An Evolution of Titles

Earlier this week, Shawn Speakman of Suvudu.com invited a bunch of authors to talk about what role their publishers may have had in altering the titles to their books. (For the full article, click here.) My contribution to the discussion was as follows…. 

I had always assumed that, in the event of a publishing contract, whatever title I came up with would be junked in favor of something the marketing team devised. And I really had no problem with that. Let those folks do their job, I thought. I had my hands full with the story itself. However, I do believe in having a “working title” for thematic and logistical reasons. In the case of my “Asahiel” books, I had no series title, just a working title for each of the three volumes… all borrowed from Metallica songs:

Book 1:  Dyers Eve
Book 2:  To Live Is To Die
Book 3:  Harvester Of Sorrow

It wasn’t until I rewrote my first book as a screenplay while at UCLA that my instructor strongly urged me to change the first book’s title to “The Red Sword,” reflecting the principal artifact. And it was a fellow student who suggested that it actually be “The Crimson Sword.” The latter was not only less generic, but also carried a secondary connotation of bloodshed.

That one stuck. To maintain the sort of structural and lyrical quality that I think all titles within a single series should have, I modified my working titles so that all were names used within the story to refer to the principal artifact, the Sword of Asahiel:

Book 1:  The Crimson Sword
Book 2:  The Obsidian Key
Book 3:  The Divine Talisman

I still assumed that the publisher would want to change them. I’d almost hoped they would… along with giving me a pen name that would finally let me escape the name Eldon (sorry, Mom). No such luck. They liked my name, and they never even suggested an alternative title until the third book… when there was some brief discussion about getting the word “dragon” in there. By that point, I felt it was too late to deviate from the structure set forth with the first two, and they ultimately agreed. So we featured our monstrous dragon on the cover art instead.

Even that is only part of the story. If I were to go even further back, when the story was intended to be just a single volume instead of a trilogy, my original working title was: “To Wield A Red Sword.” I dropped that one when I ran across a Piers Anthony book entitled “Wielding A Red Sword.” To be fair to Mr. Anthony, I’m willing to bet that I had seen his book on a shelf before and subconsciously stored its title somewhere in the rat’s nest that serves as my brain. Accidental plagiarism or not, I didn’t want a title that so closely resembled his, which is when I gave up on titling my own work and turned to Metallica for temporary ones. Ironically enough, the final title came back around almost to what it was in the very beginning. Always trust your first instincts, I guess.

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