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My new book has a final(ish) title. Here's why the others didn't work.

So, it appears I have settled on a cover and final title for my next book.  Time for the grand reveal, soon to be plastered ubiquitously on my blog and Google+ profile:

I sure hope people like it.  I'm starting to get tired of changing it every week.

So, aside from revealing the cover, I thought today I'd do a bit of back story on this book.  I spend a lot of time in my Monday writing journal philosophizing about writing, but I feel like I don't always spend too much time talking more specifically about what I'm writing.  I guess I feel it would be too self-aggrandizing or something.  But I figured I'd change it up a bit today and talk at length about the specific thought processes that led to Bitter People Without Souls.

Be warned: I'm about to get into deep detail about a subject that maybe only ten people in the world will be interested in, eight of whom don't even know me yet.  Unless you're specifically interested in the different titles I previously had for my book and why I changed them, you'll probably want to skip this.

We'll start (sigh) at the humble beginnings.  (Man, I shouldn't post this.  I'll be really red-faced if Bitter People becomes popular and everybody reads the rest of this.)

2000ish: Room Zero / The Zero Room

The sad, sad truth is this: Bitter People's origins lie in Final Fantasy fan-fiction.  I hate to say that.  You know how people dismiss Fifty Shades of Grey by scoffing, "Oh, it was just Twilight fanfic that got out of control!"  Well, I don't want the same thing happening with my book.  And mine's even worse - at least Twilight was a book.

Back around 2000 or so, I first came up with a story, heavily inspired by Final Fantasy VII, that involved people searching for the mythical "Room Zero," which was a place where you would have the power to manipulate the world.  The plot was itself inspired by a FAQ I read about how you could get into a programmer's debug mode for the game and basically hack your stats to give your characters all kinds of powers.  (God, this is getting more embarrassing by the sentence.)  The writer of the FAQ used the term "Room Zero" to refer to a glitchy room from which you could change all the stats, and I liked the sound and concept of it.

Why this title didn't workRoom Zero never totally gelled as a story, so the title wouldn't have made sense once I threw out the plot.  So it became....

2001 to 2006: Project Zero

I've written about this extensively in a previous post.  Project Zero was an obsession of mine for a good chunk of my time and now feels more like a ridiculous writing school more than it does an actual story, due to the painful number of times I scrapped everything and started writing a new draft.  You can click on that link if you want to find out about what the story was actually about (spoiler: everything and nothing, because it kept changing).

The only important thing to know about Project Zero is that one of its many drafts was where I first had the idea that scientists could invent technology to track and implant souls.  Since that premise has survived until now, that means that version of Project Zero is the earliest draft of my current novel.  Once more: sigh.....

Anyway, today I'm talking about titles.  So, why did I call it "Project Zero?"  Simple: I thought the "zero" from "Room Zero" sounded cool and didn't want to give it up.  So I just tacked an arbitrary "Project" at the beginning and called it a day.

Why this title didn't work: Well, as above, I eventually abandoned a lot of the premises of the story, so the title wouldn't have made a lot of sense unless I could shoehorn some kind of nebulous plot or program to justify calling it a "Project."  But frankly, I realized after awhile that Project Zero is such a silly title that you couldn't take it seriously.  It's like calling something The Omega Protocol or The Lazarus Objective.  Plus, I got tired of hearing friends joke that I was numbering my novels.  ("This one's project zero?  Where's Project One?")

2013: The People That Live

When I resurrected the soul-tech premise in NaNoWriMo 2013, I knew I didn't want to go back to the original well of ideas.  I knew I wanted to do something new and just keep that one piece of the premise: the idea that you could distill a soul into something tangible and manipulate it the same way you do any other organ.

I also liked the idea of using this as some kind of satire on American healthcare.  The joke I kept thinking of was this: if the soul was a tangible thing that doctors could work on, would your HMO cover your soul treatments?  Probably not.  We'd have to debate about it for forty years and go through seven presidents before we got any kind of universal protection for our souls.

That made me think I should play up the class differences between the haves and have-nots, and that called to mind Ma Joad's closing monologue in The Grapes of Wrath, which I had just finished watching: "Rich fellas come up and they die, and their kids ain't no good and they die out. But we keep coming. We're the people that live."

Given that the book's subject matter is explicitly about life, death, suicide, rich people, poor people, and perseverance, it just seemed like the perfect title.

Why this title didn't work: Nobody I talked to knew what the hell I was referring to.  Which is weird, because I thought that monologue was well-known.

2013/2014: Copay

I needed something quick and concise as my title, so I started calling it Copay.  It made it clear that the book was about insurance in some way, and it emphasized the financial / payment aspect, so that was good.  It also implied teamwork or some sense of togetherness, which worked on a few thematic levels.  It was also short and curt, which works well when you're dealing with suspense.  I liked the directness of it.

Why this title didn't work: For all its pros, Copay just wasn't very descriptive.  There's no sense of genre, there's no sense of plot, there's nothing particularly catchy about it.  Copay is ultimately kind of bland.

2014: Secondhand Souls

Where Copay failed, I thought Secondhand Souls would succeed.  It was catchy, you got a sense of the plot since the story is literally about souls being sold secondhand, and it's just bizarre and quirky enough that you get a hint of humor while leaving the door open for something dark and ominous.

Why this title didn't work: I bitched about this extensively when I found out I couldn't use it anymore.

June 2015: Moral Hazard

I tried for a while to come up with something else that specifically called to mind souls, but everything I was thinking of wound up being silly or just inappropriate to the tone.  ("No Soulace for the Working Class" or something like that.)  So I shifted gears and started looking at insurance terms that I thought might sound intimidating and weighty.

Almost immediately I saw the term "moral hazard" and thought it was perfect.  Just one problem.

Why this title didn't work: Yeah, this one was taken, too.  And over ten years ago.  Not that this has stopped a bunch of other people from trying, anyway.

July 2015: Deaductible

My next thought was that if I couldn't find an insurance term that seemed to fit, maybe I could take one and turn it into a pun in some way.  I came up with "Deaductible" while driving home one night and burst out laughing, so I figured I was onto something.  And until just a couple of weeks ago, I was certain this was a winner.  But....

Why this title didn't work: For one thing, it just didn't get across the tone the right way.  It sounds too much like the kind of pun you see in a Stephanie Plum novel or something.  My book is much too grim and angry for that and I wouldn't want anybody to expect a light laugh.  But more practically?  Designing a cover around and with the word "Deaductible" was a pain in the ass.  I've been working on a budget of precisely nothing and there was very little I could think of that would look appealing with this title.  Enter the most recent incarnation.

August 2015: Bitter People Without Souls

This is a case where the cover design and the title kind of came out all at once.  I was experimenting with various fonts and minimalist ideas and sort of sarcastically wrote, "Angry People Without Souls."  It made me laugh, but more importantly, it got the tone right.  One minor adjustment later - they're more bitter then they are angry, really - and I have something that feels appropriate.

It's direct.  It's a little bit funny even though it's a little bit grim.  It's got a bit of fire.  It's my title.

Will this title work?  Beats the hell out of me.  For all I know, it won't sell a single copy until I release a second edition and go back to The People That Live.  But for now, I think it's the best one.  Any marketing types have any insight for me?  Clarification: any free insight for me?

All the Other Nonsense That Got Pushed Off the Main Page (Post Archive)