Deb Susan Revised This Blog Post … and Her Title

I love revisions, and couldn’t wait to write about the revision process – how many drafts I write, and how my novels change from start to finish. But when I looked at it seriously, I realized that topic called for a lot of explanation, and Emperor Maximus Angryfish disapproves of lengthy blog posts:

13B Max

Back to the drawing board.

I thought I’d write about how I revise – first drafts on an Alphasmart Neo, revisions on my laptop, all of it next to the biggest distraction on the planet aquarium that keeps me in my chair.

That would also let me post seahorse photos, because every blog needs MORE SEAHORSE.

13B Ghillie best

Or maybe not.

In the end, I opted to blog about the hardest edit of all: revising my title.

Originally, my novel was titled SHINOBI.

Shinobi is the Japanese word for ninja. (Take a minute, think that over.) “Ninja” is actually based on a Chinese pronunciation of the characters which the Japanese pronounce a different way. Since the novel introduces my ninja detective, Hiro Hattori, and follows his very first “case,” it just made sense to title the thing SHINOBI.

A couple of weeks after signing my contract, my editor sent me an email asking for “alternative title ideas.” Alternative titles??? Uh-uh. No way. Not happening. It took me MONTHS to title that thing SHINOBI, and in my mind no other title would do.

But I didn’t tell her that.

I fretted to myself for a while and put on my thinking cap. My agent and my writing group helped me brainstorm. The process wasn’t fun. Cherry blossom imagery features heavily in the book, so for a while I considered SAKURA – the Japanese word for cherry tree. Unfortunately, that suffered from the exact same deficits as SHINOBI – a one-word foreign title readers wouldn’t understand.

Then I considered CAT’S CLAW – which made sense, because the novel mentions a ninja weapon known as neko-te, which translates to English as either “Cat’s claw” (or , more precisely,”claws of the cat”). It didn’t occur to me to turn the words around, but when one of my critique partners suggested changing it to CLAWS OF THE CAT the title – and naming scheme for my series – fell into place. Claws of the Cat Cover (50)

My editor kept Shinobi for the series. Book 1 became CLAWS OF THE CAT.

Months down the line, I’m glad we made the swap – and happier still that I didn’t dig my heels in and object to the change of name. I like this title better than the first one. It fits the novel better in many ways (you’ll have to read it to find them all).

The process also taught me valuable lessons about attachment, compromise, and the joy of discovering it’s OK not to get everything right the first time. As with all good revisions, the changes made the title – and the novel – even better.

And that’s something even Emperor Max can approve of.

Have you ever had to change your title? Would you be willing to do it if asked?

12 Replies to “Deb Susan Revised This Blog Post … and Her Title”

  1. I didn’t think Emporor Max approved of anything! Great post full of writerly truths. I’m in a place of waiting to see whether my editor will stick with the title for my second book or change it. Claws of the Cat is perfect, by the way.

    1. In truth, I don’t think Max does approve of anything. He is a truly cranky fish. I’ve had him for over two years and I don’t think I have ever seen him “happy.” Content, on occasion, but even that doesn’t last.

      I hope your title doesn’t get changed (unless you want it to!) – I’m having the same hope about my second mystery. I THINK my editor likes BLADE OF THE SAMURAI as the title, but she hasn’t actually said so.

  2. Oh, you had me at Seahorse! I must tell you, Deb Susan, we went to the aquarium here over the weekend and I mentioned your seahorse family when we stood at the seahorse tank and marveled at them. They are so amazing–so gentle-appearing, so seemingly thoughtful…I used to have my writing desk in front of our bird feeder and I thought THAT was a distraction. I’d NEVER get any writing done if I was sitting next to those fellas all day 😉

    Title revision can be a tricky thing, especially when it’s done in the 11th hour and you’ve grown so attached–but like so many things in publishing, you learn that it’s not FINAL until the ink is dry!

    1. Thanks Erika! They do seem thoughtful, don’t they? Having had them for a couple of years now, I think they actually are thoughtful. They work things out. That said, they have a strange kind of intelligence – very little of it devoted to common sense. They consider everything, and then do things that are colossally stupid from time to time. Kind of like humans…

      I have to admit, I’ve had to learn to focus with the tank beside me. The shot of Ghillie I posted today is actually indicative of a fairly regular occurrence. The thing he’s watching so intently is actually me. I was writing, and turned and saw him sitting right at the front of the tank, watching me write. I keep the camera handy for just those moments, but I admit, it does interfere with the word count from time to time.

  3. Do NOT get me started on title revisions…unless you want me to spontaneously combust… But like Erika, the publication process is definitely a crash course in not getting too attached to anything because anything can change at any moment!

    1. Poor Dana! When I wrote this, I’d completely forgotten that you have a title story too! You and Erika are so right though, that publishing is all about learning flexibility. Gymnasts have nothing on a debut author where that’s concerned.

  4. This is a great post–and the pics are so great I almost forgive you for saying you love revisions. Your title sounds totally perfect as it is and it’s impossible to imagine your book with any other name for me–and yet I know how we hear a title in our head for so long and don’t know how to turn away from it. GOOD LUCK GIRLS OF SHIPWRECK LANE has always been that in my heart, and I marvel that it didn’t have to be changed… (and raise a glass to the poor cover designer forced to wrestle with it) but I was ready with a long list of alternates just in case.

    1. I think your title is perfect, Kelly, and I’m glad it didn’t have to change. It’s complex and it definitely makes me want to read the book.

      I’m glad the photos could soften the sting of my love of edits too. Seahorses make everything better!

  5. I hear that a lot of authors are asked to change the title by their editors. It was super interesting reading about your situation. I took Japanese in high school (love the culture) and loved your first title, I’m glad it’ll take for the series. I try not to get too attached to titles, in case I’m asked to change it in the future.

    I still love your aquarium and seriously envy it, too.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed hearing about it! It was an interesting process for me, for sure, and I hoped other people might like to know how it happened. It’s pretty common for titles to change, though it’s funny that we all think “oh, but not my title…” – I know I thought that way, at first.

      I’m glad the original title stuck for the series, too. I actually think it makes more sense as a series title now, though I didn’t realize it at first. It’s one reason I’m so grateful to have a good editor. Without her guidance, I wouldn’t have seen it.

      And thank you also about the aquarium – it’s an addiction, for sure!

  6. I have known so many authors who’ve had to change their titles. It’s not a matter of creativity, but of sales and marketing. Seems crazy to me, but it’s true. THE GLASS WIVES is my novel’s fourth title, but it’s the one that went out on submission. I had: EVERY OTHER WEEKEND, STARTING FROM SCRATCH, THE GLASS HOUSE, and then, just six weeks before submission began, it hit me that THE GLASS WIVES was the title. I know I’m lucky it stuck. Certainly because the first two don’t fit the book after all the gazillions of revisions.

    1. I like THE GLASS WIVES a lot – I think it’s a fantastic title and it fits the book perfectly. It’s funny – most of the authors I know have had to change their titles, and a lot of the time people portray it as such a negative thing that I wanted to share my story so people would know that sometimes it works out even better!

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