THE BEST TITLE I EVER CAME UP WITH
Some years ago I was at my home in Key West when I received the quarterly newsletter of the Royal Yacht Squadron, a club I belonged to in England when I lived there. The newsletter was a sheaf of mimeographed pages (they had the last mimeograph machine in the Western Hemisphere), the last of which was called, "Wants & Offers," i.e. the classifieds - boats, club jewelry, etc. I was galvanized by the headline of an ad for a Labrador Retriever for sale:
EXCELLENT WORKING BITCH
Wow! What a great title for a novel, I thought. In fact, I could get a novel out of that title! So I sat down and wrote half a dozen chapters, just enough to get an editor hooked, about a Florida policewoman and her faithful Doberman companion. I sent it to my publishers with a note saying that if they didn't want a novel by that title I'd take it somewhere else, but I wasn't changing it.
Harper Collins, my publishers at the time, bought it, and the title was enshrined in the contract. I wrote the novel, it was edited, and then one day I got a call from somebody at HC, saying that some of the sales force were concerned about the title, being afraid that it might cause booksellers to order fewer copies or display them less well than usual. I pointed out to them that there was, at that moment, a book on the shelves of every store called, simply, BITCH, one with no canine references whatever. This did not impress them, so I declined to change the title and hung up. Thereafter I received other calls from increasingly more highly placed executives at HC, until one day I found myself sitting across a desk from the new CEO, Jane Friedman, who asked me to change the title.
I declined, and a lengthy discussion ensued, which came to an abrupt halt when I pointed out to her that HC was contractually obligated to publish under that title, a fact that had somehow eluded her. She sighed and said that she would publish under the original title, but I should not expect the kind of publisher's support or promotional budget I was accustomed to. This put an entirely different light on things, and I capitulated, changing the title to Orchid Beach, the name of the town in which the action took place.
Since that time I have been forced to come up with a series of
Orchid-related titles. But I suppose it could have been worse: I could have had to come up with a series of Bitch titles.
Still, it was the best title I ever came up with, and one of these days, I'll use it. (No, you can't have it.)
Stuart Woods has won the Edgar Allan Poe award from the Mystery Writers of America and France's Prix de Literature Policiere. He has written thirty-one novels.His thirty-second novel, Dark Harbor, a new Stone Barrington novel, was published on April 11, 2006. The thirty-third, Short Straw, will be published in October, 2006.