Advice on Titles?

by wjw on July 1, 2012

Since it’s the bicentennial of the War of 1812, I’m going to see if I can get a little bounce off the anniversary and release my old sea stories as ebooks. Beginning with those set in the War of 1812, of course.

(For those of you who don’t know, I had a career writing historical novels before I found a new berth as a science fiction writer.)

First up will be The Raider.  Except that The Raider wasn’t my original title, it was the title that Dell foisted on the book following its own strange algorithm for success.  If you were writing historical fiction for Dell in those days, you had to have two-word titles.  The first word had to be “the” and the second word had to be a noun, or at worst an adjective.   This was because John Jakes’ Kent Family Chronicles had two-word titles, and of course Jakes’ immense success obviously derived from his two-word titles.  If The Bastard had gone into the world with a title like The English Bastard,  then of course the whole series would have tanked, right?

My title for my book was Brig of War, which has the advantage of conveying the book’s nautical and martial background.

Now that I’m in the publishing business myself I can restore the original title, if I like.  But I thought I’d ask my readers first: What title do you prefer?  Or do you prefer yet another title?

Let me know.


Ralf The Dog. July 1, 2012 at 5:22 am

Put the old title in parenthesis. You want your old fans to be able to find the book, however, you do not want to be stuck with a title you feel is lame. I think, they should also be clearly labeled as historical as your science fiction fans could be quite confused when they get 90% of the way through the book and have yet to find the spaceships, aliens or time travelers. (It could be cool if you added a random blue box in the cargo.)

Hildo July 1, 2012 at 10:53 am

Use your original title, and put the Dell title in the metadata: “originally published as The Raider”. Looking forward to reading it!

In addition to clearly marking the genre, as Ralf suggested, maybe use a different middle initial? Walter H-for-historical Williams? I hear the Scottish writers are doing it…

Not Todd July 1, 2012 at 8:51 pm

The Twilight Raider
Fifty Shades of Grey Seas
Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash

/has worse to offer but it’s too hot to think

kat July 2, 2012 at 12:47 am

I would mildly prefer “Brig of War”; “The Raider” sounds like a regency romance. Which, you know, I read too, but it’s not a pair of genres where I feel confusion is going to do you good. 😛

But in fairness I’m going to be buying the book not because of its title but because it’s written by you, so….

Gary Gibson July 2, 2012 at 2:13 am

I’m with Kat. Raider does sound a bit ripped shirt and pecs. Brig of War definitely does have a ring to it by contrast. Unless you wanted to call the books Brig of War: The Raider and use that kind of format (or The Raider: Brig of War)… But my preference is just plain Brig of War. Simple, yet evocative.

wjw July 2, 2012 at 2:15 am

See, I wouldn’t peg “The Raider” as a regency romance, but as a novel about a Wall Street trader or something.

Equally misleading, in any case.

I suppose it would be cheating to call it “Brig of War, from the author of ‘The Raider.'”

Brad DeLong July 2, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Re: “maybe use a different middle initial? Walter H-for-historical Williams? I hear the Scottish writers are doing it…”

But then all of your protagonists have to die–or suffer a fate worse than death–at the end of the book…

Lawrence Hardin July 2, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Use your own title but explain the original title chosen by the publisher . Metadata is good but not enough. Use your own name, just label it as Historical fiction. Now that it is your book, you do not have to be bound by the publisher’s tastes.

Anonymous July 2, 2012 at 5:11 pm

The original title needs to be shown. Jim Baen used to have a nasty habit of renaming books (or fluffing up novellas and repackaging them as books under a different title) that put me off anything published with “Baen” on the cover. Dean Koontz has also played the “rename the book and sucker in some fresh sales” thing; he’s now on my no-buy list too.

Worst case: A.E. van Vogt, who wrote about a dozen short stories or fragments, which he mixed and matched into an endless stream of “new” short stories, novellas, and novels… I don’t know if that was van Vogt’s own doing, or what.

There are a lot of Louis L’Amour books out there with multiple titles, but L’Amour claimed that was because his agent or publisher had lost control of the rights and he had nothing to do with it.

DensityDuck July 2, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Damn you, Tod, you beat me to it.


The problem with calling it “Brig Of War” is that the common vernacular holds that “brig” means “jail on a ship”.


How about “Burning Washington”?

John F. MacMichael July 2, 2012 at 11:55 pm

I would go with “Brig of War”, it gives a better idea of what the book is about.

Stephen Gustav July 3, 2012 at 6:07 pm

“The Brig of War”

Best of retard 80s marketing and your own genius.

Clyde July 4, 2012 at 2:49 am

“Brig of War” is better, but you need to make it clear that the book was originally published as “The Raider”.

I do wonder why you decided to start with this book. Isn’t it the third in the series after “The Privateer” and “The Yankee”? (That is the order Wikipedia and Fantastic Fiction put them in.)

I am looking forward to reading the entire series. Got to get my high-seas historical novel fix!

Hildo, OGH originally used “Jon Williams” for his historical novels. That is quite sufficiently different if he wants to take your suggestion to use a slightly different name to avoid genre confusion.

Guy Incognito July 4, 2012 at 4:42 am

I’d suggest naming it “Sloop of War.” Always leave ’em guessing.

wjw July 4, 2012 at 8:07 pm

Clyde, I’m starting with “The Raider” because it’s set in the War of 1812, which the first book isn’t. Also, “The Raider” is the first book of a sort-of trilogy centered on one character, which the others aren’t.

Brian Renninger July 6, 2012 at 7:16 pm

Go with your original titles.

Also, to change the subject, put out an e-book of “Hardwired: the director’s cut” with the original ending.

wjw July 6, 2012 at 10:42 pm

That would be a good plan, except that I never actually wrote the original ending. It was only in the outline, which my editor wanted me to change before I wrote more than a couple chapters of the book.

Plus, I “tilted” the book toward the new ending throughout the writing, so if I changed the ending now, it might no longer fit.

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