“This will have you on the edge of your seat”
Readers will be interested to know that Mercy was not my original choice of title for my first book in the Alex Sedaka series, or indeed my choice at all. I originally wanted to call it You think you know me pretty well. Contra to popular belief, I think that long titles do sell books, precisely because they are so memorable. Think The Curious Incident with the Dog in the Nighttime or The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society or indeed – my own personal favourite: And to my Nephew Albert, I Leave the Island What I won off Fatty Hagan in a Poker Game .
However, my publisher’s disagreed, and on this matter (like many others) they have the final say. That may not be the case for writers like J K Rowling or Dan Brown, but it is for mid-list writers like me. So I suggested Missing Evidence, a pun on the fact that (a) a person was missing and (b) certain evidence was overlooked – hence they were “missing” the evidence that was before their eyes.
However, my publishers didn’t like this either. They decided after much discussion that because the book begins with the governor of California (no, not Arnold Schwarzenegger) offering clemency to a man on Death Row, they were going to call the book Mercy. There were seven other books with this title, that I could find – some even in print – but the publishers assured me that this was no problem. I tried to make it clear to them that I didn’t like the title. But they assured me that they did, and that it had followed much discussion.
I would have preferred if I had been a party to those discussions, but I wasn’t invited to participate. And when I was told the decision, it was made clear to me that it was a “done deal” – in other words, further comment by me would be useless. I don’t know if their decision had anything to do with the fact that the imprint wanted to get it books into the supermarkets, where the majority of the customers are female (I know I am straying into dangerous territory here). This also led to considerable problems coming up with a suitable cover design – and that’s a story and half! But it is worthy of note that neither the German nor the Israeli publishers who acquired the rights are going to use the English title. The German publisher has chosen the name 15 Stunden (which means “15 Hours”) and the Israeli publisher of the Hebrew edition is inclining towards The Race Against Time.
In fairness to the publishers part of their reasoning for rejecting my original title was that it was the first line to a song by Neil Sedaka (get it? Neil Sedaka/Alex Sedaka?). Indeed, I was hoping to use the song (The Other Side of Me) at the beginning of the movie – yes I had big dreams in those days. The idea was that the movie would end with another Neil Sedaka song: the poignant Our Last Song Together. The second book was going to be called by the first line of Don McLean’s The Pride Parade and the third was going to be called by the first line of Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence – to use the original title that us pedantic oldies persist in using.
Anyway, the publishers said that because I wanted to use first lines of songs as titles rather than the song titles themselves, it might be problematical from a copyright point of view. The law is that titles are not copyright, but the songs themselves are. And so using a line from a song as a book title might be a copyright violation. I am not sure that they are right, but it was clear that they were determined.
They decided that instead they wanted to use terse, sharp one-word titles. So quickly, albeit reluctantly, adapting to their idea, I suggested that we call the second book Violation or Guilty or Accused. They rejected the first two, but very nearly went with Accused, However, when they discovered that a book by Mark Gimenez with the same title (and a remarkably similar cover design) was due to be published three months before mine, they decided to change the title as well as the cover design.
They decided to call it No Way Out. So much for one word titles!