided to do a quick and dirty cover myself. That didn’t go so well. After three hours of cursing my way through Photoshop and hating the results–there’s a reason I’m not a graphic artist–I sent my feeble efforts to a pro and in no time at all he turned out the great cover that you see at the top of this article. He also created the cover for The Book of Bertrand, but it was all my idea, so its failure to generate interest is mine.
I fully admit that if I had a traditional publisher or agent they probably could have warned me that the original title and cover weren’t going to sell, but the great thing about eBooks is that an author can change these things if necessary. It is important though to have it all locked before doing the CreateSpace P.O.D.
Will all this help my sales? Who knows, but I’m happier with both, so I’ll keep you posted. Which would you buy?