Killer Year–The Class of 2007


A Rose By Any Other Name…
April 13, 2007, 11:23 am
Filed under: Marcus Sakey

…might not sell as well.

Despite the lesson we’re taught in childhood, people do judge books by their covers–and their titles. And why not? First impressions matter. And where a cover design assumes the reader is holding the book, and can flip it over for blurbs and a summary, a title has to stand on its own. It has to be memorable and suggestive, with the right balance of poetry and punch (Barry Eisler wrote a great article on the need for resonance in titles, if you’re interested). And given that the title is a crucial factor in the decision-making process of bookstore buyers, the right one can mean a sales difference in the tens of thousands.

So what, you ask? Well, my second book is complete. My editor and publisher are excited about it. Folks say they like it better than the first one, which pleases me no end. But the one thing everyone agrees they don’t like?

You guessed it.

I trust their instinct. These people are pros, and this is an important decision. So I’m hoping you’ll help me make it.

Briefly, the book is a thriller about a guy named Jason Palmer, a discharged soldier who returns from Iraq to find a similar war raging in his South Side neighborhood. Jason is in a downward spiral, thrown out of the only place he ever found a home, and wants to spend the summer drinking too much and chasing girls. But when his brother is murdered and his bar burned, presumably by the gangbangers he spoke out against, Jason is forced to dig into increasingly dangerous secrets, all while protecting his eight-year-old nephew from the men hunting him.

The central issues are corruption, brotherhood, responsibility and redemption. It’s got gang warfare and arson and a love story and a car chase and Roman history. And Tom Waits quotes. Oh, and a scene where an arms dealer sings “Angel of the Morning” while shooting up a gang house.

Originally it was titled ACCELERANT. Then ONLY THE DEAD. Then THE END OF WAR. Then STREETS OF FIRE.

Now, we don’t know what it’s called. So I’m running a contest. It’s a two-part gig:

1) Any ideas? Don’t let the fact that you haven’t read the book slow you down. After over 100 suggestions, I’m getting burned out. So please, throw anything–anything–my way.

2) There are three titles that seem to be in favor right now, and I want your vote. They are: THE VIOLENCE OF FIRE, CITY OF ASHES, and AT THE CITY’S EDGE

Obviously, Part 1 is the meat of the contest. My favorite suggestion will receive a signed copy of THE BLADE ITSELF. In fact, just for fun, it will be a signed U.K. edition, unavailable on U.S. shores.

Better still, if we actually go with your title (or a variation of it), I’ll thank you in the acknowledgments. Plus, I’ll name a character in my third book after you. Not bad for a few minutes of brainstorming.

By the way, if you don’t have any title ideas, I’d still love to get your vote on Part 2.

So let’s hear it, folks. What the heck should this rose be named?

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20 Comments so far
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Part 1. The Price of Brotherhood

Part 2. The City’s Edge

Comment by Don Anderson

Part 1. My Brother’s Keeper

Part 2. The City’s Edge

Comment by Don Anderson

Marcus,

I feel your pain.

After my title was used in Barry Eisler’s article as an example of automatic resonance — or lack thereof — I’ve been throwing out alternate titles to my newly-signed agent.

After multiple brainstorming suggestions, and six pages of alternatives, I’m ready to title it “BUY MY BOOK, PLEASE” and call it a day.

Since your first book’s title was very evocative of the nature of violence and basic weaponry… why not stick with the same sentiment in regards to the arson? How about:

THE FIRE TRIGGER
THE ROOT OF FIRE
THE LIT TINDER
THE FIRE BOW

As for your three current titles under consideration, I immediately gravitated to:
CITY OF ASHES

Good luck!

Comment by gregory huffstutter

When in doubt about titles, I always go back to Shakespeare. How about WAR’S QUICK FIRE?

Not marble nor the gilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive this powerful rime;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.

Comment by Bryon Quertermous

1. Coming Home to War

2. City of Ashes

Comment by Barbie

I am glad you have a car chase. All good novels should have a car chase. I have promised a friend I will destroy a Porsche in every book I write.

I have some thoughts. First of all, I don’t think you should go for any of the titles you’re asking us to vote on. None of them have that resonance. But you know that, which is why you posed this challenge.

Off the top of my head:

Angel of the Morning

Kindling

Burnout

I was tempted to explain each one of these, where I was coming from and why. But that would just be pants. If they don’t work without that, you shouldn’t pick them.

If I think of anything else, I’ll pop my head back round the door.

Comment by Niki

Part 2: City of Ashes. (…hands down out of those three…)

Comment by Brett Battles

I have another title to throw out: Echoes of War

Comment by Barbie

Ditto Brett’s — City of Ashes is fitting, really.

Comment by JT Ellison

City of Ashes is a great title… otherwise

My City, My War

Comment by killeryear

Here’s five more to add to your consideration list:

ANGELS BURN
THE FLASH POINT
GHETTO BURN
PYRO CITY
DESERT BURN

Comment by gregory huffstutter

I wasn’t planning to submit again, but one more popped into my head. It’s been a nice distraction thinking of other titles rather than my own (and besides, I don’t think there are enough characters named ‘Huffstutter’ in modern crime fiction).

This one is a military term, evokes a homecoming, and includes the arson element:

RETURN FIRE

Could also be tweaked into “Returning Fire” or “The Return Fire,” but the latter sounds like a U2 albumn.

Enjoy!

Comment by gregory huffstutter

Some great stuff, folks! Thank you all, and keep ’em coming. I’m also running this on my other group blog, The Outfit; I’ll pick a winner the beginning of next week.

Comment by Marcus Sakey

I had some thoughts and came back to post them. They were ‘Firestarter’ and ‘Flamed’.

Then I went back and read your description again and it got me to thinking. You only describe one fire, yet the titles seem to really focus on it. And I wondered, how important is the fire and how representative of the book would a title be that was all about fire? Resonance is only half the battle, right?

So I’ve got another couple of suggestions, bearing this in mind:

War Zone
No Man’s Land

That’s me done. Good luck with the second novel.

Comment by Niki

Yes, I feel stupid suggesting a book title without reading the book, or some part of it, but based on what you provided, how about BROTHER PHOENIX?

“The Violence of Fire” sounds too philosophical, like the title of a literary novel; “City’s Edge”, okay; I like “City of Ashes” best but might tweak to “City of Ash.”

Comment by AS Meredith

SOUTH OF NOWHERE
RETURN TO BURN
HOME TO THE WAR
WAR WITHOUT END
PALMER’S INFERNO
BURNING DOWN TOMORROW
DOWN AND SOUTH
HOME TO THE FIGHT
HOMELAND HELL
SAFE AT HOME
SOMETHING’S STILL BURNING
NOWHERE TO LIVE
THE WAR COMES HOME
HUNTED AT HOME
A FIRE AT HOME
BURNING HOME
NOWHERE HOME
NO WAY HOME
HOME TO BURN
AFTER THE FIRE, BEFORE THE DAWN
ASHES AFTER ASHES
FROM ONE HELL
WHEN HELL IS YOUR NORMAL
KEEPING THE WATCH
SOUTH OF THE FIRES
SOUTHLAND BREAKDOWN
SPEAKING TRUTH TO FIRE
HOMELAND SECURITY
STILL ON FIRE

Comment by Scott Hess

NEITHER FIRE NOR WIND

“Neither fire nor wind, birth nor death can erase our good deeds.” – Buddha

Comment by Scott Hess

Also, quite simple:

STILL BURNING

Comment by Scott Hess

I like Return Fire. Of your three, I like City of Ashes, but it’s not my fave.

Others to consider – Holding Fire
Keep It Burning (like keeping the homefires burning and keep investigating under fire)
From the Ashes (touches on redemption)
Sooty Southside 😉

Or…you might try something with “Corner” in it…wink, wink, nudge, nudge…

Comment by Regina Harvey

Wow! You guys are amazing–I can’t thank you enough.

You’ve also made it really tough to choose a winner. I loved a bunch of them, and I especially appreciate those of you who put thought into it and came back.

In the end, the one that grabbed me most was ANGELS BURN–a great resonance, and a nice spin on several angles. Congratulations, Gregory! Shoot me an email (msakey at rcn dot com) with your address and I’ll fire you a book.

And once again, thank you all!

Comment by Marcus Sakey




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