Coming up with an appealing, intriguing title for a book can be a daunting task. Years ago when I sold my first book—on business writing—I worked hard to create a clever title. My publisher changed it.
The expression about judging a book by its cover, and by extension its title, is a cliché because it’s what people do. Think of the memorable books you’ve read and they probably had memorable titles. Not always, but it helps.
When I was ready to send in the manuscript for my recently published mystery, therefore, I threw myself into the work of creating a heart-stopping title. Actually I’d been thinking about the title all the while I wrote the book, but now that it was finished, I brainstormed nonstop. I also solicited help from writer friends, and Desert Kill Switch was the top choice.
Mostly out of curiosity, before I sent my manuscript to my publisher, I did a search for “kill switch” on Amazon. I discovered that within the last four years no fewer than six mystery/suspense books have been released with the title Kill Switch or The Kill Switch, one from a famous New York Times best-selling author.
How can multiple new books have the same name? Copyright protection does not extend to book titles. I could have named my book Gone with the Wind.
Disappointed, I went back to brainstorming. A friend and I came up with dozens of optional titles: Nostalgic Cars and Corpses, Desert Death Drive, Desert Death in High Gear, and on and on. One of my favorite optional titles was Nostalgia City Road Kill. Can you imagine, however, how many books have the words road kill in the title?
I took another look at the other six kill switch books. None seemed to talk about the kind of kill switch that’s the focus of my book. In fact, the words kill switch rarely appeared in the books. I was persuaded the other authors were not talking about the same kill switches I was.
So what is a kill switch? In my book, it has to do with car sales. A relatively small number of auto dealers in the US install GPS trackers and kill switches in the cars they sell to people they consider high-risk borrowers. Here’s how it works: Miss a payment, sometimes by as little as a few days, and the dealer throws a switch. Your car is dead. If you bring your loan current, you can drive again. If you don’t, the dealer uses the GPS location and comes to get your car. No repo man needed.
I emphasize that a minority of dealers use kill switches, but news reports indicate that as many as two million cars on the road in the US are wired with the devices.
These sinister-sounding mechanisms, and a dealer who uses them, are central to my book’s plot. In addition, the book takes place across the arid landscape of Arizona and Nevada, hence, “Desert Kill Switch.”
I was ready to stick with Desert Kill Switch. Until I thought about the word girl.
The suspense/mystery books Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train sold millions of copies and each quickly became a movie. Maybe The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo started it, but regardless, girl has become popular in book titles. And not just a few, but dozens.
NPR recently explored the phenomenon. Crime novelist Megan Abbott told Morning Edition, “I have talked to other crime writers that have been urged by various professional people in their life to put the word girl in their title.”
Kill Switch Girl? Girl with a Kill Switch?
Maybe next time.