Friday, April 10, 2009

Guest Blog: Janice’s Editor Donna Bray On The Pain Merchants Title Change

STATUS: TGIF! As you know, I’m off to London this Sunday. That means blogging might be sporadic for the next 2 weeks while I’m abroad but I’ll try and keep y’all in the loop on UK happenings and the London Book Fair.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE COURIER from Last of the Mohicans soundtrack

Our guest blogger for today is Donna Bray, co-Publisher at Balzer & Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins.


“I wonder if anybody at the publishing company is reading these (great) comments and wishing you guys were in on the brainstorming sessions!”

As a matter of fact… we are.

Many thanks for Kristin for letting me guest blog here in response to her posts, as well as the dozens of interesting, smart, and impassioned comments.

An important part of an editor’s job is balancing the creative vision of the author with the realities of the marketplace. And there are dozens of people involved in this balancing act with me –- sales, marketing, publicity, design, production -- all of whom care deeply about book. And certainly in the case of Janice Hardy’s book, the folks at Harper were incredibly excited about her as a writer and about the potential for the trilogy. So, you can take the extra interest as a blessing or a curse. If these people didn’t love the book so much, they would not have invested so much time and money in getting the best possible title and jacket.

(Ah, the jacket –that’s a whole other post.)

I myself take it as a blessing.

But to answer another reader’s question -- “Do they ever tell you why they change the title for a book?” The short answer is – yes! The long answer speaks more to my publishing philosophy -- there was no “they,” only “we.” A book doesn’t suddenly become my book or Harper’s when I acquire it – it belongs to “us”, and we all want the same thing – to create a wonderful book with an arresting package that will get great reviews and sell, sell, sell.

So, back to THE SHIFTER: While I do still like the title THE PAIN MERCHANTS (as I see many of you do, too!), I can also see why our sales team were leery of it – is “pain” in the title a turn-off? Is it misleading, or not middle-grade enough? To their credit, despite their initial hesitation, sales came around to the appeal of the title and presented the book to the retail chains as THE PAIN MERCHANTS – only to receive a negative reaction there.

I shared the feedback with Kristin and Janice at every stage of this process, and together we decided to explore different options. We were at a bit of a loss, at first (see Kristin’s list of other, discarded titles -– was there anything we hadn’t already thought of?!). But ultimately we made the right decision -- we all wanted to give this first novel its best shot at success. We came up with a title that reflects the story (it is about a shifter, after all) and that feels middle-grade and fantasy. This could lead into another discussion of the importance of strong and clear positioning of a title from the outset… but let me not digress, especially in another person’s blog.

I have in the past stood up for a title that sales was unsure of -- some felt, for instance, that WE ARE THE SHIP by Kadir Nelson was not obvious enough, even with the subtitle “The Story of Negro League Baseball.” Every day, editors and publishers do support the vision and instincts of the creative people we work with –- and we bump up regularly against the demands of the marketplace, which presents more and greater challenges daily. We may struggle on the way to the final book, we may disagree, we may have difficulties or disappointments -– but if it all begins with the idea of “we,” there’s a much better shot of getting to happily ever after, with author, agent, and publisher counting our big piles of beans…