As some of you may already know, the working title for The Year of Fog was Ocean Beach. My publisher made it clear that there was no way the novel was going to come out with the title “Ocean Beach.” For one thing, my editor and the marketing folks found it redundant–as in, well, okay, yes, of course the beach is at the ocean. My editor and I went through dozens of titles before we finally settled on The Year of Fog. I resisted at first, but eventually, I came to like it.
The working title for my third novel was A Beginner’s Book of Numbers, which I quite like, but it ended up being published as No One You Know. My publisher said that putting anything mathy on the cover of a novel is akin to scrawling, “Please do not buy this book” with a sharpie. Well, naturally, I do not want to scrawl “Please do not buy this book” across any book, with the possible exception of that Jane Austen zombie book, so I capitulated.
So when the inevitable conversation came up with my new book–the publisher felt that the working title, California Street, was too location-specific and just not very catchy–I steeled myself for a battle. Fortunately, this time around, the process of choosing a title that the publisher and I could both be happy with turned out to be painless. I told my editor there were three things I wanted in the title.
- It should reference California in some way.
- It should be easy to remember, so instead of saying, “You know that book about that doctor at the VA, the one where she’s going across the city, and her sister just came back from Iraq” etc., someone who was trying to bring up the book during a swanky dinner soiree could just say, “You must read TITLE-OF-BOOK!”
- It couldn’t sound girly. There could be no reference to sisters or begonias (there are sisters in the book, but no begonias), and it could in no way lend itself to a pastel cover with lipstick on it, as this is really a political novel, and people would be unhappy if they thought they were buying a book about a florist but instead ended up with a book about post traumatic stress disorder. My editor gamely promised to think it over.
A couple of days later, she emailed, “What do you think of GOLDEN STATE?”
“Oh,” I said. “Why didn’t I think of that?” Why indeed. So I can happily report that we have finalized a title about which we are both equally enthusiastic. For me, it has a lot to do with the play on the word “state.” You know that ubiquitous and sort of annoying Billy Joel song, in which he talks about the New York state of mind? Well, for many of us who have found our way to the West coast from hither and yon, California is really a state of being as much as it is a political construct. And I will admit that I was also kind of thinking about what the cover would look like. Not too long ago, I read that, among the runaway bestsellers, books with yellow covers are well-represented, while books with blue covers tend to wilt on the shelves. Someone should have told me that back in 2002, when I was so excited to finalize the title for my first novel, Dream of the Blue Room. The cover is very blue, and, it’s true, no one bought it.
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