Pub Rants

The Pain Merchants Title Saga

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STATUS: I leave Sunday for London and the London Book Fair. I’m heading out early as I have a whole week of meetings with UK publishers.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU by Whitney Houston

Titles are always a fascinating discussion I think. For this project, the author Janice Hardy and I were involved every step of the way.

First off, and you couldn’t tell this from the original pitch blurb, THE SHIFTER is middle grade fantasy. When Donna Bray at Balzer & Bray (HarperCollins) bought the trilogy, she mentioned that the title would probably have to change for this audience. Since titles change all the time, it wasn’t a deal breaker—especially when Donna pre-empted in a very good deal (in Deal Lunch speak). We were over the moon to be part of the Balzer & Bray debut imprint launch list which is happening this fall. We’ve gotten lots of extra press that might not have happened if that weren’t the case.

But back to the title. As Janice mentioned in the comments section, her UK publisher is actually keeping the original title. I guess what works across the pond gets the thumbs down on this side of the Atlantic.

So here’s the saga. We knew right after the sale that a title change was requested so we got cracking on some alternatives. Right off, we came up with a title that everyone at B&B liked.

So the title “The Pain Merchants” shifted to “The Healing Wars: Nya’s Curse.”

Great. All parties were happy. Then Donna went to sales conference and the title didn’t play well with the sales reps but they like The Pain Merchants. So back to the original title (which of course Janice and I were pretty happy about).

Great. We were set. Got the title. We were also involved in the cover discussion at this time. We saw at least 4 or 5 different cover concepts that were being considered. Settled on one that we all loved. Then that got shot down at sales conference as well. Back to the drawing board for the cover but hey, at least we have a title, right?

Nope. Then sell-in to the various accounts happened. The accounts didn’t like the title (but were great with the new cover concept which is the cover y’all saw yesterday).

Okay, we couldn’t have Healing Wars or Pain Merchants. How about Pain Shifter?

Nope. That didn’t work as the accounts didn’t want the word “pain” in it. When BN, Borders, and the bigger independents say nay, guess what happens? You ditch the title and come up with something else.

THE SHIFTER is what the accounts liked so that’s the title. With the really wonderful cover art, I think viewers will get that it’s fantasy and not paranormal (which would be shapeshifters, vampires and the like).

Also, if you look under Janice’s name at the top of the cover, you’ll see we managed to save something. We liked “The Healing Wars” for the series title and there it is.

Here’s a partial list of some of the titles we played with (and hey, they can’t all be gems!):

A Talent for Trouble
A Touch of Trouble
Hands Full of Secrets
Sisters of Hope and Sorrow
A Choice for the Hidden
The Luminary’s Bane
The Broken Healer
Healer’s Curse
The Secret Shifter
A Bargain At Any Price
The Pynvium War
The Missing Apprentice
The Price of Pain
The Price of Pynvium
She Who Has No Choice Has Trouble
Killing Touch
Shifting Pain
A Choice for Those Who Can’t Choose
The Secret of Pynvium
A Miracle for Geveg
Trading on Misery
Trading on Pain
Nya’s Curse
Nya & The Luminary
Nya’s War

Tomorrow I’ll share the submission letter.

20 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    Well if this is MG then I think that title is just fine. The query reads like a YA, to me though — this may be why I am not an agent and also cannot sell a damn book.

    OMG, all those titles. Glad I’m not the only one that has this type of trouble.

    Unfortunately, my titles usually sound like this one on your list:

    “She Who Has No Choice Has Trouble”

    Yeah, I need all kinds of help.

  2. Anonymous said:

    All egos aside, in my opinion it’d be more important to have a good sell-in than to fret about having to change a title or cover.

    Give B&N what they want, why not?

    I think the cover is quite provocative.

  3. Della said:

    So wait, wait, wait, wait, wait!

    You are SUCH a tease! This book, existing title and cover notwithstanding, is not listed on Amazon (I was SOOOOoo hoping for pre-sale info).

    When does it come out?!

  4. Kimber An said:

    Titles are funny stuff.

    Sometimes they come fast and easy. Sometimes I agonize over them. Sometimes I have my heart set. On my current story, I couldn’t care less if the title is changed even though I love the story just as much as the others.

    One thing’s for certain, as a blogging book reviewer, I can tell you the title is a huge deal.

    For example, love Linnea Sinclair and think all her work is brilliant. However, presented with the following two titles, which one makes me want it now?



    The first one. Why? Beats the heck outta me.

    So, agonize away over titles. It’s worth it when you find a gem.

  5. Anonymous said:

    Interesting saga – thanks for the insight! It’s awesome to get an understanding of these nuances.

    MG, YA, or other, I’m still interested based on the pitch – not title. I polled my kids – 6th grade boy and 3rd grade girl, both prolific readers – on whether a title/subtitle sounded interesting and they say:

    “The Pain Merchants”: her – yay; him – nay

    “The Healing Wars”: both nay

    “The Shifter”: him – yay; her – nay

    And based on viewing cover design: a resounding YES!! from both.

  6. Kristin Laughtin said:

    Just mentioning that this book is MG makes the title change click for me–an “oh, well, that makes sense” moment. THE PAIN MERCHANTS definitely sounded more like a title for an adult book.

    The cover is absolutely gorgeous either way.

  7. Tez Miller said:

    I guess what works across the pond gets the thumbs down on this side of the Atlantic.

    Karin Slaughter could verify that. Her chosen titles of Skin Privilege and Genesis were selected for her UK releases, but were renamed Beyond Reach and Undone, respectively, for the US.

  8. jimnduncan said:

    Very interesting, Kristen. Thanks for the feedback on that process. Can see why Pain Merchants might get nixed for middle grade. I always find it interesting to see how much influence the bookstore folks have on publishing decisions.

  9. AstonWest said:

    It’s amazing that the bookstores still think they know best about what sells, that they would nix a title based on a single word. *eye roll*

    I imagine they’d object to the title of my book because it uses the word “Die” in it…which hasn’t stopped sales any, as far as my publisher is concerned.

    Oh well…

  10. HeatherM said:

    Wow, my head is kind of spinning now. It’s good to know ahead of time all the work that goes into title and cover after it’s been sold. Now at least when the time comes for me I’ll have an idea of what to expect. Thanks!

  11. Anonymous said:

    You ended up with the best title. Sheesh! Trust the bean counters to muck it up.

    What crap the others were.

  12. ~Sia McKye~ said:

    Quite an eye opener. Enjoyed a look at the process. Titles and covers are important selling tools and it interesting to see how different markets choose different things that work for their market. Looing at titles and covers here in the States, then see the book morph to a different title and cover for the UK, or the German Market, or Italian. Very interesting.

    Wnjoy your trip to the UK. 🙂

  13. Dara said:


    I have the hardest time coming up with titles, and it’s nice to know that it’ll probably be changed along the way (at least in my case)!

    Enjoy your trip to the UK!

  14. lynnrush said:

    Have a great time in London. And it’s funny, the ipod songs you list, are ones usually found on mine as well. How interesting.

    Titles, uff-dah, they are tough.

    Happy Friday!

  15. Anonymous said:

    That list makes me feel better about the three dozen title suggestions my agent, editor, and I kicked around.

  16. Alexander Field said:

    I love how much the store buyers and sales people influence the ‘creative’ process. When I got into publishing I was appalled by this, but now on the other side, it makes sense (sort of). If they don’t like it, the book doesn’t get on the shelf, which is a big deal. The Shifter is a nice title though, best of luck with it! : )

  17. David Dittell said:


    Very interesting, and the list is really good to look at as well. What was the process for generating the titles? Was it a single session/meeting, or were they sent back-and-forth through e-mail, or was it just organic over a long period of time?