Monday, April 16, 2007

A Rose By Any Other Name...

by 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 to read 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 of 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 of copies.

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 instincts. 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:

A) 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.

B) 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. (I'm also running this contest at my other group blog, Killer Year; I'll pick one winner from the two sites.)

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?


Maryann Mercer said...

Hi Marcus, I'll be brave and be first.I have two suggestions:
1)Fields of Fire
2)Firing Point
Can't wait to read the book, whatever the title.

My Vote ? At the City's Edge (City of Ashes sounds too much like Pompei to me...history major that I was)

Jared said...


Read some nice things written about you by Sleuth of Baker Street. How about these:

> THE WAR AT HOME (I think I like this one best, but...)
> BURN NOTICE (Military term, notifying others that a party is untrustowrthy)
> FIELD OF FIRE (Yes, I had this one too. But it's singular!)

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Burning Blood is my suggestion and for #2 I don't really care for either of them.

Bob Seles said...

My Vote: The Violence of Fire

Book Suggestion: Sizzlin' City

Pete said...

Suggestion: Frontlines Back Home

Anonymous said...

I like Blood and Fire. I'd also like to vote for Jared's Burn Notice.

For Part B, I like City of Ashes. :)

Kelly in Charm City

Michael Dymmoch said...


Bob said...

I was tossing this around for a book I was going to write, but since yours is already written ...

War is war, the only thing that changes is the ... Angle of the Sun.

Regina Harvey said...

There's an arson investigation clearinghouse called "Interfire" and I thought that might make a good title, considering the protag's "interference" with the gang-bangers.

They have a term of the week listing too. From that:

Heat Shadow
(Southside) Smoldering
Chimney Effect
City Flameover
City Flashpoint
Flashpoint City
Flameover City

Check out the site if you haven't already - something might strike you.

Regina Harvey said...

I like Burn Notice too.

John Gooley said...

I also like Jared's Burn Notice.

Stealing from that, my title suggestion would simply be BURNT.

For part B of the contest, none of them grab me. How about ASHES.

Bob Liter said...

Home Front

Jude Hardin said...


r2 said...

Burn Down the Night

Marcus Sakey said...

Wow! You guys are amazing--I can't thank you enough.

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.

But I have to agree with those of you who seconded Jared--BURN NOTICE is a great title. It sounds very Lee Child to me, never a bad thing.

So congrats, man! 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!

Daniel Wagner said...


I fear my attempt at jocularity has gotten out of hand with your eventual winner, Jared.

But he did pass on your email to submit my candidates, so here are my top five.

> Crown thy Good
> Point of Contact
> Support by Fire
> Boots on the Ground
> Reveille Hour
A Bonus Sixth!
> Alone, on the Battlefield

Best of luck with the new book! If you are at Baltimore B'Con Jared and I will buy you a drink... excluding all high priced Scotches ;)


tim foley said...

Here's a title from a draft of something I've since changed:

In the Shadow of the City.