Pub Rants

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

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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…

23 Responses

  1. MeganRebekah said:

    Donna, thanks for coming on here and sharing your thoughts. It’s very much appreciated.
    I can see how difficult this process can be with so many passionate and creative people involved. The fact that any title or cover ever gets chosen seems to be a miracle in itself.

    Thanks again for the input!

  2. Tracy said:

    Thank you for taking the time to give us the extra insight. It’s nice to hear that no matter what personal preference one may have, everyone is working together for the best possible outcome (which only makes sense, after all).

  3. Anonymous said:

    You know, I’m actually coming around. It’s a very simple title and it doesn’t convey much, but coupled with that really great image on the cover, which makes me instantly want to pick up this book, I think it’ll draw people in.

    After all, what on earth does the name TWILIGHT have to do with anything?

    Thanks for dropping by, Donna.

  4. DebraLSchubert said:

    Donna, I love the “we” concept. I was one of the few in the last posts who liked the title. I still do. And I LOVE the cover. It’s a fantastic attention-grabber. (Ah, the jacket –that’s a whole other post.) I’d love to hear about it! I wish you, Kristin, Janice and the rest of the “we” team the best of luck with The Shifter.

  5. lisanneharris said:

    That has to be the most awesome cover I’ve ever seen! The title and image you and your team chose will definitely snag my middle grade son’s interest.

    Thank you for explaining a bit of how it came to be.

  6. AravisGirl said:

    I like “The Shifter” a lot, but it does kind of sound like she’s a shape-shifter. At least to me. Of course, with the cover, it doesn’t seem that way.

  7. Evangeline said:

    What a great guest post! I love hearing about the ins and outs of the publishing industry from those working within. Thanks Kristen for giving us this opportunity to “eavesdrop,” and thank you Donna for stopping by! The Shifter looks great, and I’m going to take a look at the Kadir Nelson book.

  8. Robin said:

    Middle grade readers still have parents buying them books. ‘Pain Merchants’ might sound a little too adult to a harried mom with four kids roaming around Barnes and Noble. The Shifters, perhaps less piquant, is an easier sell. Once it makes the best seller list, who knows, maybe ‘Pain Merchants’ will work for a sequel.

  9. Samantha Clark said:

    Hi Donna, Thanks for sharing with us. What you say makes a lot of sense. I like The Pain Merchant, but it sounds more adult to me. Pain seems like a concept that adults would be attracted to more than middle grade children.

    I write and read middle grade books (and no, I am an adult 🙂 ), and I’m always attracted to the titles that paint a picture of some kind of magical story; not necessarily a magical world, but a magical story. The lastest book I picked up is the first book in the Sisters Grimm: The Fairy Tale Detectives series, which sounds like it has so much promise in the take on Grimm fairy tales. I also love the titles of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, like The Titan’s Curse.

    Although I really like The Pain Merchant, The Shifter does sound more magical, more exciting, more mysterious to me.

    And, like many have said, the cover is absolutely beautiful. Well done to your design team.

    Look forward to seeing the book on shelves.

  10. HeatherM said:

    Thanks for that insite Donna. I love your idea of starting with the concept of ‘we’ that’s fantastic. It’s also encouraging to know that the book got so much consideration not because it needed help, but because everyone loved it so much! And that cover is great.

  11. Mike Harris-Stone said:

    Just adding my own voice to the chorus of “Thanks for sharing!” I love publishing, the passion for books. And it really is a marvelous cover. As a kid, I would definitely have picked this up and as an adult am intrigued.

  12. Stella said:

    Lovely cover! I understand why you changed the title and appreciate the consideration involved in settling on a title. Thank you for your insights into the publishing process.

  13. Anonymous said:

    The Shifter sounds like somebody who can move sideways in time or alter reality to achieve an end. What does it have to do with Pain Stealers?

  14. Laurel said:

    I like the new title and agree with those who shied away from “pain,” but I think it is the cover that will sell the book. I love it.

  15. Don Gwinn said:

    “The Healing Wars” is the part of the title that brings me in (I’m not a 12-year-old, but I do teach 6th grade.) “The Shifter” seems pretty mundane to me, but if you consider it in the context of the cover, with the art shown, I can see that pulling a lot of my kids in.
    But for me, it’s the juxtaposition of healing and war that perks my ears up and makes me wonder.

    All that said, I can see how the query worked. I hope mine is that good.

  16. David Dittell said:


    Very interesting discussion of marketing and titles. In workshops I’m one of the few people I know who consider the title — anything too vague or misleading always needs to go.

    I don’t think The Pain Merchants fits that bill (it sounds pretty cool to me), but The Shifter definitely gives a certain more-specific impression, so I’m glad you guys found a title that works for everybody. Good luck!