Just for fun, here’s a look at early titles of some of my novels.
How You Ruined My Life was called Cousin Blake. The publisher told me before they even sent the contract that no, the book was not going to be called Cousin Blake. How You Ruined My Life came from the marketing department.
Kumquat also had working titles of Cosmic Joke and Spoiler Warning. A Facebook survey revealed that my readers were 33% in favor of each of those, and I went with Kumquat. TRIVIA: People who purchase novels tend not to gravitate toward those called Kumquat.
Graverobbers Wanted (No Experience Necessary) was always the title of the first Andrew Mayhem novel, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to stick with the “demented classified ads” theme for future books. The second book was almost called Naptime for the Midnight Sun Mangler. Instead, I wisely went with Single White Psychopath Seeks Same. I had a different possible title for the third book before I came up with Casket For Sale (Only Used Once) but I can’t remember what it was. Lost Homicidal Maniac (Answers to “Shirley”) never changed. The fifth book will be called Increase Your Chainsaw Size.
I originally called it The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever (A Novel) but decided that the joke wasn’t worth the unwieldy title and dropped “A Novel.”
Fangboy was called Fangboy’s Adventure but the publisher asked me to change it to just Fangboy. I forgot to change the title in the manuscript when I sent it to the German publisher, and their title does indeed translate to Fangboy’s Adventure.
I wanted The Sinister Mr. Corpse to be titled The Amazing Mr. Corpse (which is what he’s called through most of the book) but I thought it needed to sound more like a horror novel, and The Sinister Mr. Corpse has a nice rhythm when you say it out loud, which you should do, often, in public. The manuscript had the correct title this time, but the German title translates to The Amazing Mr. Corpse.
Stranger Things Have Happened was written as Ridiculous & Impossible. The publisher said “Nope.” I changed it to Ridiculously Amazing. The publisher said “Nope.” I was informed that it would be called Stranger Things Have Happened, which I loved. (As much as I like the title Ridiculously Amazing, I’m glad to have been spared reviews that say “Ridiculously Amazing…Isn’t.”) The title was locked in before the show Stranger Things came out, but the book wasn’t published until after the show had become a phenomenon.
Pressure was always Pressure, but one of the authors who gave it a blurb told me the title sucked and said I should change it.
Wolf Hunt was originally called Dogcatchers. My editor said no. I pitched Werewolf Hunt, then later switched to Where the Wolfbane Blooms, which I think we can all agree is an awesome title but not the right title for the rowdy adventures of George and Lou. My editor said that the title was Wolf Hunt. I asked, “Can we at least go back to Werewolf Hunt?” No, we could not. Ultimately, Leisure Books cancelled its horror line a few months before the book came out, but it had been published in a 100-copy limited edition as Wolf Hunt. I was very tempted to switch it to my preferred Werewolf Hunt for the paperback and e-book, but decided not to risk the confusion.
Wolf Hunt 2 was originally Wolf Hunt II, but the e-book cover idea required an Arabic numeral instead of Roman.
Mandibles was called Infested. Had it been published as originally scheduled in September 2001, that would’ve been the title. But it was set to come out about a week after 9/11, and a cheesy horror novel with an extended sequence of people trapped in a burning building felt somehow inappropriate, so I asked the publisher to postpone it. They went out of business before the book came out. By the time I found another publisher, a killer fly movie called Infested had been announced, and I changed the title.
Dead Clown Barbecue was going to be called 31 Dead Clowns. But I was still tweaking the final table of contents when I had to commit to the final title, and I didn’t want to be forced to keep or cut a story just to keep the number at 31. Dead Clown Barbecue is one of my most popular book titles, but the publisher’s reaction was, “Nah, let’s stick with 31 Dead Clowns.”
Elrod McBugle on the Loose was just Elrod McBugle. I added “on the Loose” because I was going to write a bunch of them. Next up would’ve been Elrod McBugle In Your Face. In the end, the novel flopped like few novels have flopped before, and there was no sequel.
I can’t remember what the original title of Gleefully Macabre Tales was. Gleefully Macabre Tales was the subtitle, but it got promoted.
My third short story collection was going to be called Slaphappy Maniacs. The change to Everything Has Teeth happened right at the end to focus more on the “horror” than the “humor” side of the coin.
Benjamin’s Parasite may be my favorite of my own titles, but it took me forever to come up with it. Same with Stalking You Now. (The movie version of Stalking You Now will be called Mindy Has To Die.)
Dweller, Sick House, Bring Her Back, The Haunted Forest Tour, Draculas, Disposal, The Severed Nose, Blister, Kutter, and Faint of Heart all kept their original titles. (Draculas came from a short story I co-wrote with JA Konrath where a little kid calls vampires “draculas.” Joe loved the idea so much that he vowed to write a novel called Draculas.)
I Have a Bad Feeling About This was just “Untitled Survival Camp Novel” for most of the time I was writing it. Ultimately I called it This Can’t End Well. The publisher said “Nope! It’s I Have a Bad Feeling About This.” I protested the title because there’s no Star Wars element in the book, but the marketing department is all-powerful and I was defeated. The book went on to be my bestselling novel ever, so clearly I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about.
Out of Whack was called Off Balance until an editor, as part of a “This book is absolutely hilarious and wonderful but we’re not going to publish it,” rejection letter, suggested Out of Whack.
A Bad Day For Voodoo began life as A Bad Night For Voodoo. Most of the book does take place at night, but the inciting event takes place during the day. (Not every behind the scenes look at my original titles is going to be riveting.)
Cyclops Road was The Odyssey of Harriett. It was supposed to be a breakthrough fantasy novel, but my agent ghosted me instead of sending it anywhere, and the first fantasy publisher that read it said “We love it! We love it! We love it! But it has marketing challenges! So we can’t buy it! What else ya got?” I decided to self-publish it, but my audience is horror, not fantasy, and calling a book The Odyssey of Harriett seemed like a good way to sell zero copies. After I brainstormed a few titles, my wife suggested Cyclops Road.
Facial was called Bad With Faces. But multiple books had used that title, so I went with a filthier-sounding alternative.
Instead of Suckers, I wanted to call it Another Damn Vampire Book, but I was overruled.
How to Rescue a Dead Princess was Pointless Quest. My agent at the time thought that people would say “Why should I read about it if it’s pointless?” My response was that people who would say that were probably not the right demographic for this style of comedy. He wanted to call it The Quest. I thought that title sucked and countered with about ten other titles, including How Do You Rescue a Dead Princess? He said, no, it needs to be called The Quest. I suggested a double title: Quest! (with a Zucker Brothers-style exclamation point) or How Do You Rescue a Dead Princess? He agreed to that, though I’m 99% sure he just sent it out as The Quest. Years later, when the book was e-published back in the dark days when e-publishing meant you were a total loser, I reworked the title to How to Rescue a Dead Princess.
An Apocalypse of Our Own began life as The Apocalypse Ain’t So Bad, an expansion of one of my most popular short stories. Then I saw the first episode of Last Man on Earth, which used the same premise of how life after the apocalypse can be fun. Sure, my story came out several years before the show, but I didn’t want to publish a book and have everybody say, “Eh, Will Forte already did that joke.” So the novella abandoned the short story’s premise almost completely and became An Apocalypse of Our Own.
Cold Dead Hands (not yet published) was called Freezer. When my wife Lynne Hansen decided to adapt it into a film, she said there was already a movie called Freezer. After an afternoon of failed attempts to come up with a new title, I finally arrived at Cold Dead Hands, which was so perfect that it’s hard to believe the book wasn’t called that in the first place.